There’s no denying that it’s hot in the UK right now. If you live in a city, it’s likely that it’s all getting a bit too much.
So throw your swimming costume in a bag, run away to the country and cool off in one of Britain’s great wild swimming spots.
1. St Nectan’s Kieve, Tintagel
Swimming There – At the head of a wild glen a tall, slender waterfall falls into a high basin, flows through a circular hole and drops into a plunge pool (the kieve). This is a holy place with prayer flags, a shrine room above and lots of steps. There is a small tea room in the Hermitage. An entrance fee applies.
Getting There – Locate the track with a postbox, opposite a telephone box, on the B3263 in Trethevey, two miles east of Tintagel. Bear right and follow it for one mile, past St Piran’s Well, down into the woods, and up along a pretty stream, finally climbing the steps up to the shrine entrance (20 minutes, 50.6644, -4.7168).
2. Watkins Path Waterfalls
SwimmingThere – There are a series of pools and falls on Cwm Llan at the bottom of the Watkins path, and the waterfall is popular with walkers eager to freshen up after climbing Mount Snowdon.
Getting There – From Beddgelert (A498), continue past Llyn Dinas and park beyond Gwynant Chapel café (LL55 4NL) on the right. Explorers can continue to the secluded pools on the nearby Afon Merch (53.0520,-4.0399). Llanberis waterfalls (53.1115, -4.1255) are also worth a visit on the north side of Snowdon (20 minutes, 53.0441, -4.0551).
3. Lady Falls, River Fechan
Swimming There – A graceful column of waterfalls 10 metres into a deep, large plunge pool. Set in a wooded amphitheatre, you can also climb behind the fall and dive back in.
Getting There – Pontneddfechan is set off the A465 from Swansea. From the Angel Inn (SA11 5NR) follow the river on a good path up through the woods, just over a mile, to arrive at a junction pool with footbridges (good jumping spots are found here). Cross the first bridge and bear left to the falls for 300 metres (25 minutes, 51.7714, -3.6011).
4. Horseshoe Falls, River Fechan
Swimming There – A fantastic set of large, deep forest plunge pools beneath a horseshoe-shaped waterfall. The top pool has a tree and a high cliff that you can jump from.
Getting There – From the junction pool and footbridge (for Lady Falls) bear right and follow the mainstream a further half mile (35 minutes, 51.7742, -3.5936).
Lake District and Cumbria
5. Galleny Force, Stonethwaite
Swimming there – Galleny Force has two sets of pools and cascades, with grassy knolls and ancient rowan trees, fun for plunging, snorkelling and picnics.
GettingThere – Six miles south of Keswick (B5289), after Rosthwaite, turn left at a postbox to lovely Langstrath Country Inn (CA12 5XG). If you’re camping, continue on a rough track uphill for a further 600 metres to the Stonethwaite riverside campsite (CA12 5XG). Go beyond the campsite on a path above woods for a half mile to find first a set of pools on the left, followed by more after a quarter mile on the bend (20 minutes, 54.5069, -3.1226).
6. Aira Beck
Swimming There – A series of pools and deep pots for a half mile above the well-known Aira Force waterfall.
Getting There – Take the Dockray road, signed off the A592, Ullswater. After a mile, and beyond the Aira Force car park, find a large double layby. Park and walk down to find the first of a series of falls and plunge pools. Continue downstream to a wooden bridge, and finally a stone bridge at Aira Force itself (15 minutes, 54.5793, -2.9289).
7. Crammel Linn, River Irthing
Swimming There – A huge waterfall with pool on a wild moor.
Getting There – Continue a mile west of Gilsland, over the bridge and uphill, past Gilsland Spa. Go on for another one-and-a-half mile, take the ‘no through road’ and turn right over a cattle grid. Find a signed footpath down on the right after a mile on the far edge of the forest (10 minutes, 55.0202, -2.5637).
8. Kisdon Force, River Keld
Swimming There – Here you’ll find two spectacular waterfalls set deep in a woody gorge. One is five metres high with an 80m-wide plunge pool, open and awe-inspiring. The other is 12 metres high with a 50m-wide plunge pool.
Getting There – From Keld village follow the Corpse Road path in the direction of Muker for half a mile, then drop down to find the Kisdon Force waterfalls among the trees below (15 minutes, 54.4043, -2.1584).
9. Wain Wath Waterfall, Keld
Swimming There – A wide waterfall, about three metres high, with a pleasant plunge pool and an open aspect by the roadside. There are limestone cliffs in the valley and grassy banks for picnics, as well as interesting river and rock shapes downstream and good paddling.
Getting There – Continue beyond Keld (in the direction of Kirkby Stephen) to find the falls on the right, 200 metres after turning toward the west of Stonesdale. Continue for a mile towards a pleasant riverside campsite, just before a bridge on the left (two minutes, 54.4095, -2.1803).
10. Catrigg Waterfall
Swimming There – An atmospheric waterfall set in woodland on the edge of a moor with a small pool beneath towering rocks.
Getting There – From the post office in Stainforth continue 100 metres and turn right up the lane, which becomes a track up the hillside. After a 0.75 mile journey, falls can be seen below on the left at the top of the woodland (20 minutes, 54.0994, -2.2580).
11. Janet’s Foss
Swimming There – A lovely little clear plunge pool with a cave. Perfect for families.
Getting There – It is signed downstream along Gordale Bridge, about a mile east of Malham en route to
Gordale Scar (five minutes, 54.0657, -2.1365).
12. Thornton Force, River Kingsdale
Swimming There – A famous waterfall with an overhang and a large pool popular with bathers.
Getting There – Located off the A65 on the Ingleton Waterfall Trail (fee applies), this can also be accessed on public footpaths from the lanes north of Ingleton. Also explore Beezley Falls, a huge deep cauldron pot further along on the Waterfall Walk (30 minutes, 54.1727, -2.4690).
13. Linhope Spout, River Breamish
Swimming There – A ‘bottomless’ plunge pot beneath a tall spout in a pretty glade that is ideal for picnics. Paddling can be done in the shallows of beck.
Getting There – From A697 (between Wooler and Rothbury) follow signs to Ingram/Breamish Valley (three miles) then on through the village, past pretty paddling and picnic spots, to the end of the public road. Walk 1.75 miles through the hamlet and onto an open moor – it is signed below the river (45 minutes, 55.4477, -2.0671).
14. The Witch’s Cauldron, Clunes
Swimming There – Eas Chia-aig is a series of three falls and pools set in quick succession by the roadside with interesting rock formations.
Getting There – Follow the Lochy river north of Fort William (B8004/B8005) for 12 miles, bearing left at Gairlochy. One mile beyond the Clunes forest, find the bridge and picnic spot. The first pool by the bridge is deep and large. Above it are more pools accessed via the footpath, with more found 500 metres up the footpath (five minutes, 56.9548, -5.0012).
15. Fairy Pools, Glen Brittle
Swimming There – The famous ‘Allt Coir a Mhadaidh’ pools and waterfalls, tinged with pink and blue hues, set under the mystical peaks of the Black Cuillins. It offers crystal clear water and an underwater arch to swim between pools.
Getting There – From Sligachan Hotel (A87) follow the A863/ B8009 and turn left (signed Glen Brittle) just before Carbost (the Talisker Distillery – don’t get distracted). After four miles, find the ‘Fairy Pool’ car park on the left. Cross the road and follow a clear path down and then up a valley, keeping to the left of the stream for 0.75 miles to find several pools. Take a good jump into the underwater arch pool (20 minutes, 57.2497, -6.2554).
16. Plodda Falls, Glen Affric
Swimming There – A deep, large, black plunge pool (30 metres) at the base of Scotland’s second highest waterfall. The remains of Victorian viewing gangways can still be found around the pool, and it can be a tricky scramble down into this forested canyon.
Getting There – Tomich is signed on the left at the power station off the Glen Affric road from Cannich (A831). Continue three miles beyond the Tomich hotel, going eventually onto the forestry track, towards the Plodda Falls forest parking area. Drop down through the woods, to a viewing bridge to admire the panorama and pool below. Then head down a steep, slippery path for a plunge (15 minutes, 57.2723, -4.8593).
17. Linn of Tummel Waterfall
Swimming There – There are impressive pools by these roadside falls. The lane continues along the wild shores of Tummel and Rannock lochs (B846).
Getting There – Signed Clunie/Foss off the A9 just north of Pitlochry and south of Killiecrankie (three minutes, 56.7185, -3.7827).
18. Eidart Falls, Glen Feshie
Swimming There – Deep large pools and waterfalls with clear water flow through this truly wild river valley.
Getting There – Take the Aclean/Glen Feshie Hostel road, just before Feshiebridge, all the way to the road’s end. Then it’s a beautiful 10-mile riverside trek on a good path to this impressive series of falls and pools. Look out for Allt na Leuma waterfall on a creek to the left as well (240 minutes, 56.9763, -3.7886).
10 ways to stay safe when wild swimming
- Never swim alone. Keep a constant watch on weak swimmers.
- Never use inflatables at sea – they can drift on currents and wind.
- In surf and swell, avoid swimming where rip currents can form – on the edge of coves, on wide beaches and at river mouths.
- If caught in an offshore rip, don’t swim against it. Swim parallel, then return to the beach on the surf.
- In high swell, avoid steeply shelving beaches as the waves can “dump” you, and the undertow around your legs can be strong.
- Never enter sea caves or swim near rocks in a high swell.
- Never jump or dive into water unless you have checked it for depth and obstructions.
- Avoid swimming in coves and bays unless you understand the tidal streams that operate at headlands and in the open sea.
- Wear a wetsuit if you know you will be in the water for more than 15–20 minutes. Cold water reduces swimming ability and hypothermia can kill.
- Stay away from crumbling cliff edges and wear shoes with good soles so that you can tackle slippery paths after rain.