the chance to splash around in the water on a hot summer’s day
Holiday season is upon us, and as temperatures rise across the UK, everybody naturally wants to head to the coast to cool down by or in the sea.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic triggering a boom in ‘staycation’ domestic holidays this year, one thing you can be sure of is that seaside destinations are going to be extra crowded throughout the summer holidays.
Which puts you in a dilemma if you have kids but want to avoid the crowds. Is it fair to deny them the chance to splash around in the water on a hot summer’s day while on holiday? Do you want to miss out on the chance of a cooling dip if the mercury tips over 30oC?
There is an alternative. The UK is not only blessed with thousands of miles of coastline, it also has an enormous network of rivers, lakes, streams, waterfalls, pools and lagoons dotted all over the countryside, many of which make for idyllic spots to paddle and bathe.
‘Wild swimming’ has become a big trend on the back of this rich but largely unknown resource. Yes, there are safety issues to take into consideration, especially in larger rivers and lakes, and pollution sadly renders many beauty spots unsuitable for swimming.
But knowledge about the best and safest spots is getting around, and there are no shortage of options. Sites like wildswimming.co.uk provide an invaluable resource about locations and safety advice.
So if you’ve never been ‘wild swimming’ before, which locations should you check out on your family holiday this summer? Here are some of the best the UK has to offer.
River Dart, Staverton, Devon
There’s a double reason to take the kids swimming in the river in the picturesque Devon village of Staverton – you can get there by steam train on the South Devon Railway! Close to Staverton station, there is a well-preserved medieval bridge. Follow the river down to the weir, and here you have a choice of swimming options – deeper water above the weir, shallow paddling and beaches to sit on below.
This being Devon, there is no shortage of great places to stay either, with Dartmoor to the west. Or you could even chance the glorious ‘English Riviera’ stretch of coast around Torquay and Paignton just to the east.
Brecon Beacons, Wales
The mountainous Brecon Beacons offer no shortage of wild swimming options, some of which must rank amongst the most idyllic in the land. For example, along the Fechan and Mellte rivers near Ystradfellte, there’s a famous walk called the Four Waterfalls Walk which, as well as taking in four spectacular waterfalls, also takes you to around 20 pools you can swim in, including those under the waterfalls themselves.
Not too far away on the River Pyrddin, just above where it conjoins with the River Neath, there is also the Sgwd Gwladys or ‘Lady Falls’, another beauty spot in a woodland glade where you can swim in the still green waters under the falls themselves. This really is just touching the edges of your options in this wonderful part of Wales, and you are in prime camping country too for a complete family adventure.
The River Wharfe, Yorkshire
A stretch of the Wharfe in the charming West Yorkshire town of Ilkley is the very first in the country to be designated as a bathing site, which means it will have pollution levels officially monitored. But with its sandy banks and shallow waters, the Wharfe has been a popular swimming spot for time immemorial. And not just in Ilkley, either.
From here, the Yorkshire Dales are on your doorstep, and there are fantastic swimming options upstream at the popular tourist destination Bolton Abbey and in the gorgeous village of Burnsall. Both sites benefit from wide pebble beaches which are perfect for picnicking and paddling. Camping options abound, with plentiful country pubs to choose from as well.
River Swimming in Suffolk
The Fens and Broads of East Anglia sound ideal for inland swimming – large stretches of peaceful, slow-moving water in beautiful countryside. The problem is that much of this marshy land is full of reeds and thick mud which make the waters inaccessible unless you’re on a boat and, at times, dangerous.
The best wild swimming options are on the small rivers which thread through this corner of England, and two of the best are in Suffolk. The Little Ouse, for example, weaves its way through lush Thetford Forest and the Brecks, with excellent swimming options at Santon Downham – look for St Helen’s picnic spot and a footbridge over the river – and amongst the riverside meadows of Knettishall Heath. Further east, another popular wild swimming spot is on the River Waveney, with a two-mile loop around Outney Common in Bungay said to be the favourite haunt of Roger Deakin, who wrote the seminal book on UK wild swimming, “Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey Through Britain.”
Isle of Skye Pools
Finally, undoubtedly one of the most dramatic locations for an outdoors dip anywhere in the UK has to be the famed Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye. With a backdrop of the craggy Black Cuillin mountains and water cascading down the hillsides in dozens of mini-waterfalls, the pools themselves are cool, crystal clear basins carved out of the granite by millions of years of water erosion.
Given their renown, the Fairy Pools can become as crowded as any beach on a warm summer’s day. But Skye’s wild swimming options don’t end there. If you head off the beaten path a little, the Allt Darraich pools, a short walk from the main road at Sligachan, are in the same vicinity as the Fairy Pools and just as inviting. Or to the south, tucked away off the narrow road between Broadford and Elgol, the Torrin Pools take a little more getting to, but will reward your efforts with stunning aquamarine pools and waterfalls well away from the crowds.
Whatever types of adventure you choose for your UK staycation this year, don’t forget your travel insurance. And no, not for accidents if you take one risk too many with your choice of wild swimming spot (your insurance wouldn’t cover you anyway if you did anything silly). The main reason you need to protect yourself this year in case of last-minute COVID cancellations – if you get ‘pinged’ and have to self-isolate, you will lose any money you have paid out on accommodation without insurance. Find out more here.