Make a splash this summer with our pick of Britain’s best spots for an outdoor swim.

Crummock Water, Lake District

Crummock Water is a designated “quiet lake”, which means swimmers can enjoy the peaceful spot without interruption from noisy power boats (even canoes require a permit here).

Visitor experience manager Jessie Binns explains that the water is also one of England’s most pristine lakes. “There’s virtually no nitrate pollution, which means you get incredible visibility in crystal clear water—the local diving club report seeing freshwater sponges growing on the underwater crags, so the lake’s also a site of special scientific interest.” Visit at the right time and you’ll also swim surrounded by carpets of bluebells.

Crummock is perhaps best viewed on a misty morning, as steam rises from the water, kingfishers hunt and families of wild otters can be spotted on the banks.

Read more: Why swimming is good for you

 

Hampstead Heath, London

So beloved are the swimming ponds of Hampstead that when the council tried to close them in 2004, locals ensured the case was taken to the high court, and promptly overruled.

Three of the park’s 30 ponds are open to the public, each fed by the River Fleet—a men’s pool, women’s pool (the only wild women's-only pool in the UK), and one for everyone to share.

Says Bob Warnock, Hampstead Heath’s superintendent, “Although the Heath is only four miles from central London, you’re transported to a countryside oasis from the moment you arrive. With swimming companions of ducks, moorhens and coots at the ponds, and kingfishers nesting nearby, you can get close to nature and enjoy a sublime and peaceful experience, which is good for body and soul.”

Read more: Medical myths—You shouldn't swim for an hour after eating

 

Hanmer Mere, North Wales

Perched on the edge of some particularly pretty woodland, Hanmer Mere gets rather warm during the summer months, with the water reaching a toasty 20C in August.

Says Dianne Parrish, founder of the Chester Frosties open-water social group, “Hanmer is a delightful village and the locals are very friendly. They give us a big smile and wave, with some amusement in the winter months. At the top of the village there’s a cosy pub with roaring real log fires where we retreat to reheat.”

The group’s most frequent Hanmer swimmer, Jackie, says, “I’d have been lost without this as my ice-swimming training pool. We respect the peaceful location and swim in small groups to respect the wishes of the locals, ensuring we maintain the safety of the wildlife habitats.”

Contact dianne@dianneparrish.com for more information

Read more: The best on-deck swimming pools out there

 

Loch Lomond, Argyll

Fans of Scottish Loch Lomond’s gentle waters say, “There’s nothing more exhilarating than taking
the plunge”.

Rosemary Lowne, of the loch’s swimming and triathlon club, explains that the spot is “truly breathtaking on dry land, but even more so once you’re fully immersed in the fresh water, where the beautiful views take on a deeper meaning.”

Despite being the biggest loch in Britain, Lomond’s varying depths mean swimmers of all abilities can take it on. Fancy a challenge? Each August it’s home to the Great Scottish Swim, where global participants—including Bavaria’s Ice Swimming World Championship medallists—flock in their hundreds to raise money for charity.

Look out for the colony of wallabies who’ve been hopping around the park since the 1940s, and the herds of deer that made it a favourite hunting spot for King James I in the 15th century.

 

Hatchmere, Cheshire

Formed at the end of the last Ice Age and nestled away in the heart of Delamere forest, this haven for wildlife is home to over 13 species of dragonfly (including the rare hairy variety), which merrily skim the waters as locals swim past.

Wildlife also thrives under Hatchmere’s surface, making it a popular spot for angling. Quiet, hopeful fishermen sit to lure in bream, pike, roach and carp, so it’s best to stick to the designated swimming zones. Get lucky and you may be joined by the stately Great Crested Grebe, which can often be found gliding through the mere.

Hatchmere resident Pete has been swimming here since he moved to the village five years ago, and he’s always found it “a surprisingly tranquil swimming location”. Be cautious as the approach turns boggy after rainfall. 

 

River Derwent, Chatsworth

This wild dip would make Mr Darcy himself proud. The River Derwent, which runs through the spectacular Chatsworth Estate, is known the world over as the backdrop for Mr Darcy’s Pemberley in the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

Take short stroll downstream away from the main bridge to escape the eyes of visitors to Chatsworth House, and meander down the grassy bank to access the most private body of water.

This stretch is wide and deep, with its easy course only disrupted by a few gentle bends. Expect company from trout, grayling and brook lampreys and moos of approval from the nearby fields of cows.

Feeling adventurous? Here you can swing across the water Tarzan-style or make a splash from one of several tree swings.

Wet shirt and brooding expression not required.

 

Grantchester Meadows, Cambridgeshire

This idyllic stretch of the River Cam has tempted some of Britain’s finest literary minds—including Rupert Brooke, Virginia Woolf and E M Forster—into her waters.

The literary set, who dubbed themselves the “Cambridge neo-pagans”, swam nude under the stars and camped outside overnight, enjoying the river that Woolf said smelled like “mint and mud”.

Punters and bankside picnickers will keep you company as you swim the velvety clean waters, which peak at 22C in the summer months.

You can swim here for free, but join the nearby Newnham Riverbank Club for £16 a year and you can swim au naturel in their private section. Neat hedges shield paying members from the prying eyes of the general public. Total freedom!

 

How to wild swim safely

wild swimming

Know your depth

  • Shallow water can deepen unexpectedly. Survey the area carefully before you begin. Don’t jump or dive but wade in slowly and stay close to the shore.
  • When swimming in cold water, enter gradually, splashing your pulse points, neck and back before immersing your shoulders.

Know your water quality

  • Avoid swimming if you see blue-green algae in the water as it can trigger skin rashes, stomach upsets and sore eyes.
  • Never swim in canals, locks, urban rivers or floodwater. Be cautious of water quality during droughts.

Know your equipment

  • Consider wearing a wetsuit and waterproof shoes to keep warm, with a colourful swimming hat to increase your visibility.
  • Cover any cuts with a waterproof plaster and take warm clothes to change into afterwards.

Know your limits

  • If your teeth begin to chatter, get out of the water as soon as possible. Star jumps or press-ups are the best way to get warm fast.
  • Know how you’ll get out of the water before you get in and never swim alone.
  • Visit environment.data.gov.uk/bwq/profiles for more information on bathing water quality across the UK

 

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