Best wild swimming spots for seeing wildlife

Throughout the year, wild swimmers are able to share their rivers and lakes with some of the UK's most impressive wildlife, from salmon and kingfishers to curlews and peregrine falcons. We share some of the best places to go wild swimming – and the birds, fish and wildlife you might see there

A photograph of a common kingfisher flying out of the water
Published: May 27th, 2022 at 6:29 am
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One of the essential things that makes a wild swim truly ‘wild’ is the wildlife; to be overtaken by the electric blue flash of a kingfisher, hear the plop of a diving otter upstream, or feel the buzzing wings of a dragonfly on your cheek. To be in the water with them is to be immersed in their world, and while this is undoubtedly magical, it is paramount for us – as mere interlopers – to respect that world.
The key ways to minimise impact on wildlife habitats when wild swimming is to keep noise to a minimum, avoid disturbing nesting birds, not damage beds of waterweed, and to wash your swimming gear between use in different bodies of water. And, of course, take your litter home – aim to leave nothing behind but footprints!
Find more inspiration and practical advice on outdoor swimming in our wild swimming hub.
A photograph of Loch an Eilein in the Rothiemurchus forest in the Cairngorms, Scotland
Loch an Eilein/Credit: Getty Images
A freshwater loch at the foot of the Cairngorms, surrounded by fine pine forests. There’s a castle ruin on an island to explore (Loch an Eilein translates as Loch of the Island) and easy access to the water with a carpark nearby. A popular swimming lake but quiet areas can be found.
Look out for:

Randolph’s Leap, River Findhorn, Forres

A photograph of Randolphs Leap in the River Findhorn in Moray, Scotland
Photo credit: Getty Images
A jaw-dropping wooded gorge descending to rocky headlands, dotted with lots of little beaches, pools and shallows for paddling in the whisky-coloured water. Do not enter rushing white water areas that are too dangerous to swim in. Parking is downstream at the Logie Steading Visitor Centre, which has cafes, shops and galleries to explore.
Look out for:
  • Red squirrel
  • Salmon
  • Woodpecker
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Kailpot Crag, Ullswater, Lake District

A photograph of Kailpot Crag at Ullswater, looking towards Watermillock and Pooley Bridge
Kailpot Crag at Ullswater./Credit: Getty Images

You’ll find this small shingle beach and cliff for jumping one mile along the lakeside path from Sandwick. The perfect place to take the kids for a daring leap and an afternoon of fun in the sparkling waters of Ullswater, with paddle steamers passing by.

Look out for:

Linhope Spout, Northumberland

A photograph of Linhope Spout near Ingram, Northumberland
Linhope Spout/Credit: Getty Images
West of the village of Ingram in the Breamish Valley, you'll find Linhope Spout, a 60ft waterfall that tumbles into a pool two metres wide and five metres deep.To get there is a 1.5 mile walk from the end of the public road at Hartside Farm – along the way you'll be treated to views of Cunyan Crags and Northumberland moorland.
Look out for:

Three Shires Head, River Dane, Peak District

A photograph of a waterfall and packhorse stone bridge at Three Shires Head on the River Dane in the Peak District
Three Shires Head on the River Dane/Credit: Getty Images
These idyllic falls beneath a packhorse bridge are the meeting point of three counties – Derbyshire, Cheshire and Staffordshire. There are shallow areas for the kids to paddle in, and a deep pool for swimming at the foot of one of the waterfalls. Parking is just over a kilometre away at the Cat and Fiddle pub on the A537, provided you buy something from their shop.
Look out for:
Learn to identify raptors in our British birds of prey guide, and look for them on our Three Shires Head walking route

Appletreewick, River Wharfe, North Yorkshire

Three Shires Head on the River Dane/Credit: Getty Images
Deep pools for swimming, rapids and a rope swing for playing, a large shingle beach to lay your picnic rug – this beautiful stretch on the River Wharfe has it all. There's also a campsite on the riverbank should you wish to extend your visit.
We included Appletreewick in our round-up of the best places to go wild swimming in Britain.
Look out for:

South

The Warren, River Wye, Hay on Wye

A photograph of the Wye Valley and River Wye, between the counties of Herefordshire and Gloucestershire England UK, taken from Yat Rock
Wye Valley and River Wye/Credit: Getty Images
A popular shingle beach and meadow on the banks of the River Wye, just outside Wales' famous book town. Upstream of the beach is a long, deep section to swim in, while children can enjoy the shallower areas below the rapids.
Wildlife: grey heron, cormorant, otter, water vole, eel

Llyn Gwynant, Snowdonia

A photograph of a sunny spring day on the edge of a natural lake under Llyn Gwynant near Beddgelert in Snowdonia, North Wales, a popular scenic location
Llyn Gwynant near Beddgelert in Snowdonia/Credit: Getty Images
One of my favourite campsites sits on the northeast shore of this beautiful glacial lake surrounded by mountains. There's easy access for swimming along the eastern shore, and Elephant Rock for cliff jumps on the northwest side. You can hire kayaks, canoes and SUPs from the campsite.
We included Llyn Gwynant in our round-up of the best short walks in Britain.
Look out for:
  • Chough
  • Otter
  • Red kite
  • Barn owl
  • Grey heron

Dartmeet and Wellsfoot Island, River Dart, Dartmoor

West Dart River/Credit: Getty Images
Two of my favourite swimming spots on the River Dart are at Dartmeet (confluence of East Dart and West Dart) and, for a quieter swim, Wellsfoot Island, upstream from Newbridge car park on the left bank of the river. At Wellsfoot you can savour the invigorating peaty waters in the shadow of Holne Cliff.
We included the River Dart in our round-up of the best places to go wild swimming in Britain.
Look out for:

Millennium Green, River Teme, Ludlow

A photograph of Millennium Green in Ludlow, with Ludlow Castle in the background
Millennium Green in Ludlow, with Ludlow Castle in the background./Credit: Getty
Above the weir by the Millennium Green is a beautiful deep stretch where you can swim upstream. On the bank you'll also find the Green Cafe, where you can warm up with a hot chocolate after your dip. They even have rugs and hot water bottles if you're finding the chill a bit hard to shake off.
Look out for:

Fordwich, River Stour, Kent

A photograph of River Stour in Fordwich, Kent
River Stour in Fordwich, Kent/Credit: Getty Images
In this lovely little Kent town, swimmers can access the river from a mooring platform near the Fordwich Arms pub. Strong swimmers can head upstream under the bridge then float all the way back, perhaps calling in the pub for a drink in the riverside beer garden afterwards.

Wildlife: white-legged damselfly, grass snake otter, kingfisher, little egret

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Follow our River Stour walking route

Plus! Find out more about the best places to go wild swimming near London.

Authors

Abigail is a freelance writer and editor based in Hereford.

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