Expert opinion | 5th July 2021
Best under-the-radar wild swimming spots in the UK
Need to cool off in a British heatwave? There’s no need to drive hours to the beach – instead, find your nearest clean, swimmable body of water, and plunge in. Here are some underrated spots for a summer dip:
Oxfordshire: Cheese Wharf, Lechlade
You’ll find this pretty, tree-shaded bend in the River Thames near the cute hamlet of Buscot – look out for the subtle National Trust sign close to the A417. Deep and clean, it’s perfect for a cleansing dive in, followed by a picnic on the flat, grassy banks, which you’ll find bursting with buttercups in summer. Historically, this was the spot where tons of west country cheese wheels were loaded onto barges bound for London.
Stay nearby at Barnsley House Hotel & Spa
Yorkshire: Kisdon Force
The global cult of cold-water swimmers is growing day by day, and you can expect the full rush of an icy immersion in the Yorkshire Dales. Seek out the twin natural plunge pools of Kisdon Force, on the River Swale near Keld, fed by two magical, fizzing waterfalls and backed by an alluring wall of mossy rock. Take shoes with grip for the slippery shuffle down the rocks – and watch out for the electric flash of local kingfishers.
Stay nearby at Yorebridge House
Surrey: Frensham Great Pond
A day at the beach in the landlocked home counties? It sounds too good to be true. But this huge swimming pond, in a large swathe of protected heathland near Farnham, Surrey, has its own sandy slopes down to the water where you can spread your towel and lounge all afternoon. After your paddle, take a walk around the Great Pond and its smaller neighbour for Wind-in-the-Willows-esque encounters with rare birdlife, butterflies and voles.
Stay nearby at Park House Hotel & Spa
Scotland: Castle Stalker
Bag this slice of Loch Laich to yourself, and you’ll see this imposing 15th-century castle on an island immaculately reflected in millpond-still waters. Set in a shallow, icy-clear bay, its surroundings are ideal for a proper, athletic open-water swim with incredible visibility (bring wetsuits and swimming hats). From April to September, you can book a private tour of the castle, which had a big-screen moment in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Wales: Farmers’ Lavender Fields, near Builth Wells
Strolling through a lilac carpet of aromatic lavender, you could be in deepest Provence – in fact, these picture-perfect meadows have been cultivated by a journalist and her academic partner near Builth Wells, mid Wales. Blissed out from the sensory explosion, head for the farm’s idyllic swimming pond, with a rickety jetty to tumble off and sweeping views of the valley beyond. There’s a £5 entry fee when the lavender’s in full bloom, July to August.
Somerset: Dundas Aqueduct
If you’re indulging in a Bath city break, make like the local students and head out of town for a swim in the Avon. Most head for the shallow dam at Warleigh Weir, but this slice of wide, deep, swimmable river further south is a quieter oasis – as well as picturesque, tree-shaded riverbanks, you get the spectacular setting of swimming beneath a majestic aqueduct. On summer days, look out for the barge selling ice creams to sunbathers.
Stay at the Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa
Lake District: Holme Fell
While some of the Lakes themselves make for intimidating open-air swimming spots, this sleepy reservoir near Coniston Water is an inviting size – and temperature – in high summer. Not many make it this far up the peak, so persevere and climb that bit higher than Hodge Close Quarry to reach this spellbound mountain pool, locked in apple-green countryside, where it’s usually quiet enough to hear birdsong.
Stay at Gilpin Hotel & Lake House
© Lake District Tourist Board
Devon: Upper Teign
Exploring Dartmoor and south Devon? Sniff out the pretty weirs along the River Teign, around Chagford and Murchington, where you can splash alongside rainbow trout through slow, lazy sections of river, dappled by sunlight trickling through the boughs. Stronger swimmers may prefer the more scenic but current-heavy Salmon Leaps, where you’ll get a gentle pummelling from the cascades below Castle Drogo.
Stay nearby at Bovey Castle
Article written by Lucy Thackray