Best wild swimming spots in Britain

Explore the UK's most beautiful waters with our guide to some of the best places to go for a wild swim

Published: March 22nd, 2019 at 11:50 am
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From the Isle of Skye to the wilds of Dartmoor, cool off in magical rivers, lochs and glacial lakes with our guide to the best wild swimming spots in Britain, chosen by Wild Swimming author Daniel Start and the Countryfile Magazine team.

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Best places for wild swimming in Scotland

Skye's faerie pools, Scotland

Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Waterfalls in Coire na Creiche, part of a series of pools that make up Skye's 'Faerie Pool's' ©Getty

The Faerie Pools on the Isle of Skye lie serenely in a sheltered glade of red-berried rowans and lilac rock. The misty towers of the Black Cullin kingdom rise above like great Gaudi spires, the remnants of a huge volcano. Some of the pools are tinged with pinks and greens, and two are linked by an underwater arch. If you swim underneath, you’ll see the rock face is encrusted with pieces of quartz, and there is an almost phosphorescent emerald glow. In scenery as magical as this it’s not difficult to imagine faeries and nymphs.


Long Canyon, River Etive, Glen Coe

Glen Coe is famous for its wild and dramatic scenery, but a little-known valley running to the south holds its most spectacular swimming pools and gorges. Glen Etive’s Long Canyon in one of the best spots, with high cliffs and deep water. From Eas An Fhir Mhoirnd, continue 1.25 miles past the Alltchaorunn bridge. On the left, there’s kink in the river, with a large river pool in the bend; the 150m-long canyon lies just downstream.


West Beach, Berneray, Isles of Harris, Outer Hebrides

The clear turquoise waters of Berneray in the Outer Hebrides are reached by wandering through dunes and crossing fine, white sands. The island’s colourful landscape is covered in stone circles. With exquisite views, it is perhaps the most beautiful swimming beach in the UK; brace yourself for the cold water!

Sandy beach and sea
Sandy beach with dunes near Solas, North Uist, Uist, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, UK (Getty)

Best places for wild swimming in England

Granchester Meadows, Cambridgeshire

Relaxed punters on the River Cam ©Getty

Take tea in Grantchester, Cambridgeshire, and enjoy a length of the River Cam that has changed little since Edwardian times. It was here that Rupert Brooke, Virginia Woolfe and other creative minds gathered to camp, picnic and swim naked. On a hot summer day, the languid mile-long stretch of river is still dotted with dons drinking Pimm’s. Punts and canoes glide by, some heading downstream towards Cambridge’s famous Backs, others upstream to the delightful Orchard Tea Gardens. Anywhere along the meadows is good for swimming, particularly on the outside of the bends where the river deepens, often to more than 1.8m (6ft).


River Avon, Claverton weir

Claverton Small weir, near Bath, East Somerset ©Geograph

There is a 100m long weir in a wonderful valley off the Avon with long deep water stretches and shallow paddling areas above. The water is clean and the spot is surrounded by meadow with play areas under the weir, near the bank. To reach it, continue 3km on the A36 Claverton hamlet and then turn left down Ferry Lane. Walk to the bottom and cross into the big field and the weir will be on your right.


River Ouse, Yorkshire

An aerial view of the River Ouse, near Isfield, East Sussex. Geograph

The River Ouse, which winds through the Sussex Downs, is one of the most beautiful waterways in the south-east. Its grassy banks are a perfect place for swimming races, leapfrog and other riverside hijinx. You can picnic at Barcombe Mills in open meadows or head upstream to the remote riverside Anchor Inn. Here you can hire one of its fleet of blue paddle boats and row or swim for more than two miles through remote and beautiful countryside. The spire of Isfield church is the only building in sight for the whole journey.


Sillmor, River Coquet, Northumberland

To the north-east of Hadrian’s Wall lie the Cheviot Hills, where deep remote valleys are rich in river pools. At Sillmoor, a stretch of perfect river pools are bounded by grassy moorland and open meadows. There are also some rapids and a waterfall. From Rothbury, take the B6341 to Alwinton. Cross the river Coquet at Linbriggs farm and continue 0.75 miles to park by the river. If you have time, you can follow the river on another 10 beautiful miles to the Roman border fort of Chew Green high on the Cheviot ridge.


River Dart, Devon

Historic medieval Clapper Bridge at Postbridge, crossing the East Dart, Dartmoor ©Getty

The River Dart, in Dartmoor National Park, Devon, is the setting for Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies. And with its sandy bays, oak gorges and deep pools, this is one of the most beautiful wild swimming rivers in the UK. Several miles up a twisted path from Newbridge, in the forest halfway to Dartmeet, you can lie on flat hot rocks by a gurgling river and feel a world away from civilisation. Dense woodland tumbles down the side of the moor, a light spray lifts off the water and the forest murmurs with birdsong. This is a place made for lazy picnics and a swim on sunny afternoons.

Alternatively, Piles Copse is a remnant of ancient oak woodland with an exquisite stream and waterfall. The quickest access is from the hamlet of Tor, near Cornwood. Follow the track that leads northeast up around waterworks and the hillside for one mile.


The Barle, Simonsbath, Exmoor National Park, Somerset

River in spring
The Barle river at Simonsbath, a small village nestled in a valley of Exmoor National Park. (Getty)

Follow the Barle up-river through Bluebell woods to find numerous clear, secluded pools. It provides good swimming from Tarr Steps, a prehistoric stone bridge. As a biological site of Special Scientific Interest, there is a wealth of rare flora and fauna to see, with good pubs nearby.


Tongue Pot, Eskdale, Cumbria

A magical series of pools leads up the Esk towards Scafell Pike; there is nowhere better to be on a hot day in the Lakes. Tongue Pot is the best, set beneath an ancient packhorse bridge. Many more pools lie 200-300m above, at Esk Waterfall and on Lingcove Becks. Park by the phone at the bottom of Hardknott Pass and follow the riverside path up for two miles to the confluence and bridge.


Appletreewick, River Wharfe, Yorkshire

This delightful stretch of Lower Wharfedale has two pubs and a pleasant lane that leads down through fields to a pretty river pool with a small island. Note – the water has submerged underwater rocks, which make diving dangerous. Appletreewick is two miles off the B6160 via Bolton Abbey and the A59 from Skipton. For the pool, take the footpath just before Mason Farm campsite (BD23 6DD).


Rocky Valley, Tintagel, Cornwall

In a hidden valley a few miles from the Arthurian castle of Tintagel, a path leads down beside a pretty stream to waterfall pools by sea. Look out for carvings of labyrinths, possibly 3,500 years old, behind the old mill. Park on the B3263, just east of Bossiney, at the layby next to the turn off to Halgabron. Follow the footpath opposite. If there is time, head upstream to St Nectan’s Kieve, where a tall, slender waterfall falls into a plunge pool.


Best places for wild swimming in Wales

Snowdonia's stunning tarns

A wild swimmer enjoys an evening dip in a Snowdonia tarn ©Getty

Tarns – or llyns as they’re known in Wales – are those magical high lakes that appear as you’re sweating your way to the top of the mountain. The Rhinog Range in Snowdonia has more of them per square mile than anywhere else in Wales. Swimming in them provides a total landscape immersion and an ultimate sense of the wild. Llyn Eiddew has a shallow side with grassy sheep-mown banks for picnics, perfect for wading in. There’s also a deep side with cliff ledges for sun lounging and jumping in. A backdrop of bracken and stone peaks completes the scene.


Lower Ddwli Falls in the Brecon Beacons

You will not find a more impressive network of forest lidos and falling water anywhere in Wales than Coed-y-Rhaiadr (‘waterfall woods’). Lower Ddwli is a fantastic pool under a wide-arced cascade. Park at Pontneddfechan, off the A465 from Swansea. From the Angel Inn (SA11 5NR), follow the river on a good path up through the woods. At a junction pool with footbridges, bear right and follow the main stream a further mile, passing Horseshoe Falls.


Best places for wild swimming in Northern Ireland

Mourne Mountains, County Down

Lough Shannagh, County Down
Lough Shannagh, County Down ©Getty

Lough Shannagh, County Down, is a wide open loch surrounded by the beautiful Mourne Mountains, but little visited. Half an hour’s walk from the road brings you to its bank, by which point you should be hot enough to want a dip. The lake is framed by several peaks, including Slieve Doan and Slieve Loughshannagh, and the landscape is blanketed with heather and gorse with the odd speckle of marsh cotton. The water is crystal blue and refreshingly cold, but if you’re feeling timid there is a stretch of sand on which to picnic, and from where you can dip your toe in.

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Daniel Start’s 2022 edition of Wild Swimming (Wild Things Publishing, £16.99) contains 300 hidden dips in the lakes, waterfalls and rivers of Britain

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