With the summer fast approaching, what better way to make the most of the outdoors than outdoor swimming! Britain has the highest number of rivers and lakes in the whole of Europe so finding family-friendly spots near you shouldn’t be too difficult. Turn the day into an adventure for both you and the kids as you travel off the beaten track and truly enjoy nature. You could find yourself swimming alongside fish and ducks – something you don’t get in your local lane pool. And what is great is that outdoor swimming is (mostly) free!
We’ve got some of our favourite spots below for you to explore. Plus we have a great competition to win a family swimming bundle worth £100 from Zoggs!
One for those of you in the East Midlands. This is this perfect place to explore with children and introduce them to the benefits and joy of wild swimming! With its industrial past, you might not have thought the East Midlands had much to offer in terms of wild swimming spots, and in fact this area near Derby is a little known secret.
Take a stroll through the hamlet of Ingleby with the kids before discovering the lagoon off the main river. It is of decent size and depth and feels more like a lake to swim in. There are even some 100m stretches for older kids to practice their lengths! The lagoon features a shingle beach, caves and grottos, which were carved out by the river along its south bank, and you can even make out the remains of fireplaces and shelters used by the hermits and saints who dwelled here in the 6th Century, so you can even write this off as an educational trip!
Just outside of Hereford, this meandering and gentle river is lovely for lazy summer days spent paddling in the shallows. It is a mixture of deep and shallow water, so great for kids (and adults!) of all ages. It’s possible to do a 2km long swim if your kids are up for the challenge and you want to take in more of its idyllic surroundings.
Perfect for jumping!
Ullswater is one of the Lake District’s most popular lakes and for good reason – it’s one of the most beautiful. But this location still remains relatively unknown to most tourists so you can go and enjoy a peaceful and deeply rewarding open-water swim.
What’s more, the crag faces west, so you can enjoy a breathtaking sunset swim. It doesn’t get much better than this (just make sure you get out before it’s dark). There is a small cliff for fearless kids (and adults!) to dive or jump in and a small shingle beach perfect for picnics and drying off.
This location is great for smaller children as the water is relatively shallow (deepest 3 metres), clean and comfortably warm. The lake is also used for fishing, so keep an eye out for ‘swim zone’ markers that denote the different parts. The grassy banks are great for drying off and an after-swim snack.
This 20-metre plunge pool is set beneath a beautiful waterfall in the woodlands on North Yorkshire. With awe-inspiring views and a cliff to jump off, this is a great combination of woodland and fresh water. Make sure you keep an eye out for the train that runs above if you have a little train enthusiast with you!
Another plunge pool for daring families. It’s really deep so very safe for jumping and cannonballs alike! Jump from the 2 metre ledge or go higher! And the smaller children can still enjoy a paddle and splash in the shallows. A perfect conclusion to a hill walk and still relatively quiet.
The swimming ponds on Hampstead Heath are a great place to start if you’ve never tried open swimming before. The ladies’ and men’s ponds always have a lifeguard on duty, so you can feel a bit safer if you have little kids with you. You do have to pay to get into this one, but under 16s go free on early morning sessions.
Just upstream of the city, you’ll find a range of different swimming opportunities across the 2km stretch of water. The deep banks means it is great for diving, although it can be a little muddy so prepare for everyone to get dirty and pack accordingly! The stretch ends at Orchard Tea Garden, where you can treat the family to some lovely cake.
This is also a great way to let the kids see some wildlife up close. You’re likely to see herons, kingfishers and frogs if you’re early enough!
Note: the water is quite deep in the middle so swim parallel with the bank if you’re unsure.
A wide open expanse on the banks of the River Thames. This stretch meanders through the rolling countryside and stone villages of Berkshire. There are a few entrance/exits points along the weir with parking available in the nearby village. The water is clean, unspoilt and features chalk beaches and there are loads of lovely picnic spots to choose from.
The River Chelmer is great for canoeing and swimming in clean water. A lovely peaceful spot good for deep swimming just a mile and a half downstream from Hoe Mill Bridge.
This hidden gem is perfect for lazy summer days spent in the sun. Tucked away in a small grassy amphitheater, this clear water, spring-fed lake is great for all the family. Secluded enough to feel like you have the place to yourself sometimes and deep enough for jumping off its flat granite ledges (always be careful!), you won’t be able to tear yourself away!
A 100 metre-long weir in the beautiful Avon valley features shallow paddling areas and play areas under the weir near the bank. The kids will love playing in the waterfalls and jumping over the old ferry crossing steps on its long deep water stretches surrounded by woodland.
If you’re in the south-west, you should definitely have a look at Warleigh Weir. Although it can get busy during hot periods and weekends, it’s still worth checking out the clear and fresh water spot for a dip!
A large grassy areas runs along this part of the River Dart and is known for its natural beauty – it can get very crowded in warmer holiday periods so take this into account if you want a quiet swim.
This has been a bathing place for generations and features peaty water that comes straight from the mountain. The deep water is good for jumping whilst the shallower water lies next to the common – great for smaller children. The grassy common is perfect for picnics and ball games.
Note: There are some submerged rocks so we recommend you ask/watch a local before the kids launch themselves off the cliff!
Waterfall woods is hidden in the south-west hills of the Brecon Beacons. It’s a mystifying mix of ancient woodlands and natural pools just waiting to be discovered. The large deep pool and a powerful waterfall are great for cooling off in on a hot summer’s day. Head downstream to horseshoe falls where you can jump and there is even a rope swing, which the kids will absolutely love. Perfect!
Heading north of the border, bring wetsuits for everyone, particularly young kids, because it will be a little colder here! The liberal Scottish access laws mean that you can enjoy a swim in practically all of Scotland’s lochs and lakes. This birch tree-lined waterway is home to deep black water and a small beach. Great for an invigorating swim and just a mile from the road.
Tips on outdoor swimming with kids:
- Be informed. Research where you’re going to go before you set out. Is the water clean enough for swimming? Will the current be too much for children? Do other people regularly swim there?
- The water is more than likely going to be cold. So give your body time to adjust to the cooler temperature. Keep an eye on the children – don’t let them get too cold.
- Don’t let young swimmers overestimate how far from the bank they can swim with ease!
- Teach children to concentrate on proper breathing when in cold water – resist the urge to pant and take calm, controlled breaths.
- Always ensure the water is deep enough before letting the kids dive/jump in.
- Are there facilities nearby you think you might need? If you didn’t take lunch, how far is the nearest cafe? Are there any public toilets/changing facilities?
- If the location is remote, will you and the children realistically be able to get to it? A lot of the quieter locations are a lot more secluded and often take a little more effort to get to, e.g. hill climbing or scrambling over rocks, so make sure you’re all up for a trek if required!