Top 10 London Wild Swim Escapes

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

1. Upper Thames

When thinking of the the river Thames, conjured images of grey water and submerged shopping trolleys are what likely comes to mind. But travel only a short way out of the city and it's a whole different story. Green, leafy and peaceful, the Thames twists through the countryside and it's grassy platforms and deep water makes for ideal swimming. I've swum in the river at many points between Oxford and Reading, and really, any accessible point is good for a dip. Cheese Wharf is great for fun family swimming with rope swings and diving from the banks. If getting the train, Cookham, Pangbourne and Oxford train stations all have good access spots to the river.

2. River Windrush

Journey to the Cotswolds and you will discover this peaceful, chalky river meandering through traditional English countryside. We visited in early June and although fast flowing in sections, it was refreshingly cool and there was plenty of space for picnics and games. Park at Minster Lovell by the church and explore the old ruins before finding a section for a swim. Careful of the current if the water is fast flowing and check for an exit point before you get in.

3. The Great Stour Canterbury

Stand on the banks of the Great Stour and watch as fish dart and reeds wave beneath the crystal clear water. This river really is remarkably clear for a South East river, and as we clambered in to the water, reeds brushed over our legs and fish nibbled our toes. Although not great for those with a fear of things that lurk beneath the surface, the way I see it, you would pay top dollar for fish to nibble away your dead skin in a London salon. So really, it's a total bargain. We explored the river from the town of Fordwich, however the river is also accessible by train from Canterbury or Sturry train stations.

4. Margate and Walpole Tidal Pool

Perhaps not so wild, but sea swimming here is easily accessed by train or car from London and the town makes for a fun day out if you prefer somewhere not so secluded. We browsed second hand bookshops, walked along the seafront and ate chips and ice cream on the beach. When the tide is in, swim off the beach and Margate steps. Alternatively, if the tide is out, take a dip in one of the area's famous tidal pools. We walked to Walpole tidal pool and were rewarded by a deep reservoir of chalky blue away from the seaside bustle of Margate.

5. Frensham Great Pond

This pond is spring fed, surprisingly clear and a good alternative to the beach on a hot summers day. Although rumoured to get extremely crowded on summer weekends, I visited this pond for a dawn swim in October and was treated to a misty pink sunrise with steam rising from the deserted water. After a warm spell, beware of the blue green algae which is known to be toxic.

6. Hampstead Heath Ponds

More of an oasis than an escape, these ponds are the wild swimming saviour of London. Have a stroll through Hampstead Heath, then pay a visit to one of three ponds: Kenwood Ladies, Mens Pond or the Mixed Pond. The Mixed Pond is only open to the public in the summer months, however the others are open year round for some bone chilling yet exhilarating winter swims.

7. The River Bean

Jump on the train to Hertford, and in no time at all find yourself sunbathing and swimming the day away by this green and shallow river. I visited on a hot June day and joined a wide array of people cooling off in the water: an elderly couple splashing in the mini weir, groups of teenagers lounging on the bank and young families messing around with buckets and dinghies. Easily accessible from London and surprisingly picturesque, this river might not have the clearest water but is great for cooling off in a pinch.

8. The River Wye

A wide expanse of opaque green, the river Wye is well known for it's swimming community. Grab the train to Guildford and spend the day meandering up the river.

9. The Silent Pool

Magical, crystal clear and blue, the Silent Pool, with its enormous fish darting across the bottom and wooded location, is a real swimmers treat. Visit this place off season, early or late in the day, and swim discreetly. This pool is next to a gin distillery and popular with walkers but if you make an effort to go at a quiet time then it is very much worth it.

10. Grantchester Meadows

Grantchester Meadows is a popular swimmer's paradise and easy train away from London. Walk through Cambridge's impressive streets before coming out on this green riverside walkway that is great for walking, cycling and punting. A Cambridge-born friend recently assured me that the best way to explore the river is to rent a punt for the day. By doing so, it is possible to venture past Grantchester Meadows and discover your own secluded swim spot.

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