Author: Anna Hattersley
Whether we're seeking peace, escape, wildlife, adventure or an amazing photo for social media, how can we find secret wild swimming spots that make our hearts sing?
You may want a swim spot for a sneaky out-of-the-way dip at the end of the working day or an idyllic wild swimming location on holiday, either way I will give some tips on how to start looking.
- Speak to Swimmers
- Be an Early Bird or a Night Owl
- Be a Bookworm
- Take your Blinkers Off
- Walk the Walk
Speak to Swimmers
It may be counterintuitive but the best way of finding secret swim spots is to find people, not just anyone, but outdoors swimmers. Whether you get chatting at a marine lake or beach, find them online in forums or go along to an organised meet-up, swimmers have a wealth of knowledge and experience that they are often happy to share with other swimmers.
I have been impressed with what a generous and welcoming bunch of people outdoor swimmers can be. There are networks such as the Blue Tits who say their ‘swims are informal, a social occasion with friends and like minded people.’ There is a map of places they swim on their website.
Other groups are focused on a specific location, such as the Sheffield Outdoor Plungers who are an informal network of people swimming in and around the city, as well as some campaigning for access to swim in the resevoirs. The Outdoor Swimming Society has a list of groups to get you started if you want to find swimmers near you.
Being part of a swimming community is a great way to find unexpected swimming spots that you may never have found on your own and whilst they may not be strictly secret spots, they can be secluded, surprising and beautiful, even in the heart of a city.
As you learn about new swim spots, look nearby for other less obvious locations on the same stretch of coast, river or lakeside.
Be an Early Bird or a Night Owl
Pick your time well and even a popular spot can feel like the best kept secret.
Whilst you can search for secret swimming spots in various locations online, you may find them overcrowded on sunny days because somewhere that is so publicly available can no longer be considered a secret. However, even the busiest locations can be secluded and stunning if you find the right time.
Whenever I sneak out for an early dip as the sun rises, I feel as if I have stolen some extra hours from the day and even my closest swim spot, which can be crowded in summer, is a deserted haven.
Twilight and night swims hold the same magic, when you are shrouded in darkness and secrecy, but take care to swim safely.
Swimming in the rain, you may feel as if you have been let in on a secret that few know as you glide through the raindrops. Even if you encounter other swimmers, there is a shared understanding that you have made a discovery that few appreciate.
Be a Bookworm
Guide books can be helpful, but look for fiction and memoirs too.
If you would like a list of beautiful swimming spots to inspire you, there are some great books out there to point you in the right direction, for example the Wild Guides have books covering UK, France, Italy and Spain, as well as Three Hundred Hidden Dips. Buying guide books supports those people researching, writing and sharing their experience with you.
However, I would also recommend looking out for swimming memoirs, such as Wild Woman Swimming or Roger Deakin’s Waterlog for inspiration of where to look for secret swim spots. Waterlog inspired many people to swim outdoors long before it was considered fashionable. It was itself inspired by John Cheever’s short story The Swimmer in which the protagonist swims his way home through swimming pools in suburban gardens in New York.
Have a look at our Top Ten Swimming Books to Entertain and Inspire to find less obvious places to explore than you will find in a traditional guidebook.
Take the Blinkers Off
When following tips from swimmers, books or websites, keep your blinkers off so that you don’t miss idyllic, and more secret, spots nearby.
I once took my children for a swim in the Dart with a friend. We spent a sunny afternoon messing about in the small falls and swimming in a dark pool under the trees. We didn’t see a soul for hours and once we were all done, we collected our things and followed the track up to the main path only to be met by a stream of people walking back and forth to a much more well-known, and once ‘secret’, swimming spot a few kilometres upstream. In their desire to get to the place that they had heard about, these people were passing much quieter, more secret and very beautiful swimming spots en route.
It may well be that they preferred it that way and liked the crowds, but it is also possible that they were so focussed on their destination that they forgot to look for other opportunities around them - it is easily done.
To avoid this, view any recommended swimming spot as a starting point rather than a single destination and treat the environment with care as we explore.
Walk the Walk
If you want to find places that are quiet and off-the-beaten-track, then go for a walk, if you can.
Dig out a map and look for blue spots, rivers and coastline.
Pack some water and some snacks, along with your swimming kit.
Wander and explore.
Be prepared to find nothing exciting, but be open to finding something amazing in the least expected of places.
I have a friend who will stop whenever she spies water and ask if we fancy a swim. Whilst every spot might not be idyllic, I have learnt that ‘Yes’ should always be the answer if you want to find secret places to swim.
If you are unsure about your rights, the OSS has advice for swimmers in the United Kingdom in their article ‘Is it legal?’ They are campaigning for people to be able to swim in all reservoirs, lakes and waterways in Wales and England, as is already the case in Scotland where you have a right to swim along the lines of a right to roam. This right has existed since the implementation of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 and its accompanying access code. You can learn more about the OSS campaign to open up more swimming spots in Inland Access: The OSS Manifesto and about the Right to Roam.
If you are reading this wanting a genuinely secret swimming spot that no one else knows about, then head outside and explore. Walk, paddle or swim to new places if you can. Be open to dipping anywhere at any time and you will find secret places to swim that you never expected.
Respect the ecology of where you are and take home litter, even if it is not yours, so that your secret swim spot will appear as undiscovered and wonderful for all who are fortunate enough to follow you.
Anna Hattersley has been swimming outdoors year-round for more than ten years, mainly in Devon but elsewhere whenever she gets the chance. She is passionate about sport and the outdoors and sharing this with others. In 2014 she got together with local volunteers and saved her local lido, Ashburton Swimming Pool, from closure. She is still a trustee today.