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A calm stretch of the River Cam, surrounded by large trees that are reflected in the water, with a footpath to the right
Photograph: Diamond Geezer / Flickr

Ten incredible wild swimming spots near London

Get out of the city and into some of the amazing pools, lakes and ponds near London

Rosie Hewitson
Written by
Rosie Hewitson

When temperatures finally start to rise, a refreshing dip is the only thing for it. Sure, you could visit London’s lovely outdoor pools and lidos, but you wouldn't get to swim right up to a duck or feel your toes squish deliciously into the wet mud on the lake's floor, would you? Wild swimming hasn't been this popular since the invention of chlorinated water, with London's nature enthusiasts falling hard for the charms of limpid lakes and crystal-clear rivers. 

Hampstead ponds are easily the capital's most famous wild swimming spot, but they're also wildly popular, which means taking a dip requires some serious advance planning. So why not go a bit farther afield, and make a day of it? There's an abundance of opportunities for wild swimming near London where you can swim as nature intended, with stunning scenery to drink in with each stroke. For maximum summer vibes, bring a post-swim picnic to enjoy as you dry out in the sun, then decamp to a good old country pub.

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NOTE: Wild swimming can be dangerous. It’s best not to try if you’re not a strong, experienced swimmer. Please check for potential hazards before you swim and be mindful of cold water shock.

The best wild swimming spots near London

1. River Cam, Cambridge

Between Byron’s Pool and King’s Mill Weir, there’s a roughly two-mile-long, watery stretch where experienced wild swimmers can get in touch with the elements. Lower yourself into the Cam’s upper reaches and float through a dreamscape of vast meadows, low-hanging willow trees and smooth, arched bridges. If you’re more of the adventurous type, then join the traditional New Year’s Day swim in the Cam, where a bunch of intrepid aquanauts get splashy in frosty waters. Some say the experience is invigorating. Others say it’s just very, very cold.

Getting there: From 47 minutes by train from London King’s Cross to Cambridge; one hour 10 minutes by car from central London.

2. Walpole Bay Tidal Pool, Margate

Margate’s unique tidal pool is usually reserved for hardcore wild swimmers who brave the chilly waters that flow in from the North Sea. But when the sun finally makes an appearance, more bold members of the public have also been known to take the plunge. Jumping into this enclosed part of Walpole Bay is an fab activity if you want to embrace your inner Michael Phelps without drifting too far from the shore. Bear in mind, though, that whatever the weather, the tidal pool is best for strong swimmers since the deepest point slopes down to six-foot-six.

Getting there: From one hour and 24 minutes by train from St Pancras International, London Cannon Street or London Victoria; one hour 47 minutes by car from central London 


3. River Thames, Marlow

Home to a famous annual river regatta, the picturesque Buckinghamshire town of Marlow is a place where life on and in the water seems to be part of the deal. Just outside is Little Marlow, where popular swimming spots include the beautiful turn in the river at the end of Ferry Lane, heading out of nearby Medmenham. Further east, about halfway between Marlow station and Cock Marsh, you’ll find a beachy patch of the Thames ideal for more family-orientated swims. As always, beware of river traffic – there’s plenty of it here.

Getting there: From 42 minutes by train from Paddington station to Marlow, changing at Maidenhead; 49 minutes by car from central London.

4. Frensham Great Pond, Frensham

Frensham Pond is one of the countryside’s best-kept secrets. Amble on over from the car park and you’ll be greeted by wild and undulating flora, lush greenery and sailing boats that drift around as though Monday morning alarms don’t exist. The waters here are clear and fairly shallow, so paddling in the buoyed off swimming areas is a must for even the most timid swimmers, who can just go ankle-deep. When you’re all out of paddle power, retire to the beaches and melt like a Calippo left out in the sun. Just remember to be considerate if you do visit. The heathland surrounding the pretty pond is extremely delicate and home to some critically endangered wildlife so visitors should be careful and stick to designated areas and walkways. 

Getting there: About 49 minutes by train from London Waterloo to Farnham; one hour 13 minutes by car from central London.


5. River Wey, Shalford

Out into the Surrey Hills, an area of outstanding natural beauty about an hour from Waterloo, you’ll find the village of Shalford. From there, you can follow the River Tillingbourne north until you reach the Wey Navigation, where you’ll find one of the most peaceful, quaint spots of wild swimming in the south – not a bit of London craziness about it. Look out for the tiny sandy beaches inviting you down into the water, or head for the bridge in Shalford Park – a popular (if prohibited) jumping spot for local teenagers.

Getting there: From 41 minutes by train from London Waterloo to Shalford; one hour by car from central London.

6. River Thames, Pangbourne Meadows

Pangbourne Meadows is an effortlessly romantic swimming spot for strong swimmers, with scenic bridges, velvety waters and vast grassy verges. To get in and out, head east of the weir where there are boat ramps, and then bathe with uninterrupted views of chalk beaches and the Chiltern Hills. When you’re done backstroking, saunter along the Thames path and enjoy visions of the vista that inspired Kenneth Grahame (the guy who wrote ‘Wind in the Willows’). Just make sure you keep an eye out for traffic if you’re looking out from Whitchurch bridge. Halcyon days, indeed.

Getting there: From 43 minutes by train from London Paddington to Pangbourne, changing at Reading; one hour 17 minutes by car from central London.


7. River Stour, Dedham Mill, Manningtree

Often called Constable Country after the famous painter who used the local landscapes as his muse, this quiet spot on the river Stour is situated in the Dedham Vale Area of Natural Beauty. There are plenty of good places along the riverbank to climb in, including an especially good spot by Dedham Mill where the river widens into a pond, with a beachy bank from which you can easily wade into the deeper waters in the middle. Once you’re tired out, head to The Boathouse pub in nearby Flatford, where you can hire a boat for a more leisurely trip down the river.

Getting there: From 54 minutes by train from London Liverpool Street to Manningtree; one hour and 30 minutes by car from central London

8. River Isis, Port Meadow, Oxford

A vast stretch of common land roamed by cows and horses, Port Meadow stretches for nearly two miles along the upper stretches of the Thames (known here as the Isis). It’s a popular spot for locals to go for a dip on hot days, but the size of the place means there’s always a free spot to slip into the cold, clear water. Try either down by Fiddler’s Island, the nearest point to central Oxford, or upriver at Godstow and Wolvercote, where you’ll find the remains of a former official bathing place.

Getting there: From 44 minutes by train from London Paddington or London Marylebone to Oxford; one hour 20 minutes by car from central London.


9. Divers Cove Reservoir, Godstone

Looking for a wild spot for some open-water swimming? You won’t find one much better maintained than Divers Cove, an open-air reservoir in the untamed landscape of a nature reserve. This one’s for serious, competent swimmers, and other activities like triathlon training and scuba diving are also on offer. The water’s guaranteed to be chilly, but, luckily, the changing rooms are heated – winner.

Getting there: From one hour three minutes by train and bus from London Victoria or London Bridge; one hour eight minutes by car from central London.

10. River Medway, Ensfield Bridge, Tonbridge

Forget overly chlorinated pools. With half a mile of easily accessible waters, this lesser-known spot makes for a much more natural day of sun-basking. The river is nestled within some steep overgrown riverbanks and muddy floral borders by the Ensfield Bridge, and once you’re in, you can float around safe in the knowledge that you avoided the people traffic at your local lido. For those who prefer drier exercise, go for walk along one of the many Eden Valley trails and use the river for a refreshing, impromptu cool-off – just keep an eye out for resident swans. 

Getting there: From 40 minutes by train from London King’s Cross or London Victoria to Leigh, changing at Tonbridge; one hour 10 minutes by car from central London.

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