Pen-doll Rocks, River Wye, Builth Wells

Ditch the heaving coastlines and forget the public pools with their verucca socks and fools. This summer it’s all about heading inland to swim amongst a freshwater paradise of rivers, lakes and waterfalls

Words and photos by Daniel Start

When summer sticks to the script and delivers some serious heat our natural instincts, like those of the hippo, are to find water to frolic about in. In the halcyon days of youth dancing round a garden sprinkler would do, but nowadays we demand a little more. And if you don’t fancy a crowded coastal spot with the bucket and spade brigade or a hectic public pool (where it’s worth noting ducking, bombing and heavy petting is still banned) get yourself inland. There’s a whole world of wild swimming opportunities in rivers, lake and waterfalls, most of which are in the most wondrous and Eden-esque locations, with not a Mr.Whippy van in sight.

Get going

Before you dive in, Daniel Start, author of Wild Swimming, which gives you the skinny on 150 hidden dips in the rivers, lakes and waterfalls of Britain, has this sage advice:

Stay warm

Going swimming when it’s scorchio is the best, but you can also have a lot of fun on rainy or cooler days as long as you get a get a good steam up on the walk there. Once in the water if it feels a bit parky persevere for a few minutes and soon enough the cold feeling will go away. The more you swim in cold water the more used to it you get and the healthier you’ll become apparently too. When you get out don some warm clothes and do some 80s-style star jumps to keep warm.

Wild Swimming

Be prepared

Exploration of your chosen swimming site is key, so take a pair of goggles and pair of old sneaks or jelly shoes, if you want your feet to stay on trend even at the bottom of a river bed. That way you can clamber about rocks, without hurting yourself. Your surf wetsuit will help you stay warm for longer and midge repellant will be a god send if you’re there when the sun goes down. Sun protection for the daytime is essential too.

Keep it safe

Don’t swim in canals, urban rivers or stagnant lakes, as they’ll be minging. Avoid reedy shallows as your feet can get caught up, and lakes with blue/green algae scum. As with being in the mountains or the sea, never swim alone, and keep an eye on any weak swimmers in your party. Cover up any cuts or wounds you may have, and don’t create more by jumping in before having checked for depth and obstructions.

Know your currents

Aside from being a good metaphor for life, swimming against the current is a lot of fun, but you want to avoid be taken downstream by a current in an uncontrolled manner. Always keep in mind: if I lose my footing or get swept downstream where will I get out. Follow the stewardess mantra and check out your emergency exits before you get in, plus scout for any downstream hazards such as obstructions, waterfalls or weirs. Remember the more shallow the water the faster it will travel, as in ‘still waters run deep’.

10 of the best secret dips IN THE UK

(and more Wild Swimming destinations in the rest of Europe!)

To find: Either use the postcode if you have satnav or type the grid reference into Maps to each location can be found at

Wild Swimming


Wellsfoot Island

Ashburton, 14km from Totnes, South West England

Postcode: TQ13 7NX

Grid ref: SX 705702

Wonderful wooded island with velvet sand and deep water under a cliff.


Rockford Pools

Lynmouth, 28km from Barnstaple, South West England

Postcode: EX35 6PT

Grid ref: SS 753482

Quality pub and series of shady, dark pools with low rock cliffs to jump from,


Blue Lagoon, Moel-y-Faen

Llangollen, 15km from Ruabon, Snowdonia, Wales

Postcode: LL20 8DR

Grid ref: SJ 185477

Very deep, totally clear azure blue lake at the bottom of a quarry crater.

Bike Riding

Great Torrington

10km from Umberleigh, North Devon

Postcode: SS 582261

Grid ref: EX37 9EB

Fast-flowing and pebbly stream, running by a woodland bike trail


Sheriff Muir Paradise Pools

7km from Dunblane, Scotland

Postcode: FK15 0LN

Grid ref: NN 819011

Perfect plunge pool with a cool rock slide, and more pools and cascades in the woods above.

Galleny Force, Northern England


Appletreewick, Lake District

12km from Skipton

Postcode: BD23 6DD

Grid ref: SE 053597

Grassy banks, a pretty rock pool with a small island, and a bay and rapids upstream, plus a killer rope swing.


Horseshoe Falls

Pontneddfechan, 12km from Aberdare, Wales

Postcode: SA115UR

Grid ref: SN 903097

Awesome set of deep forest plunge pools beneath a horseshoe-shaped waterfall.


Frensham Great Pond

7km from Farnham, South England

Postcode: GU10 3DS

Grid ref: SU 846405

Huge sandy lake with shelf for paddling, surrounded by forest and open heathland.


Port Meadow, Thames

6km from Oxford, South England

Postcode: OX2 8PU

Grid ref: SP 488094

2km of river with little beaches and grassy expanses of meadow, the setting and inspiration for the opening lines of Alice in Wonderland.


Symonds Yat

Ross-on-Wye, 18km from Hereford, Central England

Postcode: HR9 6QX

Grid ref: SO 588269

Small sandy bay surrounded by meadows, with canoes and boats for hire.

Lynnau Diffwys is a glacial lake in Snowdonia, but worry not, it’s shallow so warms up quickly