Wild swimming: it’s swimming, but wilder!
When the sun shines and the temperature rises, you can bet half the city is going to head to London’s lidos for a cool down. Still, for those with more wisdom and a hardier spirit, these top wild swimming spots will do the trick, without hordes of screaming children in rubber rings to worry about… Plus, the vast majority of these spots are free to visit (paid spots are marked 💸)!
1. Beckenham Place Park, Beckenham 💸
Is it still wild if it’s manmade? We’re going to say yes, because this bucolic new spot is utterly gorgeous. Once a Georgian folly, the swimming lake has been lovingly restored over the past couple of years, and now welcomes bathers and watersports enthusiasts to have a paddle. Read all about it here.
Nearest stations are Beckenham Junction (trams), Beckenham Hill and Ravensbourne (both Thameslink).
2. West Reservoir, Stoke Newington 💸
Another handily-located spot, although you’ll have to pay for a splashabout here, since it’s run by Better Leisure. They run open-water swimming sessions, or if you fancy staying dry(ish), you can try your hand at sailing, kayaking, and even canoe polo.
Nearest station is Manor House, Finsbury Park isn’t far off either.
3. River Colne, Rickmansworth
The last of our wild swimming spots you can reach on the Tube, this dip is worth the slog out to Zone 7. A series of flooded gravel pits (originally dug out to provide stone for the roads and buildings of London) are eye-catching spots, but you’re not technically allowed to swim in them – the neighbouring River Colne is the spot of choice. Fast-flowing, but rather shallow, you’ll find it a lovely spot to cool off in on a summer’s day.
Nearest station is Rickmansworth; it’s then a short walk to the river.
4. River Wey, Artington
Once you’re outside the M25, wild swimming spots become ever more bucolic, perfect for idyllic weekend swims. A stone’s throw from Guildford, this sandy stretch of river is slow-moving and shallow, making it a fine spot for wild swimming newbies. You can also find another great stretch of the Wey down by Godalming, which tends to be a tad quieter.
Nearest station is Guildford; it’s then a short walk to the river.
5. Frensham Great Pond, Surrey
Surrey is turning out to be quite the wild swimmer’s destination of choice, isn’t it? Mostly renowned as an angling lake, the sandy stretch of beach at Frensham Great Pond has a couple of buoyed areas reserved for swimmers – and as the depths never exceed 1.4 metres, it’s a good one for kids. The only downside? It’s also one of Surrey’s best-known skinny dipping spots, so you may want to watch where you look…
Nearest stations are Farnham and Bentley, and you’ll need to hit the roads to reach the pond.
6. River Thames, Goring Lock to Moulsford
Let’s be honest, no-one in their right mind is going to be hopping in the Thames near Waterloo Bridge. But if you head back towards the headwaters of the river, you’ll find slow, wide sections ideal for a swim. Between Goring Lock and Moulsford, the river winds through nature reserves and rolling fields, making it a much-loved spot.
Nearest station is Goring & Streatley, and it’s a short walk to the river.
Heading back up the Thames towards fair London town, a trio of wild swimming spots emerge. Henley itself may be better know for rowing, but remains a popular swimming destination – further east, you can get in the water near Hurley Lock and Marlow Lock. Indeed, the Henley to Marlow stretch forms the Thames Marathon, a 14km jaunt down river that challenges the strongest of swimmers.
You can get a train to either end of this stretch, with stations at Henley-on-Thames and Marlow.
8. Shillingford, Oxfordshire
Another Thames treasure, the stretch at Shillingford encourages people to float as much as swim. Hop in at the end of Wharf Road (shoes are required for the last stretch), and then bob your way downstream until you reach Shillingford Bridge – of course, if you keep floating you’ll eventually hit London…
Nearest stations are Didcot and Cholsey, but you’ll need to drive or catch a bus to Shillingford.
9. River Medway, Kent
Part of a lovely walk from Hever (home of the gorgeous Hever Castle) up to Leigh, a trek along the Medway is an idyllic summertime ramble, topped off with a dip in the waters around Ensfield Bridge. The more daring amongst you can jump off the bridge, but do please aim for the deeper centre if you’re planning on this.
There are stations at Hever and Leigh, depending on how long you fancy making the walk (Ensfield Bridge is right next to Leigh).
10. Grantchester, Cambridgeshire
Whilst nearby Cambridge offers you the chance to take a punt on the River Cam, I reckon you’d be just as happy taking a punt on a swim. Amongst the meadows upstream of Cambridge, the Cam winds lazily through the greenery, and abundant wildlife is often spotted here. You’ll encounter the odd punt, which is the perfect invitation for a race, methinks.
Nearest station is Cambridge, but buses or a brisk walk should see you to Grantchester.
Also published on Medium.