Wild Swimming: The Perfect Outdoor Activity?


Florence Head and Megan Stoker take a dip into some of North England's finest waters

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Image by Christopher Hilton

By Florence Head and Megan Stoker

Wild swimming is a fascinating way of keeping fit, with growing popularity throughout the UK. With gorgeous landscapes surrounding us, from the seaside to the heights of the Yorkshire Dales, and the Lake District just a couple of hours away; with proper preparation and awareness, wild swimming is a fantastic activity. Wild water swimming is one of the more exciting practices of cold water therapy. The benefits can come by taking a cold shower or submerging in a plunge pool, however we much prefer this method. As a long standing health trend, wild water swimming creates an intense dopamine boost as it releases serotonin into your bloodstream – an instant mood booster for all ages! It even has health benefits as it lowers your heart rate and reduces inflammation.

Alongside an increasing number of published books and blogs, social groups and depictions on social media are gaining traction. From TV shows like Wild Swimming with Alice Roberts which first aired in 2010 to BBC Scot-land’s Jules’ and Greg’s Wild Swim airing in 2023,it demonstrates the way in which the concept of wild swimming has remained locked in our captivation. Whilst this article showcases a multitude of fantastic wild swimming locations that are popular in the wild swimming community. It is immensely important to understand and be aware of the dangers that lie just beneath the surface. Especially as responsibility for personal safety is upon yourself and personal judgement in these kinds of situations are a powerful tool.

Outdoor swimming comes with plenty of risks, from being wary of water quality and avoiding marshy, stagnated waters; it is best to stick to well known, well documented waters that are rated either A or B by the Environment Agency. A fantastic re-source for avoiding polluted water is the rather mind-opening webpage by The Rivers Trust which monitors all sew-age spills across England and Wales. Before you go swimming make sure to check out our key pieces of advice. These are little things you may not think of but are essential to know. You should always be careful of currents, if you get into a rough spot these can take you into deeper water and be disorientating. More so, cold water shock and strong, fast moving undercurrents are a real threat and if you’re swimming in the sea, so is the tide.

Always plan where you are going to exit the water before you get in – whether there’s a steep bank to scramble up or an easy jetty to hoist yourself on to. Try to go with a group of people or a friend – it’s a great experience to share but also good in case you get into any trouble and need some help. You should always start slow, let your body adjust to the temperature and stay near the shoreline until you have built up your confidence. Make sure you check the water quality before you go; the water may contain dangerous blue-green algae and other bacteria which can cause you to be ill. Hope-fully this one’s a given, but try to not swallow any of the water, too! Also make sure to stay clear of other water users like fishermen, boats and marine life which you may not want to disturb.

Dressing for the activity and being well prepared is a definite. A few must-haves when embarking on a wild water swimming adventure include: any type of water shoes (this can include crocs!), a swimsuit – depending on the time of the year a wetsuit may be best, a dry robe – our favourite is the one from Dipsea UK, drinks and snacks, a woolly hat and a tow float (as mentioned in our sidebar!). They are great for safe-keeping your valuables, making sure others can see you, holding onto in case you need a rest within the water and are able to attach to your waist so your hands are free.

For further in depth information on wild swimming, look towards valuable resources such as The Rivers Trust website or the Wild Swim Scotland blog which contains detailed information and instructions on swimming safely. However, The Outdoor Society website is also incredibly comprehensive and covers a vast range of topics to really get to grips with being safe in water. There is an app called ACTiO by the National Open Water Association (NOWCA) that is apparently free to download and a way of accessing swim sites across Britain. NOWCA also has some un-locked, free quizzes on wild swimming safety and cold water awareness to really test your newfound (or even established) knowledge.

We find most wild water swimming spots through Facebook groups. The ones which are great for York and the surrounding areas are: York Swimmers, Wild Swimming – North England and The Dales Dippers. These are great places to meet fellow like-minded people, find out the best places for a swim, ask for any advice and even see what wild swimming events are going on.

Pool Bridge Farm is a brilliant and very close spot to the University. As well as being popular amongst fishermen, it is also a camp-site. There are changing facilities and a café to use from Thursday to Sunday. Surrounded by wildlife and a wood-fired sauna on the shore, there are so many reasons to try this lake.

A short train ride away lies the Knaresborough Lido. Located on a short corner on the River Nidd, looking up at the Knaresborough Viaduct, this is a swimmer’s dream (especially with The Watermill Café next door). Located between two weirs, it is quite shallow, so perfect for any beginners who fancy a day trip – be careful as the rocks can become quite slippery.

Allerthorpe Lake offers all sorts of various activities including: kayaking, an aquapark, paddle-boarding, canoeing, pedalos and of course wild water swimming. They host events such as charity swims, triathlons and lots others throughout the year. Only a twenty minute drive away from York and with various bus routes, it is a great day out with your friends.

Janet’s Foss is a firm favourite within the wild water swimming community. A short woodland walk from Malham village and the famous ‘Harry Potter’ Malham Cove, a waterfall with a hidden plunge pool lies beneath. A little over an hour’s drive from York, this place is definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in the Yorkshire Dales. Bolton Abbey is also a stunning place, not too far from Skipton and certainly not to miss. Whilst one should be aware of the rocky river and stay well away from the strid, having a swim around the abbey and its step-ping stones is a great experience. A popular place for swimmers, it would be a beautiful thing to experience when the weather gets warmer.

Whilst Kisdon force can be a trying place to get to and would definitely require a car, it is a fantastic little place to take a dip on the River Swale before or after heading for a walk. Set in stunning natural landscape, Kisdon force takes a change from the openness around it. Instead, enclosed around trees, it makes a perfect nook to relax as a beginner swimmer. It isn’t too deep at all and is far more suited for relaxation in the water than an active swim.

Heading further west by a couple of hours and overlooking Grasmere, you can get a real flavour of Wordsworthian paradise from Easedale Tarn. Whilst from Grasmere it is a bit of a trek, the walk is certainly worth it. A large tarn (more sim-ply a lake) is set between the hills, it’s known to be a great place to swim. There are plenty of trains which head towards the Lake District. Bowness is a fantastic place to stay with many B&Bs and camping spots as well as bus services that head to many of the popular tourist spots like Grasmere. From Bowness on Windermere to Grasmere it is only a 49 minute journey on the 599 bus.

Another Cumbrian location, Buttermere with it’s expansive views, is a place of natural beauty. It is a landscape where you can get some lengths in and truly experience wild swimming in its glory. As well as the expansive lake and dramatic hills, set further back from the lake is a natural infinity pool. Whilst being a super exciting addition to Butter-mere, we can only imagine how wonderful it would be to relax after an exhilarating swim.