Travel

These Wild Swimming Spots Prove You Don't Need To Travel For Some Fun In The Sun

Beautiful spots to take a dip.

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The great outdoors have never been more appreciated in the UK and all over the world as during the COVID-19 crisis. The positive effects of immersing yourself in nature is well documented and as the mercury rises, you best get yourself well acquainted with the best wild swimming spots in the UK. Not only are they an unusual place to swim, you'll usually find they're a lot quieter than lidos and way more magical than a paddling pool in your back garden.

The UK is an island nation, and its beautiful beaches have historically been a great pull for domestic and overseas visitors. But beauty isn't just what's on the outside and, in terms of having a nice cooling splash, there's a number of rivers, lakes, and ponds waiting for you to dip your toes into.

First: a few words of safety. Outdoor swimming can be more dangerous than swimming indoors due to a lack of lifeguards, variable conditions and the cold. A few simple precautions can help ensure that your swim is adventurous for the right reasons.

Be sure to check if where you're planning on swimming has lifeguards, if you're not a seasoned outdoor swimmer, it's wise to start with places that are supervised in case you get into any trouble. Always go with friends, as you can keep an eye on each other and call for help if anything goes wrong. Before you make the plunge, check you have an easy exit from the water should anything go wrong. And when you're ready to swim, ease yourself into the water. It might be tempting to jump in to get the freezing cold feeling over and done with, but sudden immersion can cause cold shock and difficulty breathing. Once you're in, check you're breathing easily and stay close to the side until you become acclimatised to the temperature.

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On top of that, it's important to maintain social distancing and be respectful of more secluded areas during at the moment. The Outdoor Swimming Society kindly shared a lockdown guide for swimmers which is invaluable in stopping the spread of the virus as restrictions are eased

  • Swim local — visit nearby places. Cycle or walk where possible
  • Litter pick — in and out of the water. Pack rubbish sacks/ gloves/ empty tow float
  • Reduce crowding — consider swimming early or later in the day. If it’s crowded, be prepared to go home
  • Social distance — follow advice at all times
  • Think twice before sharing — for the time being, don’t tag locations on social media
  • Stay safe — and respect the local environment and people at all times
  • Avoid honeypots — avoid iconic and idyllic spots, and those known to be overwhelmed
  • Think small — if you usually swim in a group, consider swimming with fewer people than usual.

Keep the above in mind when you make plans to visit any (or all) of the following beautiful spots.

Wales

River Usk, The Bryn
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The Bryn is a small village in South Wales not far from Abergavenny and about 45 minutes drive from Cardiff. Daniel Start, author of The Wild Guide To Wales recommends you take yourself on a picturesque stroll down a path past St Cadoc church and amble across meadows until you get to the river. There you'll find beaches and downstream there's a lovely pool for you to take a dip. Ideal for those who like to mix rural, village idyll with river swims.

Kenfig Dunes, Bridgend

Situated only 30 minutes drive from Swansea it Kenfig Dunes, one of Europe's largest dune systems. The long sandy beach is peppered with several fresh water pools, meaning its perfect for those who're keen on their flora and fauna. It's also the only place in the UK home to the rare fen orchid.

Bala Lake, Llangower
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An hour and a quarter's drive from Bangor through Snowdonia National Park will bring you to the largest natural lake in Wales. Llyn Tegid (Bala Lake in English) is situated in rolling hills and mountains almost bang in the middle of Wales. Llyn Tegid translates to 'fair lake,' and, seriously, the name says it all. Swimming is freely allowed and the banks are framed by silt and gravel shores for you to plonk yourself while you dry off in the sunshine.

Scotland

Cambus o’ May, Cairngorms National Park

This stunning stretch of the River Dee in Cairngorms National Park, one hour from Aberdeen, offers swimmers an opportunity to get away from it all. For engineering buffs there's a beautiful white Victorian suspension bridge that acts as a convenient location marker. The water slopes down to 4m at its deepest and, according to travel site Culture Trip, the river has flat rocks along the side that warm up in the sun and are perfect for you to catch some rays on.

Waulkmill Bay, Orphir, The Orkney Archipelago

The Orkney archipelago is among the greatest jewels in the UK's crown and its islands are renowned for their natural beauty. A bit of a shlep to get to (a two-hour ferry from Scrabster and then a 20 minute drive will get you to your destination) but totally worth it. Waulkmill Bay is located Orkney's west mainland and features the most inviting, clear, turquoise water. As it's more sheltered than other swimming spots on the island and has a sandy beach it's a lovely option for a beach day out. According to the Orkney website, at low tide it offers a huge expanse of lovely golden sand for you to leave your happy little footprints in.

River Douchary, North West Highlands
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Set in the North West Highlands, the Dhan Uisge (River Douchary) is just under two hours drive from Inverness. It's situated eight miles in from the picturesque seaside town of Ullapool and is one for intrepid explorer. Documented by filmmaker Calum Maclean in his series about wild swimming, due to air on BBC ALBA on July 17, there's a series of waterfall pools, a natural canal channel and crystal clear water to jump into here.

River Tay, Aberfeldy
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Perthshire is home to many beauty spots and truly, there are so many options for a bit of wild swimming but the River Tay is quite magnificent. Only 50 minutes drive from Perth, Tay's peat soaked depths are likely to be a hit with fans of Scottish whisky. According to the Telegraph the local village set upon the Tay, Tayside, used to house multiple Scotch distilleries and is considered by many to be the home of whisky. Just leave sampling the goods until after your swim.

Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye
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The Scottish island of Skye packs in so much beautiful scenery it's actually kind of hard to believe it's part of the UK. But a swim in the crystal clear waters of the Fairy Pools won't so much fool you into thinking you're on another continent so much as in another world. Set amongst a backdrop of the Black Cuillin Mountains and created by the River Brittle running downstream, the pools certainly beat the tiled sides of your local pool. Hike the trail and stop for spontaneous swims as soon as you start to feel even slightly sweaty. There's so many to choose from, it would be rude not to.

Northern Ireland

Oxford Island, Lake Neagh
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Situated on Lake Neagh (Lough Neagh), the biggest lake in the British Isles, Oxford Island is a part of a sprawling nature reserve 30 minutes drive from Belfast. Why not check out the Lough Neagh Monster Dunkers group on FB for tips on when the best time to take a dip is?

Lake Erne, Fermanagh
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Lough Erne (Lake Erne) is made up of two connecting lakes and its beautiful inky blue depths are one of the biggest tourist attractions in Fermanagh. An hour and a half drive from Belfast through the wilds of Northern Ireland will get you to your destination. In terms of where exactly to pick as a swimming point, considering there's a remarkable 154 islands in the Lough you can kind of take your pick. One particularly historic one is Devenish Island, which has beautiful monastic ruins and is located in the southern part of the lake.

Ballintoy Harbour, Ballycastle
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Any Game Of Thrones buffs will be familiar with this beautiful spot, an hour's drive from Derry, as the filming location of the Iron Islands. In reality, the harbour is more bloody gorgeous than bloody... bloody (as GoT would have you believe) and offers beautiful clear water that's ideal after going sight seeing at the Giant's Causeway.

England

Walpole Bay Tidal Pool, Margate
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Situated on the Kentish coastal town of Margate, two hours drive from London, is the Walpole Tidal Pool. Think of this as man-made wild swimming, or wild swimming for beginners, as the pool is technically purpose-built, but it sits right on the ocean's edge to create a great natural swimming experience. It was constructed back in the early 20th century so that bathers could take a dip when the tide was out. It's best to visit the pool when the tide is out to make the most of it but fear not if the tide is in, Margate's sandy beach is just as inviting.

Gaddings Dam, Todmorden
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If you're on a trip up north and desperate for a dip, England's "highest beach" is the one for you and it's only an hour's drive from Leeds or Manchester. You'll get a good walk in climbing the massive, steep hill just above Todmorden, which is in the Calder Valley. Once you get up to the top, there's a lovely sandy beach and cool clear waters to luxuriate in.

Lugg Meadow, Herefordshire

Lugg Meadow dates back to the time before the Domesday Book and is an important and stunningly beautiful nature reserve situated an hour and 40 minutes south west of Birmingham, right on the Welsh border. The meandering Lugg bores deep holes, ideal for swimming, which nestle nicely in the river's bends with lots of little beaches.

Spitchwick Common, Dartmoor

Spitchwick Common is one of the most beloved swimming spots in Dartmoor National Park, half an hour's drive from Exeter. Here, the River Dart pools and is surrounded by nature at its best. Fans of forestry will enjoy the silver birch that line the bank and there's lots of grassy patches to sit and munch sandwiches on.

Henleaze Lake, Bristol

This West Country swimming spot offers the best of both worlds. There are lifeguards in situ for safety plus the chance to fling yourself off a diving board, all against the backdrop of gorgeous green meadows, with plenty of space to stretch out and sunbathe post-swim. And if you're feeling really chilly, you can always seek refuge in the pond-side sauna. Ideal if you'd like to dip a toe into outdoor swimming without giving up the comforts of an indoor pool.