Best wild swimming and walks in the UK that offer the best of both worlds

Wild swimming, or swimming in open lakes, ponds, and rivers, is extremely popular in UK during summers.

Open swimming has always had a core of die hard fans ready to take a plunge in a cool stream. But lately, it has really taken off as people are feeling pandemic fatigue and want an escape.

Even simple activities like walking has taken off like never before with lots of people going for a hike every weekend and wander at every opportunity.

Being cooped up at home for over a year has made many of us restless for experiencing the great outdoors for its many health benefits, both physically and on our mental wellbeing. The fact that most of these places are free is only an added bonus.

With all of this in mind, 2Chill has rounded up a few places where you can combine the enjoyment of wild swimming and walking, as well as tips from the nation’s top open water swimmers, so you can have a scenic but safe summer.

Perranuthnoe and Prussia Cove Circular, Cornwall

Wild Things Publishing produces an array of guides providing routes, tips, and suggestions on wild swimming walks across the UK. A great source of inspiration, they’re the sort of books you’re just happy to flick through.

A taster of their suggestions is the four-mile Penrranuthnoe and Prussia Cove Circular on Cornwall’s south coast. Recommending that you set aside six hours, sights include Stackhouse Cove baths, Cudden Point, Little Cudden, Bessy’s Cove tracks and St Michael’s Mount. There are also beautiful coves and swim spots along this stretch of coastlines that was once renowned for smuggling.

Taste of Place Trail, Argyll, Scotland

Walk, swim, and eat your way round the wilds of Scotland on a Taste Of Place Trail experience, such as the Seafood Trail, or Coffee And Cake Trail, in which you’re invited to ‘eat the view’ by chomping down on beautiful local produce from the sights you see.

You don’t even have to feel guilty about over-indulging because you can walk and swim it off. Wild swimming spots include Calgary Bay on Mull, Isle of Coll and Southend Beach Kintyre, which are great for wild swimming, as well as Colonsay. Just be sure to give yourself a break after eating before going for a dip.

The Little Retreat, Wales

It only opened in summer 2020, but Pembrokeshire’s Little Retreat is already proving to be a magical escape given its location in the UK’s only coastal National Park.

Although described as ‘a place of restoration, reconnection and relaxation’ there’s also plenty of opportunity to get active as it is surrounded by hundreds of acres of ancient woodlands and secret waterways. There are even guided wild swimming lessons with WeSwimWild founder Laura Owen Sanderson.

North Yorkshire Water Park, Yorkshire

Located just East of Wykeham, near Scarborough is the North Yorkshire Water Park, which is available for open water swimming from 8am to 8pm seven days a week.

There’s also a 2.5km gravel path encircling the main lake, so you can up your game, and your heartbeat with a brisk walk pre-or-post dip. The lake temperature averages 18 degrees and it has just been awarded ‘excellent’ for water quality.

Following a £1 million investment, new facilities include a café and changing rooms, so there are creature comforts if you don’t want your open water experience too ‘wild’.

Cross-country swimming spots

The words cross-country swimming might sound a little intense but broken down, it’s really just a combination of hiking and swimming and using water as part of your journey.

If you’re new to the idea, or looking for inspiration, then head over to the cross-country swimming brand Above Below. The team has curated a handpicked list of routes across the UK, from creeks and coves in the South West to the Isle of Harris in Scotland via themed itineraries called Wordsworth’s Weekender in the Lake District, and the eyebrow raising ‘Punting, poets and nudity’ in Cambridge.

Church Ope Cove and East Weares, Dorset

Nestled on Portland, a tied island in Dorset on the southern-most point of the dramatic Jurassic Coast, is the striking Pennsylvania Castle Estate, and beneath it the secluded Church Ope Cove.

Visit Dorset calls this little bay ‘one of Portland’s hidden gems’, and the limestone pebbled beach makes it the perfect place for a refreshing dip once you’ve finished exploring this unique section of the South West, including the Weares, the name given to the craggy landscape.

Six safety tips from the pros

Keri-anne Payne and Sophie Hellyer, both experienced open water swimmers and dryrobe ambassadors, share some safety tips to be mindful of:

It is imperative you don’t go open water swimming on your own. It can be dangerous and it’s important you are supervised by at least one other person. Not only is swimming much safer with a friend, but it’s also much more fun. Check out The Outdoor Swimming Society for established groups.

If it’s your first swim, be extra careful. The temperatures can be cold – and although not as cold as during winter, it’s still worth being wary!

It’s worth getting a medical check-up if you’re new to cold water immersion as it can be a very stressful environment for the body, and you don’t need to be in longer than two minutes to reap the benefits.

Be prepared to get a shock when you go into the water. It’s really important to concentrate on your breathing and take some really deep breaths. If it’s your first time, I’d strongly advise against dipping your head underwater.

Take the rewarming process seriously. Prior to going, make sure you are organised and think about all the kit you will need once you get out of the water. Something like a dry robe is absolutely perfect to get your temperature back up.

Stay within your depth, and/or near to the entrance and exit points and don’t ever feel pressured to go in.

Every wild swimming spot is different. Ask local lifeguards, your swim group or other water users to make sure you understand the tides, currents, waves and local marine life, and check them before going in.

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