Top 10 London Wild Swim Escapes

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

1. Upper Thames

When thinking of the the river Thames, conjured images of grey water and submerged shopping trolleys are what likely comes to mind. But travel only a short way out of the city and it's a whole different story. Green, leafy and peaceful, the Thames twists through the countryside and it's grassy platforms and deep water makes for ideal swimming. I've swum in the river at many points between Oxford and Reading, and really, any accessible point is good for a dip. Cheese Wharf is great for fun family swimming with rope swings and diving from the banks. If getting the train, Cookham, Pangbourne and Oxford train stations all have good access spots to the river.




2. River Windrush

Journey to the Cotswolds and you will discover this peaceful, chalky river meandering through traditional English countryside. We visited in early June and although fast flowing in sections, it was refreshingly cool and there was plenty of space for picnics and games. Park at Minster Lovell by the church and explore the old ruins before finding a section for a swim. Careful of the current if the water is fast flowing and check for an exit point before you get in.




3. The Great Stour Canterbury

Stand on the banks of the Great Stour and watch as fish dart and reeds wave beneath the crystal clear water. This river really is remarkably clear for a South East river, and as we clambered in to the water, reeds brushed over our legs and fish nibbled our toes. Although not great for those with a fear of things that lurk beneath the surface, the way I see it, you would pay top dollar for fish to nibble away your dead skin in a London salon. So really, it's a total bargain. We explored the river from the town of Fordwich, however the river is also accessible by train from Canterbury or Sturry train stations.




4. Margate and Walpole Tidal Pool

Perhaps not so wild, but sea swimming here is easily accessed by train or car from London and the town makes for a fun day out if you prefer somewhere not so secluded. We browsed second hand bookshops, walked along the seafront and ate chips and ice cream on the beach. When the tide is in, swim off the beach and Margate steps. Alternatively, if the tide is out, take a dip in one of the area's famous tidal pools. We walked to Walpole tidal pool and were rewarded by a deep reservoir of chalky blue away from the seaside bustle of Margate.



5. Frensham Great Pond

This pond is spring fed, surprisingly clear and a good alternative to the beach on a hot summers day. Although rumoured to get extremely crowded on summer weekends, I visited this pond for a dawn swim in October and was treated to a misty pink sunrise with steam rising from the deserted water. After a warm spell, beware of the blue green algae which is known to be toxic.



6. Hampstead Heath Ponds

More of an oasis than an escape, these ponds are the wild swimming saviour of London. Have a stroll through Hampstead Heath, then pay a visit to one of three ponds: Kenwood Ladies, Mens Pond or the Mixed Pond. The Mixed Pond is only open to the public in the summer months, however the others are open year round for some bone chilling yet exhilarating winter swims.



7. The River Bean

Jump on the train to Hertford, and in no time at all find yourself sunbathing and swimming the day away by this green and shallow river. I visited on a hot June day and joined a wide array of people cooling off in the water: an elderly couple splashing in the mini weir, groups of teenagers lounging on the bank and young families messing around with buckets and dinghies. Easily accessible from London and surprisingly picturesque, this river might not have the clearest water but is great for cooling off in a pinch.




8. The River Wye

A wide expanse of opaque green, the river Wye is well known for it's swimming community. Grab the train to Guildford and spend the day meandering up the river.



9. The Silent Pool

Magical, crystal clear and blue, the Silent Pool, with its enormous fish darting across the bottom and wooded location, is a real swimmers treat. Visit this place off season, early or late in the day, and swim discreetly. This pool is next to a gin distillery and popular with walkers but if you make an effort to go at a quiet time then it is very much worth it.




10. Grantchester Meadows

Grantchester Meadows is a popular swimmer's paradise and easy train away from London. Walk through Cambridge's impressive streets before coming out on this green riverside walkway that is great for walking, cycling and punting. A Cambridge-born friend recently assured me that the best way to explore the river is to rent a punt for the day. By doing so, it is possible to venture past Grantchester Meadows and discover your own secluded swim spot.



Best UK Wild Swim Adventures

Saturday, March 23, 2019



One of the best things about wild swimming is the way it comes hand in hand with adventure. The more spectacular swim spots often require a bit of daring and perseverance to find, and the journey to get to these places can be as mesmerising as the water itself. Dreaming of secret coves and wild camping by your own private waterfall? Well then, here are just a few wild swimming adventures to get you started.

1. Snowdon
This Welsh mountain is a water lover’s paradise. Dive in to the deep river pools and cool off under waterfalls on the Watkins Path, then carry on ascending up the mountain and down the other side to swim in some of Snowdonia’s famous tarns. I especially enjoyed Glaslyn which was steeped in shadow by the time we got there and very mysterious. If you like a bit of mystery, take some time to hunt down Snowdonia’s hush-hush infinity pool, a closely guarded secret by those in the know.

Glaslyn
Watkins Path Waterfalls
2. Isle of Skye: The Mermaid Pool
This emerald pool is nestled deep within a cave and can only be reached on foot during a spring low tide. Alternatively, if the tides aren't on your side, you can do as we did and kayak around to the entrance of the cave. Pull your kayak up above the tideline, ensure you’re wearing appropriate footwear and stick on your headtorch. There are two entrances and you want to take the left one. The path in to the cave is steep but extraordinarily ‘grippy’ so be brave and carefully ascend upwards. After this, travel in a little further and make sure to look around and admire the incredible rock formations. The path then sharply descends in to a little blue pool at the bottom. Jump in and enjoy.



3. Pedn Vounder Beach
Make your way to the village of Treen and roam across the cliff tops to find this closely guarded local’s secret. Leave your flip flops at home as there is a sharp scramble down the cliff to reach this hidden cove safely. When the tide goes out, a turquoise lagoon is revealed. If you are a strong swimmer or have a paddle board or similiar, you can venture round to the secret sandy inlets that are squirreled away in the coastline between Pedn and Porthcurno. Be careful on Pedn that you don’t get caught out by the incoming tide however, as the entrance to the cliff path is below the high tide line.



4. The river Dart
Dartmoor’s rugged and wild moorland is the perfect place to engage in a bit of wild swimming. The river dart snakes and tumbles its way through the landscape and there are plenty of natural pools and waterfalls in which to dunk after a day’s hiking. Pack your bag, hike in to the moor and set up your tent by the river ready for a bit of wild camping. Then in the morning wake up to complete solitude and go for a skinny dip before breakfast.


5. Glen Etive
This rust coloured river snakes its way in to the Etive loch on the shores of which it is still possible to wild camp. Whilst you’re here take a dip in the freezing loch and then dive, jump or cannonball in to the gorge further up the river. If you’re lucky you’ll have visitors for dinner in the form of the many deer that roam the landscape here. They walked across our camp in the evening and made quite a picturesque scene as they leapt their way across the river. Less welcome dinner visitors are the clouds of midges that appeared at dusk. Grrr.

Loch Etive
River Etive

The Truth About Wild Swimming in Winter

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Over the last few months, I feel like I've got a bit more to grips with cold water swimming. Feel like giving it a try? This post will let you know what to expect, complete with my funniest photo outtakes. Feel free to laugh at my expense!



1. It's definitely not glamorous.

You pull ridiculous faces, hop about and come out covered in mud and sometimes weed. From experience, don't (in a moment of vanity) buy a baby pink swimming costume, as it will slowly but surely turn a rather attractive shade of swamp brown. On top of this, be prepared for your hands to turn to claws and your skin to go a whole variety of colours you never thought possible; scarlet, blue, purple, even yellow. But still, you look great, trust me.



Normal reaction to freezing water and shin high mud.

2. IT IS COLD

There is no way around it, the water feels cold. Sometimes unbelievably so. My coldest swim was on a frosty, snowy day in February and the water was hovering between one and two degrees. The air temperature was only about minus three however, which I have been assured by other winter swimmers is still positively balmy. If you're thinking about trying it, just remember to breathe and gradually work your way up to colder temperatures, and if you feel like you're being stabbed all over by a million knives, well, that's just part of the fun.

Its fricking cold.

Now even colder.

3. It's Addictive.

Cold water is addictive, fact. These days, if I don't get to submerse myself in freezing water at least once weekly then I get grumpy. If you decide to take the plunge, then be prepared that you might become a cold water addict, just dreaming of when your next fix will be. Sure, when you get out your entire body is numb all over, but once this passes you get an immense feeling of well-being. Very little compares to the elation after swimming in cold water. It's got to be one of the easiest and cheapest highs around.

Natural high (also claw hands)
4. The cold is a worthy adversary.

The cold is your friend but it can also be your enemy and will sometimes need to be thwarted. Wear ridiculous layers, bring coffee AND tea, bring a hot water bottle, get changed quickly, do star jumps, eat cake, build a fire. My winter swimming kit has now grown so large Aaron has turned in to an unwilling pack mule.




5. People will think you are nuts.

Be prepared for weird looks from your colleagues, stares from passersby and your friend's disbelief when you explain that you can't go to the pub after work on a freezing, dark and wet January day because you're going swimming. Then, when you're standing in your swimming costume on a snowy February morning, be prepared to reassure onlookers that you don't have a death wish, and this is just what you do for fun. Good luck!


6. Wild Swimming can be ugly (especially in winter).

Sometimes conditions line up perfectly; the sun is just rising, the water is silky, there's nobody else around, mountains loom in the background. And to be fair, some swims are like this, but there are also lots of the other sort of swims. Swims where the river is brown and the day is dull and cold. Dog walkers are staring and things are biting you whilst you struggle to pull on your damp swimming costume. Then, to make matters worse, you accidentally flash all the fishermen on the opposite bank. These are just some of the wild swimming realities.

Reality

7. Cold water is good for you.

When I first submersed myself in freezing water I thought to myself: this is it, I'm dying, the gates are opening, see ya later world. But actually (who would have thought it) swimming in cold water is proven to be good for you. This is supported by numerous studies and corroborated by endless anecdotal evidence. Get less colds, improve circulation, reduce stress, boost your immune system, live longer - these are just some of the claimed benefits. So whilst you might feel like you're dying when you first jump in, you're actually going to live until you're a hundred. Maybe.

Creepy crawlies galore...
8. Be Safe

The last thing I've learnt about swimming through winter is the importance of being safe. So if you do want to start cold water swimming, then it might be worth doing a bit of research first. Click here to read the Outdoor Swimming Society's top tips. 

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