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11 of the most beautiful wild swimming spots in the UK

Looking for the best wild swimming spots in the UK? These lagoons, rivers and waterfalls will help you scratch the itch

Written by
Alexandra Sims
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It might not seem like the most obvious of pastimes, but more and more people are stripping off and swimming in the cold rivers of the UK. Why? Well, you won’t really know until you’ve given it a go. The most beautiful wild swimming spots in the UK offer a freer-than-free way to reduce anxiety and embrace the magic of nature, all while getting some decent exercise along the way. What’s not to like? Sure, it is chilly, but how often do you get to wear a swimsuit and a bobble hat at the same time?

The hardy types here for the shivering are descending upon ponds, rivers and lakes and knocking out a few lengths. Throw in some rural rivers, tidal lagoons, waterfall plunge pools and lochside beaches, and you’ve got another string to the UK’s fabulous natural bow.

And if you’re not convinced yet, here’s our guide on how to get into outdoor swimming (and stick with it).

Please note: Wild swimming can be dangerous. It’s best to avoid taking the plunge if you’re not a strong, experienced swimmer. Please check for potential hazards before you swim.Please be mindful of the people who live locally, check whether car parks and toilets are open before you set off, do not leave litter, and adhere to social distancing guidelines at all times.

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The best places for wild swimming in the UK

Blue Lagoon, Pembrokeshire, Wales
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Blue Lagoon, Pembrokeshire, Wales

Forget jetting off to Iceland – Wales’s very own Blue Lagoon is just as beguiling. The sea has flooded this former quarry, creating a glistening, seemingly bottomless pool that shines azure in the sun. Surrounded by sandy beaches and craggy cliffs, the lagoon’s depth makes it perfect for plunging into from the high cliffs (you can dive in as part of an organised group). It’s also a haven for coasteering and kayaking. 

 

Beckenham Park Swimming Lake, London
Photograph: Lewisham Council

Beckenham Park Swimming Lake, London

This may be London’s newest wild swimming spot, but technically, it’s pretty ancient. In 2019 the park refilled its lost Georgian lake and converted it into a bucolic open-water hangout with a wooden jetty for jumping straight into the chilly waters. The long grasses, wet woodland, and green hills sloping towards the water’s edge make the pool feel strangely secluded for an inner-city spot. Head to the café in the park’s charmingly ramshackle mansion for a post-swim snack.

£5 per person. £3 concessions (£6/3.50 for non-Lewisham residents). 

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River Isis, Port Meadow, Oxford
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River Isis, Port Meadow, Oxford

Looking like something straight out of a Gainsborough landscape, Port Meadow is a stretch of common land roamed by cows and horses that sprawls out from the upper reaches of the Thames (known in these parts as the Isis). It’s no wonder it’s such a popular spot for a dip on hot days. Aim to dive in down by Fiddler’s Island, the bit nearest central Oxford, or upriver at Godstow and Wolvercote, where you’ll find the remains of a former official bathing place.

Falls of Falloch, Crianlarich, Scotland
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Falls of Falloch, Crianlarich, Scotland

Set in the shadow of snow-capped mountain Ben Lui, this alfresco swimming spot is framed by a dramatic ten-metre waterfall and delicate woodland canopies. Just off the West Highland Way – and accessed via a bumpy farm track – the large circular plunge pool is known locally as Rob Roy’s Bathtub (a fabled Scottish outlaw who may or may not have bathed here). It makes for a tranquil spot to spend an hour or two lolling around in the cool water.

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Linhope Spout, Northumberland
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Linhope Spout, Northumberland

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more striking backdrop for a wild swim than this fairytale plunge pool with an 18-metre waterfall crashing down into it. Surrounded by a wooded glade in the middle of Northumberland National Park, the foaming pool is just big enough for a small group to wade in on a hot day. 

Kailpot Crag, Ullswater, Cumbria
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Kailpot Crag, Ullswater, Cumbria

The Lake District’s epic lakes can get stupidly busy come wild swimming season. Kailpot Crag is on Ullswater’s quieter east side, which, crucially, doesn’t have a main road running alongside it. Walk from Sandwick or Howtown to the high, rocky cliff from which you can jump straight into the still, deep waters. There’s also a small lakeside beach if you’d prefer a more easy-going way in.

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Goldiggins Quarry, Minions, Cornwall
Photograph: Tony Atkin/ Geograph

Goldiggins Quarry, Minions, Cornwall

An old quarry might not sound like the most inviting place to strip down to your smalls for a swim. This one, however, is tucked away in the craggy beauty of Bodmin Moor and is now home to a deep, jewel-bright pool. It’s inaccessible by car, so you’ll need to park up in nearby Minions – the highest village in Cornwall – and walk across the blustery moorland, past smatterings of quirky rock formations. It’s well worth the hike: the waters, which come from a nearby spring, are crystal clear, and adventurous types can get their kicks jumping off the high quarry cliffs into the expanse below. 

Appletreewick, River Wharfe, Yorkshire
Photograph: John M/ Geograph

Appletreewick, River Wharfe, Yorkshire

This tiny village in the Yorkshire Dales National Park is just as idyllically quaint as its name suggests. A track road opposite the New Inn takes you away from the chocolate-box stone cottages to the River Wharfe, where rocks and shingle lead down to a pool with a small rocky island and gentle rapids. Really want to make a splash? Have a go on the rope swing dangling from one of the waterside trees. 

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Loch Morlich, Highlands
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Loch Morlich, Highlands

Thanks to Scotland’s extremely lenient open-access laws, it’s possible to swim in nearly all of its atmospheric lochs – and Morlich is the perfect place to start. In the foothills of the country’s largest mountain range, it’s home to Britain’s highest beach, an invitingly sandy stretch where people can sunbathe, picnic or launch themselves into the loch’s cool waters. If watersports are more your thing, paddleboards, kayaks and canoes are available at the on-site activity centre.

Walpole Bay Tidal Pool, Margate
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Walpole Bay Tidal Pool, Margate

Margate’s elusive tidal pool is impossible to spot at high tide, as it is only when the sea draws away from the shore that its concrete walls are visible over the lapping waves. During winter, this enclosed four-acre section of Walpole Bay attracts mostly pretty hardcore pro swimmers who brave the chilly waters that flow in from the North Sea. But as soon as the sun makes an appearance, less hardy types also take the plunge.

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Hampstead Heath Ponds, London
Photograph: Anutr Tosirikul / Shutterstock

Hampstead Heath Ponds, London

There’s nothing more refreshing on a sticky, sweltering day in London than escaping to Hampstead Heath’s boundless greenery and plunging into one of its swimming ponds. The Heath has three swimming pools (ladies, men and mixed). Originally dammed-off clay pits, the ponds are run by the City of London Corporation and are open year-round. They have a loyal local following; in 2004, the regular swimmers took the corporation to court after they threatened to close the ponds. (They won – preserving this treasured London institution.) 

£4.05 for a one-day ticket. £2.43 concessions.

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