Posted 6th Jun 2013
In his new book Wild Swimming, Daniel Start shares more than 300 amazing places to dip in the UK. Here he gives beginners advice for getting started and tells us about his favourite swimming spots
Staying safe: There's nothing inherently dangerous about wild swimming, but cold water does reduce your swimming ability, at least until you get used to it. So stay close to the shore and increase your range slowly.
Staying warm: The water will be cold, so arrive hot, so hot that you can't wait to strip off and plunge in. Plan a good hearty walk to get you there, and put on lots of warm clothes before you arrive. Once you're in the water it takes a few minutes before the cold feeling goes away, so persevere and you'll feel great. In general, the more you swim in cold water the less you will feel the cold and the greater the health benefits. This is called ‘cold adaptation'. Don't stay in so long that you start to shiver, though, and definitely get out and warm up after 20 minutes. Wetsuits can be a great help and allow you to stay immersed indefinitely. Put on warm clothes immediately after a swim and combine this with something active like walking up a hill or star jumps.
Equipment: You'll have more confidence, and be better able to explore, if you have footwear (e.g. old trainers, jelly beans etc) and goggles. Make sure you bring towels, a picnic rug, midge repellent, suntan lotion, sun hats and a plastic bag for all your wet kit. Inflatables are popular but make sure people won't drift away on them, especially non-swimmers. A buoyancy aid is safer, and fun too.
Access and the law: You will find plenty of places where there are No Swimming signs and notices, yet people regularly swim there and always have. The signs are to limit the land owners' liability, in case someone has an accident and tries to sue.
Water quality: Water quality constantly varies, reducing during droughts or after flooding. The swims in Daniel Start's Wild Swimming book are in good (B) or excellent (A) quality waters, as rated by the Environment Agency. A few, marked with L, are average water quality and you may want to avoid swimming front crawl.
Skinny-dipping: If you come across a magical pool on a walk it's quite possible to swim even without any kit. Wear your undies or go naked if it is secluded. If you have no towel wipe most of the water off with your hands then sacrifice one item of clothing to dry yourself or travel with a small, light cotton sarong.
Ten wonderful wild swims
We asked Daniel Start, author of Wild Swimming, to pick his favourite swimming spots around the British Isles
1 Best for... paddling
Houghton, River Test, Hampshire
The chalk stream of the Test rises on Watership Down and is crystal clear but cold all year round. At Houghton near Stockbridge a path leads down to a wide, white chalk bay with a pretty wooden footbridge, set in beautiful countryside. It's only one to two feet deep, perfect for paddling. Water buttercups dance in the underwater current in spring so bring your snorkel and explore the underwater flower garden. Entering Houghton from Stockbridge find the footpath at end of village on the left (Clarendon Way) and follow it to the bridge.
Latitude/longditude for use with online and mobile mapping services: 51.0843, -1.5119
2 Best for... skinny dipping
Sharrah Pool, River Dart, Dartmoor
Sharrah is the largest and best pool on this wonderful river stretch in the forested Dart Valley nature reserve. It's also the birthplace of Charles Kingsley, author of The Water Babies. You might also explore Bellpool Island just downstream, and upstream are the Mel Pools, a range of smaller pools. Descend to the river from Holne and bear left along a good path for 40 minutes to find this long narrow pool.
Latitude/longditude for use with online and mobile mapping services: 50.5301, -3.8396
3 Best for... picnics
The River Waveney was the favourite river of Roger Deakin, forefather of the wild swimming movement. I love the two mile loop around Outney Common, starting and returning from Bungay. This town is one of Suffolk's most independent little places, with quirky cafés, food stores and craft shops, so it's the perfect place to stock up on picnic supplies. It even has its own river meadows at the bottom of Bridge Street, perfect for a picnic and quick dip if you don't fancy the walk. (www.outneymeadow.co.uk, 01986 892338).
Latitude/longditude for use with online and mobile mapping services: 52.4572, -1.4413
4 Best for... train access
Port Meadow, River Thames, Oxford
This two-mile stretch of river has beaches and grassy meadows on both banks. The dreaming Oxford spires behind were the inspiration for Lewis Carrol's Alice in Wonderland. Yet the city and Oxford mainline station are only 15 minutes walk away. From the station turn right onto the main road and after 300m drop down to the Thames footpath on right and follow it for ¾ mile upstream. The first footbridge leads to the west bank with open meadows, the next leads to the east bank with path and access to The Perch Inn (OX2 0NG, 01865 728891).
Latitude/longditude for use with online and mobile mapping services: 51.7698, -1.2881
5 Best for... cycling
Claverton Weir, River Avon, Bath
This long curving weir makes a wonderful place to dive and play in the waterfalls. There are old ferryman's steps down to the water and a long deep stretch above for those who like a longer swim. The parking is terrible so the only practical way is to reach it on the canal side cycle path from Bath, about three miles, a great way to build up a head of heat before your plunge.
Latitude/longditude for use with online and mobile mapping services: 51.3772, -2.3003
6 Best for... canoes/boats
Anchor Inn, River Ouse, Sussex
This remote riverside pub, down a dead end lane, is in a bucolic position on the river Ouse. They have a fleet of rowing boats available for hire and you can swim and boat for up to two miles upstream through fields as far as Isfield. Continue to Barcombe village, turn right then right again, (Anchor Inn, BN8 5BS, 01273 400414) or walk upstream a mile from Barcombe Mills, another swimming spot.
Latitude/longditude for use with online and mobile mapping services: 50.9264, -0.0513
7 Best for... pubs
Galleny Force, Stonethwaite, Lake District
Two sets of pools and cascades, with grassy knolls and ancient rowan trees. Fun for plunging, snorkelling and picnics. Upstream is Blackmoss Pot a brilliant place for jumps. But the best bit is the wonderful Langstrath Country Inn (CA12 5XG, 01768 777239) where you can warm up with an open fire and superb food. They even have rooms with white linen sheets, what could be more luxurious after a hard days wild swimming?
Latitude/longditude for use with online and mobile mapping services: 54.5069, -3.1226
8 Best for... camping
Appletreewick, River Wharfe, Yorkshire Dales
There's a pretty pool in the river with a small island and bay and rapids upstream. With a rope swing on the far side, and grassy banks and fields for picnics, this is a great spot to while away summer days. Just upstream is Mason Farm camping (BD23 6DD, 01756 720275) a popular family site right by the river. Kids like to jump on their rubber rings and tube down the river. A fun activity for adults too!
Latitude/longditude for use with online and mobile mapping services: 54.0332, -1.9213
9 Best for... jumping
Faerie Pools, Glen Brittle, Isle of Skye, Scotland
The famous ‘Allt Coir a Mhadaidh' pools and waterfalls are tinged with jade hues from the volcanic gabbro rocks. The mystical peaks of the Black Cuillin mountains tower over and they are embued with legend and fairy tales. The water is crystal clear and you can swim through the underwater arch between pools and there's also a high jump into one. From Sligachan Hotel (A87) follow A863 / B8009 and turn left (signed Glen Brittle) just before Carbost. After four miles find ‘Fairy Pool' car park on the left.
Latitude/longditude for use with online and mobile mapping services: 57.2497, -6.2554
10 Best for... waterfalls
Lady Falls, Pontneddfechan, Brecon Beacons, Wales
Lady Falls falls occupy a giant amphitheatre rimmed with a lip of dark black gritstone above a woodbine and ragwort-draped glade. The great bowl holds a wide pool of gentle water and shingle beach. Moss and fern grow in profusion in this misty microclimate and many say this is the most beautiful waterfall in Wales. A graceful column of water falls 30 feet into a deep, large plunge pool. and you can also climb behind the fall and dive back in. Pontneddfechan is off the A465 from Swansea. From the Angel Inn (SA11 5NR, 01639 722013) follow the river on a good path up through the woods, just over a mile, to arrive at a junction pool with footbridges. Cross the first bridge and bear left to the falls, 300m.
Latitude/longditude for use with online and mobile mapping services: 51.7714, -3.6011
Read the rest of this feature on p.108 of the July/August 2013 issue...
Extract and images taken from Wild Swimming by Daniel Start, £16.99, published by Wild Things Publishing www.wildswimming.co.uk