I have made it my life’s mission to search out the most perfect lakes to swim in – and Britain is blessed with remote and bracing bodies of water that cry out to be enjoyed.
From Lake District classics to distant Welsh wonders and bracing lochs in Scotland’s wildest places, these are our greatest lakes for a swim.
And you can make it a really refreshing break by checking in to one of the many gorgeous places to stay nearby.
A LAKELAND DIP AND A BEACH HIGH ABOVE SEA LEVEL IN ENGLAND
Blea Tarn, Lake District
Blea Tarn, just south of Langdale, is perfect for a quintessential Lakeland dip. With easy parking close by, there’s no need to spend hours yomping over the fells to get that watery fix
Easy access: A swimmer on the jetty leading out from Another Place directly into Ullswater
The Lake District is a huge draw for outdoor swimmers. And while its larger lakes are beautiful, excellent swimming is to be found in its smaller bodies of water too. Blea Tarn, just south of Langdale, is perfect for a quintessential Lakeland dip. With easy parking close by, there’s no need to spend hours yomping over the fells to get that watery fix. The path down to the water from the road is wide, with a couple of stony beaches on the southern shore affording incredible views of Langdale Pikes across the water. Be sure to pack a waterproof camera to capture that frog’s-eye view.
How to get there: Blea Tarn is seven miles west of Ambleside. Drive through the village of Skelwith Bridge on the A593, then turn right and follow signs to The Langdales. The tarn will appear on your left.
Stay: Another Place, a luxury spot on the banks of Ullswater, B&B from £270 per night, another.place.
Gaddings Dam, Yorkshire
High on the moors between Todmorden and Walsden, and at 760ft above sea level, Gaddings Dam is said to be Britain’s highest beach. This windswept embankment dam was first built in 1833 and has long been a swimming hole beloved of locals. Its remote location, at the top of a steep track, means it’s not that easy to reach. But that comes with the added bonus that the beach is often quiet, unless the mercury really soars.
For a wild dip in a truly special location, swimmers of all types flock here, from those training for channel swims to woolly hat-wearing dippers.
How to get there: Park at the Shepherd’s Rest Inn in Lumbutts and walk up the steep path to the dam and the beach in the north-eastern corner.
Stay: The Old Registry Guest House, a historic Haworth restaurant with rooms in Bronte country, B&B from £80 per night, theoldregistry.co.uk.
Sparth Reservoir, Yorkshire
Local enthusiasts ensured that Sparth Reservoir, just off the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, was saved for swimming after a campaign lasting six years.
For decades it was a favourite spot for those living in nearby Marsden and Slaithwaite. It’s just as popular now, with two beaches allowing for easy access.
You can swim in the shade of stunning trees and 19th Century industrial history, but it’s best enjoyed by experienced swimmers and should only be attempted in a group or with friends on the bank. Handy signs explain what to look out for.
How to get there: The reservoir is a 20-minute walk east along the canal from the centre of historic Marsden, where there is ample parking.
Stay: The Shibden Mill Inn, a comfortable 17th Century hostelry with modern British restaurant, B&B from £95 per night, sawdays.co.uk.
Lake Wood, Uckfield, East Sussex
Hidden away from the main road out of Uckfield, this little gem is surrounded by gorgeous broadleaf woodland, with shady banks and a series of cliffs that give uninterrupted views over the water. There are easy entry points along the northern shore or follow the path around to the cave-like boathouse and slip into the cool water there. This handy shelter is the ideal spot for a post-swim snooze and a picnic when the heat rises.
Lake Wood is on the northern side of Rocks Road, which runs west out of Uckfield. Look out for a couple of parking spots by a field gate on the right.
Stay: Swanborough Lakes Lodges, sleek modern wood lodges in the heart of the Downs, from £575 per week. swanboroughlakes.co.uk.
Beckenham Place Park, London
Elegant: The grand dining room at the family-owned Manor at Bickley
London’s newest dedicated swimming lake offers the perfect introduction to wild swimming. Opened in July 2019, its initial popularity meant two-hour slots and everyone getting into the water being asked to wear a tow float, supplied by staff on site. It costs £3 for adults and £2 for kids (card only).
Swimmers must be over eight and able to swim 25 metres. This is a safe and beautiful place to fall in love with outdoor swimming – and a vision of how wild swimming could take over all of our parks and open spaces.
How to get there: A 15-minute walk through the park from Ravensbourne railway station in the borough of Bromley, South London.
Stay: The Manor at Bickley, 19th Century, family-owned manor house, B&B from £150 per night. themanoratbickley.co.uk.
TUMBLING FALLS AND WILDERNESS IN WALES
Llyn Cwm Bychan, Wales
For the chance to experience some of Wales’s most overlooked mountains, Llyn Cwm Bychan sits at the end of a narrow track that winds its way up from Harlech
Lake swims don’t come much more remote and wild than this. For the chance to experience some of Wales’s most overlooked mountains, Llyn Cwm Bychan sits at the end of a narrow track that winds its way up from Harlech.
In the heart of the Rhynogydd mountains, south of Snowdonia, the water here tumbles straight off the hills, making it crystal clear and extremely fresh. You’ll find it easiest to get in at the far eastern end, where sheep-mown grass slips into the shallows which extend well out into the lake. That means safer swimming, as well as a chance to stand up and take in the view.
How to get there: Llyn Cwm Bychan is five-and-a-half miles from Harlech. Follow the hill up Pen Dref from the centre of town and turn left at the T-junction and follow the road until it reaches the lake.
Stay: Maelgwyn House, an Edwardian gem, B&B doubling as the artist owner’s gallery. From £90 per night, maelgwynharlech.co.uk.
Sgwd Gwaldys/Lady Falls, Brecon Beacons, Wales
The rush of the water and the incessant birdsong makes Lady Falls in the Brecon Beacons a wonderful place for a wild dip
This wide plunge pool is fed by a tumbling, 32ft-tall waterfall on the River Fechan. The shallows slide gently into the deeper water behind the falls, with trees rising high on the surrounding cliffs.
The rush of the water and the incessant birdsong make this a wonderful place for a wild dip. After a refreshing swim, dry off on the banks with a picnic and a flask of sweet coffee, the ideal way to warm your bones and feel a surge of endorphins.
How to get there: Sgwd Gwaldys/Lady Falls is a 25-minute walk north of the village of Glynneath, where it’s easier to park than on the main road that skirts the river.
Stay: Grange Guest House, a charming B&B in a historic location on the edge of Brecon, B&B from £80 per night, thegrange-brecon.co.uk.
A SWIM-UP CASTLE AND SUNET DIPS IN SCOTLAND
Loch an Eilein, Cairngorms, Scotland
Island castle: Swimmers can reach the 14th Century ruins in Loch an Eilein in the Cairngorms
This little loch, replete with spectacular views of the Cairngorms and the ruins of a 14th Century castle on a tiny island, offers some of Scotland’s finest freshwater bathing. A small beach at its northern end means easy access to the water, which is cooling even at the height of summer.
Those who prefer a brief dip can wallow in the shallows, while more confident open-water swimmers can head out to the island and see the castle up close. Set within the gorgeous Rothiemurchus Forest, just five miles from Aviemore, Loch an Eilein is home to rare red squirrels and raucous ravens, which are best spotted early in the morning from the walking trail that skirts its banks.
How to get there: Take the Grampian Road south from Aviemore, through the village of Rothiemurchus before turning left and following signs to Loch an Eilein’s car park.
Stay: Beaver Creek Lodge, a spoiling wood cabin with sauna, from £252.50 per night, greatnorthlodges.co.uk.
Loch Ard, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park
Called ‘an enchanting sheet of water’ by Sir Walter Scott, today Loch Ard is a hugely popular destination for wild swimmers
Panoramic views are relentless at this gorgeous lake, the source of the River Forth, set within the stunning Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
Called ‘an enchanting sheet of water’ by Sir Walter Scott, today it’s a hugely popular destination for wild swimmers. It’s shallower than larger lochs, meaning there’s not as much of a chill to contend with and visibility is excellent closer to the banks. The best entry points are found along the B849, which runs along the north side of the loch, although the trails along its southern shore also have plenty of places to slide in. Sunset swims here are particularly special.
How to get there: Loch Ard is a ten-minute drive west of Aberfoyle on the B849, with layby parking.
Stay: The Treehouses At Lanrick, all-new luxury woodland cabins, from £200 per night, lanricktreehouses.co.uk.
- Remember, never go lake-swimming alone, take time to assess conditions to make sure it’s safe to swim, and wear protective gear such as neoprene shoes. A wetsuit may also be advisable.