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Safest places to take the wild swimming plunge in the UK

 

Northumberland comes out top  

Have you ever watched wild swimmers on TV (like Robson Green’s ‘Wild Swimming Adventure’ and the BBC’s ‘The Merthyr Mermaid’)? Or perhaps you’ve seen them out at the crack of dawn and wondered what the hype is all about?

With the weather warming up and the popularity of wild swimming increasing - Google Trends data shows that people searching for ‘wild swimming’ has increased by 450% this past year - we wanted to delve deeper and find out which counties in the UK are the safest places to try it out. After all, we love encouraging people to take on a new adventure, as long as they stay safe in the process!

We analysed a range of different factors such as water quality, the number of lifeguarded beaches, wild swimming venues and open water events, to create a list of the UK’s safest locations for wild swimming.

The safest wild swimming spots in the UK

The UK’s top ten safest places to try wild swimming are:

 

 

  1. 1. Northumberland

    • Points of interest: Chesters Bridge, North Tyne. An English Heritage-managed car park is available at Chesters Roman Fort, which is just a 20-minute walk from the bridge along the roadside and can be accessed via a footpath off the B6318. The area offers a variety of food, drink and accommodation options.
  2. 2. Cornwall (Inc. Isles of Scilly)

    • Points of interest: Golitha Falls, Liskeard. The site is a National Nature Reserve offering visitors free parking, toilets and a nearby BBQ smokehouse, serving a range of meals, snacks and ice creams.
  3. 3. Devon

    • Points of interest: Spitchwick Common, Dartmoor. The common offers parking nearby and a grassy patch perfect for drying off after a dip. Those looking to refresh themselves can find food and drink at the highly recommended Tavistock Inn or one of the other eateries in the vicinity. Visitors can also find a variety of accommodation options in the surrounding area.
  4. 4. Dorset

    • Points of interest: Colber Bridge, Sturminster Newton. Swimmers can find free parking in the nearby Ricketts Lane (a short walk from the river) and accommodation in Sturminster Newton, which also offers a variety of food and drink options.
  5. 5. Somerset

    • Points of interest: Fussell’s Iron Works, Mells. Car parking is available along the riverside or alternatively visitors can park in the nearby villages and take a short walk along the riverside in between their swims. The Mells Walled Garden Café is a popular spot to grab a drink and bite to eat without travelling too far.
  6. 6. North Yorkshire

    • Points of interest: Bolton Abbey, Wharfedale. Visitors can both swim and paddle in the water at Bolton Abbey, a site that offers onsite parking. The abbey estate is home to a range of restaurants, tea rooms, cafes, and even accommodation.
  7. 7. Kent

    • Points of interest: Chipstead Lake, Sevenoaks. Visitors will need to pay a £10 entrance fee to the lake along with booking a time slot but doing so ensures a safe swim, parking, private changing, showers and lockers as well as a small bar offering low-cost snacks and drinks. Alternatively, visitors can find accommodation and hospitality options in the nearby Sevenoaks area.
  8. 8. Gloucestershire

    • Points of interest: Cheese Wharf, Lechlade. Just upstream from Buscot Weir, Cheese Wharf offers a deep pool on the river’s bend with a roadside glade for perhaps a rest or to enjoy the rope swings into the water. A small car park is available next to the riverside but hospitality venues are further afield so make sure to arrive prepared with food and drinks.
  9. 9. Hampshire

    • Points of interest: Balmer Lawn, Brockenhurst. The river Lymington runs through Balmer Lawn and offers wild swimmers a great location for a dip, with a grassy beach area that’s perfect for picnics. It is easily accessible from the road with parking nearby, as well as a hotel and spa in the vicinity for those wanting a longer, more relaxing stay.
  10. 10. Norfolk

    • Points of interest: Ebridge Mill, North Walsham. Swimming in the area above Ebridge Mill lock is a great way for wild swimmers to experience the local area and wildlife. There is a grassy area beside the lock where people can park and is a short walk from a suitable entrance point to the water. There are plenty of restaurants and accommodation options to choose from nearby.

You can find out how well your county ranks both overall and for each individual factor here:

 

 

To ensure that wild swimmers have all the information they need, we partnered with some experts and experienced swimmers to get further insight into the top locations, as well as some top tips on how to get started and stay safe.

 

When asked about what she looks for in a swimming spot, avid wild swimmer, Katia Vastiau, said that “anywhere with clean water and an amazing history, backdrop or climate”.

 

Meanwhile, swimmer and author of ‘Swim Wild & Free’, Simon Griffiths, stated that one of his personal favourites is Strangles Beach: “You need to scramble down a steep cliff path to reach it but it’s worth it as it’s often deserted and the scenery is stunning. I’ve swum there in big surf and when it’s been flat calm. It’s always lovely. I once had a seal pop up next to me there too!”

 

Of wild swimming in Scotland, Brighton-based travel writer and co-host of ‘The Carry On’ podcast, Tracey Davies, recounts a recent swim in Loch Morlich in Scotland. In her words, the experience was “simply stunning but absolutely Baltic!”

 

 

When we asked experts what they love the most about wild swimming, almost all of them referenced the improvements it makes to their mental health. Specific nods were given to the social aspect of the sport, the peacefulness of an early morning swim, and the high you get when the water is especially cold (cold water swimming has been linked to lots of health benefits - as well as a few risks, so worth reading up about them).

 

Despite the risk of illness due to polluted water, Simon Griffiths mentions that he particularly enjoys “watching how the river changes with the seasons… it’s happened a couple of times but I swim a lot and I’m convinced the benefits far outweigh the occasional inconvenience of a stomach bug.”.

 

Wild swimming enthusiast, Craig Holmes, mentions the opportunity that open water swimming provides “to explore the natural world around you from a completely different perspective, and sometimes see things you can only see from the water.” Comparing it to swimming in a pool, Craig notes feeling less pressure from an open water swim: “You certainly can plan to do a long wild swim, head down most of the way, but equally you pootle around for five minutes, head up, chatting with some friends and it still feels as fulfilling as an hour in a lane.”

 

Wild Swimming Safety Tips

 

And some key safety tips, from the experts, that all novice and more experienced wild swimmers should pay attention to, are:

  • Always go with at least one other person to ensure you have a safe swim. For additional help and support, wild swimming communities are a great way for beginners to test the waters (literally!)
  • Know your spot! Whether you use an app to help you, do your own research or follow the advice of others, never jump in blind as you never know what the water could be like or what may be just beneath the surface.
  • Have at least a basic swim kit to get you started. Experts recommend a bright tow-float (to hold your belongings but also make you visible to other people in the water), wetsuit boots to protect your feet, and a dry robe as the top items to add to your list.
  • Make smart decisions as opposed to jumping in the deep end. For example, swim upstream first so the return to shore is easier when you’re tired, start in the summer so you can acclimatise to the cold water gradually, organise your clothes before you swim so you don’t have to turn your socks inside out with frozen fingers.
  • Avoid swimming in rivers for a couple of days after heavy rain to allow the water time to clear and help you avoid nasty stomach bugs (swimming in muddy water or water that is contaminated after rainfall is a no go).

 

So, whether you’re going to be diving right in at the deep end of the river or having a slow paddle, get your kit together, do your research and take a look at the map to find out where you might have the best swim of your life!

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