The best places to take a swim on the wild side

With indoor pools closed until recently, people have been taking to wild swimming. Chris Carter reports.

Indoor swimming pools reopened in England last weekend, with the rest of the UK hopefully to follow shortly. Until then, “swimming in lakes, rivers and coastal waters has seen an exponential rise in popularity”, says Elisabeth Perlman in The Times. Wildswim.com, a crowd-sourced online map started by the Outdoor Swimming Society showing the best spots to swim, has even had to be taken down owing to the surge in interest. And as John Kent, chairman of the Brighton Swimming Club, tells the paper, many people new to the pastime are unaware of the dangers that can be involved, such as poor conditions, strong currents and high tides. “Individuals who don’t swim with a club or group run into problems born out of inexperience,” he says. “Unfortunately, our members often end up rescuing them.”

Staying safe

Children swimming © Alamy
Don't swim alone © Alamy

Happily, there are a few things you can do to mitigate the risks. Never swim alone and maintain social distancing even in the water, says Daniel Start in The Daily Telegraph. If it’s your first time, ease yourself in gradually to see how your body reacts to the cold. Have plenty of clothing on standby for when you get out. Be aware that, except in Scotland, there are few formal rights to swim in the wild, so good manners and goodwill are important. And if the swim spot is very busy, maybe give it a miss and come back when it is quieter. After all, Britain is blessed with great places to swim outdoors, as the late writer and enthusiast Roger Deakin revealed in his “wild swimming classic”, Waterlog.

When Deakin was swimming out and about, he was most likely to be found in the River Waveney, Suffolk. “With its secret pools and occasional sandy beaches, the Waveney is full of swimming holes, diving stages improvised from wooden pallets, dangling ropes, and upturned canoes pulled up on the bank,” he wrote. Otters and “possessive fishermen” are other frequent visitors to the river. Outney Common in Bungay has easy access, says Start – “or seek out the secret stretch on Limbourne Common by Wortwell Mill”.

Avoid the crush at the beach

Bournemouth beach, June 2020 © Chris Gorman/Getty Images
Check the app before going © Getty

Social distancing went out the window when thousands of people flocked to the beaches along the south coast last month, says BBC News. So Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Tourism has come up with a free app, BCP Beach Check, to help would-be sun-worshippers avoid the crush in future. The app uses a traffic-light system to show users how busy the beaches are along 15 miles of prime Dorset coastline. Data is provided via a number of sources, including “seafront rangers”, CCTV and some footfall counters, the council said. The app also provides information on public toilets, lifeguards and which areas dogs can use. Find BCP Beach Check at the Google Play Store and at the Apple App Store

Great spots in London and the countryside

Abereiddy beach in Pembrokeshire © Alamy
Abereiddy beach in Pembrokeshire © Alamy

Ever since lockdown, swimming has become an ever more important part of my day, says Leaf Arbuthnot in Spectator Life. And “the best swimming is to be found outside the capital”. Frensham Great Pond in Surrey “isn’t to be missed”. There’s a section for swimmers and the “water quality is excellent, though like many lakes, it gets its fair share of algae in the summer”. There’s a “super swimming spot” in the Stour, next to the Fordwich Arms pub in Kent. Holborough Lakes is another good option, “popular with triathletes and Channel swimmers”. Entry is £5 and newbies have to take an induction.

At the other end of England, Derwent Water in Keswick, Cumbria, is a “great starting off point” for a swim in the Lake District. In Wales, the lagoon by Abereiddy beach in Pembrokeshire (pictured) is “breathtaking”, as is the Lady Falls in the Brecon Beacons. “The waterfall drops over 30 feet into a plunge pool.”

If you can’t make it out into the country, London has its famous swimming spots, too, in Hampstead Heath Ponds and The Serpentine Lido. But there are also other, lesser-known places in and around the capital, says Rosie Fitzmaurice in the Evening Standard. The “vast” West Reservoir in Hackney is “a hidden gem”. See better.org.uk/west-reservoir-centre for details. And in east London, the Royal Docks, beneath the Emirates Air cable cars, is “a prime spot for stressed City slickers”. Results from fortnightly quality tests suggest the water is as clean as blue-flag beaches. Go to loveopenwater.co.uk/swimming-london-royal-docks to find out more.

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