Summer solstice may have slipped away like a bottle of lukewarm supermarket wine, but what better way to make the most of the last of the sunshine than by immersing yourself in nature, Where the Crawdads style, and taking a wild dip?
Beyond the endless physical benefits, outdoor swimming is an exceedingly good way to de-stress by cultivating mindfulness and anchoring you into the present (‘cuse the pun).
From tranquil river swims to idyllic ponds, grab your swimmers, your sea shoes and your picnicware, along with your best adventurous self – these are some of the best outdoor swimming pools mother nature has to offer.
Here’s to being carefree and blissfully buoyant (but also, slightly paranoid about swallowing algae).
1. Blue Lagoon, Pembrokeshire, Wales
Sparkling azure waters are not limited to the Balearic Islands, people. Hidden in the cliffs above the Abereiddy Beach, you’ll discover Pembrokeshire’s magical blue lagoon, surrounded by sandy beaches and clifftops. Whilst it might be slightly colder than the Mediterranean, crowds flock to the 25m deep man-made quarry every summer to swim, kayak or simply enjoy the stunning coastal walks. Whether you opt to take to the open water, book a coasteering tour or stay dry and admire the view from the shoreline, it’s a must-visit playground for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike. For those who are not brave of heart, bring a wetsuit.
2. Beckenham Park, London
This delightful Georgian swimming lake at the heart of Beckenham Place Park has been lovingly restored to its former glory over the last few years, welcoming bathers and water sports enthusiasts from across the city and further afield. If you’re looking to escape the hurly burly of London life, spend the morning here in perfect solitude, with the exception of a few feathered friends who also flock to the area to get their wings wet. Who can blame ‘em! Book ahead to reserve a slot (open Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 7am to 3pm).
3. Grantchester Meadows, Cambridge
If you’ve already ticked off punting, grab your swimmers and head to Lord Byron’s famous bathing grounds about a 30 minute walk from the city centre, where a picturesque stretch of the River Cam fringed by willows and accompanied by bursts of birdsong awaits.
After cooling off in the river, recline in a deckchair under an apple tree at the Orchard Tea Garden, a favourite haunt for the Bloomsbury Set who came to picnic, swim and discuss their work in this corner of England where time stands still. The ultimate summertime unwinding!
4. River Derwent near Chatsworth House, Derbyshire
As afternoons go, whiling away the hours in this quintessentially English spot is like tonic for the soul. With Chatsworth House for a backdrop – thought to be the inspiration for Pemberley in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – wild swimming doesn’t get more romantic than this. Until you ruin the pleasant quietude with a cannonball of course. Got to be done!
5. River Wharfe at Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire, England
The River Wharfe is set in front of the majestic Bolton Abbey ruins. Packed with charm and character aplenty, it’s the ultimate period drama plunge and the perfect place for a paddle and a picnic. Just a word of warning – absolutely avoid the nearby Strid section at the point where the river is at its narrowest. The full force of the river flows through this rocky channel of indeterminate depth and the undercurrents and hidden ledges are notoriously dangerous. Stick to the shallows near the stepping stones by the abbey ruins.
6. Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye
One of the most famous attractions on the Isle of Skye, the fairy pools is as enchanting as its name suggests. Tinged with pinks and greens thanks to the presence of quartz in the rocks and surrounded by some of Britain’s best mountains, it’s easy to see why these storybook waters entice visitors from all over the world. Pack your goggles and your wet suit though, this wild swimming spot may be fanciful but it’s also chuffing freezing. Layer up, water nymphs!
7. Lough Shannagh, Mourne Mountains, County Down, Northern Ireland
A wide open loch framed by the stunning Mourne Mountains and boasting crystal clear, refreshingly cold waters, Lough Shannagh is sure to make for one unforgettable dip. Wim Hof who?
8. Hampstead Ponds, London
No wild swimming guide would be complete without mentioning this famous bathing spot. With your pick of three sites – the mixed gender pond, the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond and the Highgate men’s pond – you can escape the sweltering city heat by taking the plunge in these 250-year-old reservoirs before catching some rays in one of London’s best loved parks. The men’s and ladies’ ponds are open all year round, so should you wish to dip your toes into cold water therapy, this is the place to give it a try.
9. Barcombe Mills, East Sussex
This 5km stretch of the River Ouse near Lewes is perfect for fishing, boating and swimming due to its lack of current. Surrounded by bucolic fields and grassy banks, you can easily while away an afternoon here, dipping and drying off in the sun.
Bring plenty of picnic supplies and sun cream and make a day of it with the family, or head to the nearby Anchor Inn for a lovely riverside lunch. Those looking to get their boating fix can hire boats from the pub for £8 per adult for one hour.
10. Rydal Water, near Ambleside, Lake District
For a serene early morning dip combined with one of the most beautiful walks in the Lake District, take a leaf out of Wordsworth’s book and head to Rydal Water. It is reputed that this was the great poet’s favoured spot for relaxing and taking in the bucolic scenery and when you experience the view for yourself, it’s easy to see why these tranquil waters and exceptionally pretty trails inspired so much of his poetry.
At 15 metres deep and only 1 mile long, this lake is one of the first to warm up in the summer season, making it a great place to come if you’re new to wild swimming. After you’ve worked up an appetite, stop off at Grasmere to snap up some of their world-famous spicy-sweet gingerbread.
As always, please take due care when outdoor swimming and follow the standard safety guidelines:
- Don’t jump into water you have not checked for depth and obstructions
- Make sure you know how you will get out before you get in
- Never swim alone
- Come prepared with warm clothes before and after a swim
- Never swim in urban rivers, stagnant lakes or reedy shallows
- Wear footwear if you can
- Look out for blue-green algae that can irritate the skin and make you sick if you swallow the water
- Make sure you have permission to swim