If you crave an exhilarating outdoor experience, wild swimming is for you
From picturesque seaside harbours to hidden stretches of the Thames, the expert swimmers in the know over at Selkie Swim shared their favourite places to practice your backstroke.
Here are the ten best spots for wild swimming in the UK…
1. Blea Tarn
Fay said, ‘This spot always has the ‘wow’ factor, no matter how many times you return. It is a site of special scientific interest and is good for wildlife spotting too. It’s quiet, remote, rather untouched and turns icy in winter. There are a few shingles beaches from where to enter the water and the Langdales make a wonderful backdrop.’
There’s a National Trust car park nearby (LA22 9JU) and a good access path which goes most of the way around the tarn, with benches. You can also head on over to Sticklebarn pub to refuel after a day spent swimming, plus grab a sneaky pint if you’re so inclined.
Address: Blea Tarn, Langdale, The Lake District, Cumbria
2. Tor Bay
Andrew said, ‘[Tor Bay] is a large horseshoe shaped, sheltered, sandy beach, at the eastern end of Oxwich bay. It sits gloriously between the limestone headlands of Great Tor and Little Tor and the water is some of the best quality in the UK. The beach is at its best between mid and high-tide, and there is always sand even at high tide. It’s a lovely for a coastal swim with the possibility to swim out and around the headland to Three Cliffs (avoid the headland on the outgoing tide as there are strong rip currents forming then).’
The nearest Parking is in Penmaen and Tor Bay beach is accessed via a good coastal clifftop path, followed by a steep sandy path down to the beach. It’s dog-friendly all throughout the season, however do bear in mind that there aren’t any lifeguards if you’re bringing little ones.
Address: Tor Baoy, Penmaen, Swansea, SA3 2HJ
3. Kingsand Beach
‘Kingsand Beach is located in what’s known as ‘the forgotten corner’ of Cornwall,’ Becky said. ‘It’s lovely, quiet and sheltered, as it is located in Plymouth Sound and there are even swimming buoys out in the bay. You can venture further out to Pier Cellars or all the way out to Penlee Point, but must watch out for water traffic. ‘The Devonport Arms’ pub is right on the beach as well, which is rather handy.’
This child-friendly beach is reachable from Plymouth either by a small boat that runs from the Mayflower Steps in the Barbican to the adjoining village Cawsand (seasonal), or by road. Parking-wise, there’s two decent car parks in both villages. If you’re super lucky, you might even be able to spot the neighbourhood dolphins who occasionally make an appearance.
Address: Kingsand Beach, Kingsand, Cornwall, PL10 1NA
4. Chichester Harbour
Stephen said, ‘Chichester Harbour is a beautiful stretch of water running from the ancient city of Chichester, all the way to East Head and finally out to West Wittering Beach. Sheltered from the wind, it has several places to get in for a dip, Dell Quay, Itchenor & Bosham Hoe, all steeped in tales of smuggling and local folklore. [If you go] swimming in the harbour, you will always find new things to see and explore. And if you have had enough, you can take the Itchenor ferry back to the shore.’
On a more practical note, he also advised swimmers, ‘Watch out for marine traffic and make sure you’re visible. Early morning and late evenings are the quietest. [It’s] also the best time for stunning sunset swims. If it’s windy, the sailing clubs are out, but you can hug the banks on higher tides and swim under the branches of the old trees which is pretty idyllic.’
According to Stephen, there’s also a few nice old waterside pubs and cafes for food and refreshments. For more information, you can check out Chichester Harbour Conservancy for local information, maps and harbour tides.
Address: Chichester Harbour, Chichester, PO2 07EJ
5. Old Harry Rocks
Stuart said, ‘Studland is a beautiful, scenic and popular National Trust series of beaches. Although coastal swims along the beaches are lovely with amazing views, the longer, tide dependant, swim to Old Harry Rocks is a bucket list must-have. Knoll beach, home to Studland Watersports, is a good starting point, as you can hire kayaks for someone to paddle as you swim for support and get tide information and tips; and the views of Old Harry rocks and the Purbeck hills from there are amazing.’
Parking is available in the two National Trust car parks a few metres from the beach. There’s also a cosy café for refreshments and food.
Address: Old Harry Rocks, Studland, near Swanage, Dorset
6. The Flower Pot
‘At the very end of Aston Lane is a lovely bucolic spot, from which to enter the Thames via a small slipway, for a dip or a longer swim in the Hambleden Valley,’ Jon said. ‘It is a long stretch of river with an island to swim upstream to or around, and a pontoon with water usually deep enough to jump or dive in.’
He continued, ‘The flow can be high at times, making it a challenging upstream swim with an easy float back. And there is a cold spring stream running into the river by the slipway, making the entry point a little chillier than the rest of the river.’
Easy parking is located right by the river at the very end of Aston Lane. For refreshments and pub grub, the Flower Pot pub is signposted and just up the lane.
Address: The Flower Pot, River Thames, Henley on Thames, RG9 3DG
7 & 8. Burgh Island and Bantham Beach, Kingsbridge, Devon
Di said, ‘Burgh Island and Bantham Beach (home of the Bantham Swoosh) are iconic South Devon landmarks, directly opposite Bigbury-on-Sea beach, which is only accessible by a strip of sand at low tide. The island is famed for its links to Agatha Christie, the art-deco inspired hotel and as a one-time haunt for pirates and smugglers.’
She added, ‘From the beach at Bigbury-on-Sea you can swim around Burgh Island. The level of the tide determines the extend of the beach and thus the length of the swim.’
‘You can also do mini swooshes from Bantham Sands, running up the sandy banks as far as you like on an outgoing tide, plop in and swoosh down, get out with a big smile on your face and repeat!’ she finished.
She advised planning the swim beforehand and to ask the advice of the lifeguards on the East beach in season.
There are paying car parks both in Bigbury and Bantham, depending on where you would like to start from and they do get pretty busy in season. After finishing up your swim, you can also finish off with some awesome food from the Gastrobus at Bantham Beach or a burger to die for at the pastel coloured old school Citroen van.
Address for Burgh Island: Burgh Island, Bigbury-on-Sea, Kingsbridge, Devon, TQ7 4BG
Address for Bantham Beach: Bantham Beach, Kingsbridge, Devon, TQ7 3AN
9. Dover Harbour
‘Despite being a major port, [Dover Harbour] has a surprisingly pleasant (sharp) shingle beach, clean water and an attractive seafront behind,’ Nick said. ‘It is overlooked by the imposing medieval Dover Castle and the fortifications in the cliffs, the stunning white Cliffs themselves, the Western Heights Napoleonic defences and you can watch the ferries come and go.’
‘There is a designated recreation area and away from the ferries is the harbour used by swimmers which is about 1 km across,’ he said. ‘It is special as it is packed with history of Channel crossing training.’
There’s parking behind the promenade and a water sports centre on the beach that rents out equipment, if you’re keen to jump on a kayak. It’s also surrounded by cafes and shops as it’s super close to the centre of town.
Address: Dover Harbour, Dover, Kent, CT16 1LA
10. Clifton Hampden Bridge, Clifton Hampden, Oxfordshire, OX14 3EE
Katia said, ‘[Clifton Hampden Bridge] is a distinctive 19th century bridge, stepping over the still narrow river Thames in a pretty picturesque Oxfordshire village. The banks are covered in wildflowers and majestic trees, there is a lot of wildlife around and the river quickly finds its way away from the traffic and into the quiet countryside.’
‘You can swim for as long as you want,’ she explained. ‘There are entry spots on both side of the river, although the ‘post office lay-by’ side has a couple of benches carved out of tree trunks and a table for a picnic. Swim upstream under the arches of the bridge, and back down again, or you can carry on upstream until you reach the lock channel and even further if you stay left. Downstream is also a nice swim through trees and fields.’
She also shared a handy secret, ‘The post office sells local fruit and veg, cakes and the best pain au chocolat for miles, but you will need to be early!’
If you’re looking for a spot to park your car, there’s spaces in the layby by the post office.
Address: Clifton Hampden Bridge, Clifton Hampden, Oxfordshire, OX14 3EE