Take a swim on the wild side

Daniel Start wild swimming
Daniel Start goes wild

Britain’s freshwater rivers, lakes and waterfalls are cleaner, safer and more accessible than at any time in living memory.

To celebrate, photographer and travel writer Daniel Start has set out to find Britain’s 150 favourite swimming holes in a new photo-guide book Wild Swimming: 150 Hidden Dips in the Rivers, Lakes and Waterfalls of Britain. There are sections on skinny dipping, waterfalls, wild swimming with children, canoe camping,raft making and riverside wildlife too You can find an interactive map, plus guidance and articles, at his website.

Ever since the late Roger Deakin swam through Britain by river, lake and sea the term ‘wild swimming’ has been used to describe the age-old practise of swimming in natural waters. In our grandparents’ day swimming holes were where people learnt to swim and congregated on a summer day – to paddle, picnic and play. Today there is a resurgence of interest in this traditional pleasure and people are learning to explore their rivers and lakes again.

For many of us this kind of communion with our ecology is moving. It’s a place to seek inspiration, intuition and peace and also to be humbled by the immensity and wonder of nature. These are places where children see their first kingfisher or find their first otter track. Here we learn to play Pooh sticks and build dams before falling asleep in the grass. With worries about climate change, obesity and urban youth crime, we need, more than ever, new and exciting ways for our children to engage with the natural world and to explore it in safe and responsible ways. Go wild swimming and open up a fresh world of adventures, romantic escapades and family days out. The water’s fresh, so pick up, strip off and jump in!

Top highlights from Daniels book

South West

‘ King Arthur’s knights were baptised in this mystical circular waterfall before beginning their quest for the Holy Grail
‘ Camp in the tipi village by this swimming lake set in a magical reclaimed quarry
‘ Close to the birthplace of Charles Kingsley, these remote river pools on the Dart are surrounded by steep lush forest and inspired the tale of The Waterbabies
‘ Swim with Tarka the Otter in the rivers that inspired Henry Williamson’s famous novel
‘ Picnic by the river and exchange favourite wild-swimming locations at Britain’s longest established river swimming club
‘ Swim and play at one of the longest river weirs in the country


‘ White shingle beach and dancing water buttercups line the crystal-clear chalk streams that drain Hampshire’s Watership Down
‘ These ‘lost’ river meanders are set in the spectacular Cuckmere Haven
‘ A popular inland beach, set in ancient Surrey heathland, built by the Bishop of Winchester in the sixteenth century
‘ One of Britain’s oldest and most famous bathing ponds, these pools were constructed 400 years ago to provide London with drinking water through hollowed-out elm tree pipes
‘ In the centre of Oxford, not far from the station, the riverside at Port Meadow inspired Lewis Carroll in the opening of Alice in Wonderland
‘ Beautiful stretches of the River Thames that provided the setting for Three Men in a Boat and Wind in the Willows

Central and East

‘ Paddle with dinosaurs at Stonesfield, the location of the first ever found Jurassic fossil
‘ A giant amphitheatre filled with famously pure Malvern spring water. Admire tectonic faults from over 500 million years ago
‘ Swim down the River Wye in Herefordshire, one of England’s best-loved swimming and canoeing rivers
‘ Join the famous coracle regatta at the river-swimming village of Leintwardine
‘ The famous Grantchester Meadows were a popular river bathing location of Lord Byron, Rupert Brooke, Virginia Woolf and members of the Bloomsbury Group
‘ Mountain-top pools imbued with legends of mermaids and monsters


‘ Hay-on-Wye, home of literary festivals and second-hand bookshops, is also the site of the famous riverside ‘Warren’ ‘ a stretch of Wye-side shingle and shallows popular with families
‘ The Waterfalls Woods are the most spectacular series of waterfalls in Wales, with aqua forest lidos fit for the gods
‘ This high tarn is haunted by King Arthur’s ‘Lady of the Lake’
‘ Waterfalls plunge through a valley rich in Welsh gold. There are several ruined mines and you can still find gold if you pan the pools
‘ Coloured azure blue by faint traces of copper, these fantastic old slate quarries are like Mediterranean lagoons
‘ Tarn-swimming is the ultimate landscape immersion and wilderness trip. These are three of the best
‘ Follow in the footsteps of Mallory, Hillary and some of our most famous Everest mountaineers and complete the Snowdon swim tour


Lakes and Dales

‘ Magnificent Wastwater: England’s deepest, most dramatic and most beautiful lake. It also has an underwater ‘gnome garden’
‘ Eskdale: a magical series of pools leading up to Scafell Pike. There’s nowhere better to be on a hot day in the Lakes
‘ William Wordsworth’s mountain pools with view across Rydal Water
‘ Swim across to Wildcat Island of Swallows and Amazons fame
‘ Hell Gill is thought to be a collapsed cave, now a semi-underground stream that feels like the inside of a whale. Descend if you dare!
‘ A gentle cataract great for ‘tubing’ ‘ rafting the rapids on rubber rings
‘ Set next to the ruins of Bolton Priory, this stretch of river becomes Costa-del- Bolton on hot summer days
‘ The wooded Gormire Lake, set beneath the spectacular Sutton Bank, was a favourite location for James Herriot

Scotland and North

‘ Swim with the Romans along Hadrian’s Wall and visit their temple to the water nymphs
‘ The bottomless plunge pool of Linhope Spout in the grand Cheviot Hills
‘ Swim across the border from England to Scotland at Union Bridge, one of the oldest suspension bridges in the world
‘ The Faeries and Faerie Pools of Skye, the clearest water in Britain
‘ Bathe with the Loch Ness Monster by the ruins of Urquhart Castle
‘ Swim across to a ruined castle island on Loch an Eilein
‘ Find Rob Roy’s secret cave on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond
‘ The closest thing to Highland pools without going north of Stirling. Great rock slide and there’s an excellent pub nearby too
‘ Swim in Rob Roy’s giant bathtub at the Falls of Falloch

How to be wild and safe

– Wear footwear if you can
– Never swim alone and keep a constant watch on weak swimmers
– Always make sure you know how you will get out before you get in
– Avoid contact with blue-green algae, a powdery scum found on some lake edges in summer
– Never swim in canals, urban rivers, stagnant lakes or reedy shallows, and keep cuts and wounds covered with waterproof plasters

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