Matt Barr sent you off to go wild swimming last Summer, and if you haven’t done it yet we strongly advise you to take advantage of the first sunny day you can get and give it a try! Deal with the heat by diving deep into some of Europe’s best open water swims, from a gentle dip in the Lake District to a 4km swim trek in Slovenia
For most people, used to ploughing through lengths at their local pool, the first introduction to proper open water swimming is inspirational stuff. After all, once you’ve breast-stroked beneath the silvery light of the Finnish midnight sun, or forded one of the Lake District’s gleaming tarns, you might find it difficult to step into the tatty changing rooms of the local baths ever again.
Among the coves, bays, inlets and harbours that make up the UK’s 7700 miles of coastline, lurks some fantastic wild swimming opportunities. Slowly but surely, and thanks in no small part to the heroic efforts of Kate Rew and her Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS), the UK is getting to grips with the wild swimming revolution. And if we Brits are guilty of being preoccupied with Weil’s disease and other health and safety regulations, mainland Europe is refreshingly (if you’ll excuse the pun) free from such quibbles, and always quick to embrace some water on skin when the thermometer-mercury rises.
Best for cooling dips
1 Loughrigg Tarn, Ambleside
When no less a Lake District authority than William Wordsworth describes a tarn as one of the region’s “most beautiful examples”, you know you’re in for one hell of picturesque dip.
It’s easy to see what inspired the bard of the Lakes to immortalise this place in verse. “It’s a perfect small natural swimming pool, surrounded by fells,” says the OSS’s Kate Rew, who ranks it as her very favourite UK swim. “Unlike some lake District fells, Loughrigg is inviting and welcomes you in.”
Find it near the village of Elterwater, near Ambleside, underneath Loughrigg Fell, and get ready to bask amid some of the Lake District’s most spiritual scenery.
2 River Ceze, France
The spectacular Les Cascades du Sautadet near the tiny village of La Roque sur Ceze in Provence, is a definite open water must-do. Here, the river Ceze has carved out an entire series of channels and levels into a lengthy set of elongated steps that stretch along the river. Waterfalls flow along the sides, meaning you can move down the river for quite a distance by simply shifting between the different levels. Further along, the river also widens so you can go for a lengthier dip once you’ve sampled the Cascades in full.
3 Roums, France
Roums, in the Southern Ardeche, is a wild swimming hotspot. Three rivers meet at this pretty 14th-century village, making for endless wild swimming opportunities. The Ardeche Gorge, and the Chassezac and Gardon rivers are perfect places to start. “There are so many options,” says Rob Fryer of river-swimming.co.uk. “At Pont du Garde you’ll find a number of dramatic swims, while there’s a seaside lookalike at St Martin, where you can swim through a lava flow. I also like the spots at Labeaume, the headwaters of the Ardeche near Cadret, Mazet Plage in the Chassezac. Basically, this little treasure leaves you spoilt for choice.”
4 Allgäu, Germany
In South Bavaria’s Algau region, wild swimmers might just have found their new favourite destination. Like France, bathing is accepted almost anywhere here – hardly surprising given the incredible beauty of the lakes and rivers that dot the map in this part of the world. There are too many options to pinpoint one, but OSS member Neil Taylor, who spent two years living in this region and indulging his passion, recommends the Elbsee (near Kaufbeuren), Hopfensee and Alpsee lakes, (near Fussen) and Bodensee (Lake Constance in English) as some of the breathtaking lakes locals love to plunge into.
5 Porthtown Tidal Pool, Cornwall
Much of the appeal of this swim is to be found in the outrageously romantic setting, which might have come from the pages of a Daphne du Maurier novel. “You need to wait for the tide to go out, and then you reach it by descending a stone staircase carved out of the cliff,” says Rew. As the sea goes out, a tidal pool wall with a beautiful rock base emerges from the briny. Even better, the waves hitting the wall soon form a huge spray that envelops the pool, and swimmers, as they do lengths. Few swims are as life-affirming or elemental.
Best for Full On Trips
1. Scilly Isles
Although the 300 islands that make up the Scillies are only 28 miles from mainland Britain, the fabled Gulf Stream means that they are the warmest place in Britain. But are they warm enough to swim between? A week spent front-crawling your way around this mystical, lesser-known spot is the only way to find out. It’s a persuasive itinerary during which swimmers spend six days alternately walking and swimming their way around the six main islands (St Mary’s, St Martin’s, Tresco, Tean, Samson and Bryher; there are 300 in total) of the archipelago.
Average swim distance: 3km
2 Croatian Dalmation Coast
If the tepid waters of Sillies don’t appeal, a week island-hopping around the 40 islands of the Sibenki archipelago off Croatia’s Dalmation coast might fit the bill instead. This trip has a nicely intrepid feel, thanks to an itinerary that encompasses brisk coastal swimming among the perfect blue waters of the Adriatic and a strong swim in the swift Krka river. Swim distance per day is around 3km, with the water temp a comfortable 22-24 degrees. You’ll be knackered, but the hospitality of the local Sibenik fishing communities should give you ample time to ease those cramps.
Average swim distance: 3km
3 Finnish Midnight Sun
This mystical swimming safari through the deserted Lakes of Finland’s Loppi region is a trip with a true eco-slant. Transport has been eschewed wherever possible, so for much of the time forward propulsion is by foot and swimming stroke as you navigate some of Finland’s most crystalline waters, including Lake Punelia and the Hameenlinna River. Each evening’s recovery takes place with the aid of local saunas and some of the rib-sticking food for which the region is famous.
Average swim distance: 5km
4 Lakes and Tarns weekender
Even on the hottest of days, wild swimming in England’s Lake District can be chilly. Wetsuits are obligatory, and there’s no guarantee that the great British summer will hold out for long enough to keep the rain away. But this weekend spent exploring the hidden lakes and tarns of England’s beautiful Lake District is the perfect open water swimming primer. There’s much walking and swimming as the group explores the region around Grasmere and Rydal Mount, and takes in secluded beauty spots such as Easdale Tarn and Stickle Tarn.
Average swim distance: 3km
5 Lake Bled and the Julian Alps
Like beautiful mid-Wales with sunshine, or action-packed France with a service culture, this mid-European nation punches well above its weight. Small wonder that this week long swimming mission around Slovenia’s lakes and rivers is proving to be so popular. This four-day trip is based in the town of Bohinj, with Lake Bled the centrepiece and a mission out to the 17th century church on Bled Island one of the highlights. And it builds up to a whopping 4km swim the length of Lake Bohinj, leaving you nice and jelly-legged for the journey home.
Average swim distance: 4km
For more info check swimtrek.com
TIPS FOR OUTDOOR SWIMMING
Kate Rew, founder of the Outdoor Swimming Society is one the acknowledged experts on wild swimming in the UK. Here are her top tips on how to get the best out of any outdoor dip you’re planning this summer.
Do your own risk assessment
It isn’t automatically safe just because you’ve seen it in a book, or read about it in a magazine. Conditions change, so use your common sense.
Ask a local
They might not swim themselves, but you’d be amazed at how many locals will know where the best swimming spots are.
Always go with somebody else
And not just for safety reasons. Having a companion on hand means you’ll spend less time worrying and more time enjoying your swim.
Expand your horizons gradually
As with any outdoor sport, there is a certain amount to learn when wild swimming. So start close to shore and give yourself a wide margin of error if anything goes wrong. Once you’re more confident you can cut loose a bit more.
Always take a moment to register where you are. You don’t need to do dive in and start powering through the water like you’re knocking off lengths in an indoor pool.