15 of Britain’s best wild swimming spots and waterfalls

Lake District and Cumbria

Tongue Pot, Eskdale

Tongue Pot’s emerald waters might be cold but they’re impressively clear. Set along the River Esk in the Eskdale Valley, Tongue Pot is part of a series of pools, some with hair-raising higher jumps into five-metre depths, and others with shallower waters and sunnier spots. A waterfall feeds into Tongue Pot itself, and the sheer rocky edges and grassy banks make it particularly pretty. There’s also a pebble beach for easier access to the water.

How to find it: Drive past the Woolpack Inn in Boot and park by the telephone at the bottom of Hardknott Pass. Follow the riverside path for two miles until you reach Tongue Pot’s ancient packhorse bridge. Coordinates: 54.4236, -3.1907

River Esk

Galleny Force, Stonethwaite

Surrounded by grassy knolls, ancient trees and large flat rocks (perfect for sunbathing), the atmospheric Galleny Force takes shapes as two sets of pools, which are just over a metre deep. It’s a lovely place for a picnic, and it’s worth bringing a mask and snorkel to get a glimpse of the underwater life. The more adventurously minded can head up the valley to the deeper waters of Black Moss pot for some excellent diving and jumping opportunities.

How to find it: Park by the red phone box in Stonethwaite and take the path towards the river. Turn right after you’ve crossed the bridge and follow the rocky path for about a mile. Coordinates: 54.5073, -3.1234

Aira Beck, Matterdale

Owned by the National Trust, the area around Aira Beck is scenic enough to have inspired the writings of Wordsworth, who references it in ‘The Somnambulist’. The pools and pots of Aira Beck stretch for around half a mile before reaching the 20-metre-high Aira Force waterfall, from which the beck runs for a further kilometre to reach Ullswater Lake.

How to find it: A public footpath from the village of Dockray passes the waterfall. Watch out for the Wish Tree en route, where you can follow age-old tradition by hammering a coin into the bark with a piece of local stone whilst making a wish. Coordinates: 54.5793, -2.9289

Aira Force

Kailpot Crag, Ullswater

Kailpot Crag lies on the shores of Lake Ullswater; its deep water and high cliff make it popular with those who like to jump, bomb or dive their way into a wild swim. For a more relaxed way to enter the lake’s clear water make camp on the nearby beach and paddle your way in. The crag backs onto a forest filled with ancient rowan and oak trees and, as it faces west, the views get even more splendid over sunset.

How to find it: From Sandiwick, take the footpath northeast towards Howtown, and you’ll come across Kailpot Bay and Crag after about a mile. You can also take the ferry to Howtown pier and follow the footpath southwest. Coordinates: 54.5763, -2.8734

Crammel Linn, River Irthing

Set on the River Irthing, the 10-metre-high waterfall at Crammel Linn marks the start of the Irthing Gorge – an area home to beautiful ancient and semi-natural woodland. It’s Northumberland’s largest waterfall and can be accessed via a short (although unpredictable, given its unmanaged nature) walk across the moor. This is a good option for the adventurous, as intrepid spirits are rewarded with a lovely, secluded swimming spot.

How to find it: It’s about a mile and a half downstream from the Gilsland Spa Hotel, or you could walk across the moor from the road at grid reference: 636697. Coordinates: 55.0202, -2.5637

River Irthing

Yorkshire

Wain Wath Force, Keld

Whilst it might not be the most isolated spot, Wain Wath Force is incredibly easy to get to, thanks to its proximity to the B6270 road. It’s also situated on the 182-mile-long Coast to Coast Walk, which stretches from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea coast. Its location, on the infant River Swale in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, is peaceful and picturesque, and there’s a grassy bank just below the falls on which to enjoy a picnic.

How to find it: You can park on the side of the road near the gate that provides access to the river and the waterfall. Coordinates: 54.409322, -2.180146

Wain Wath Force

Thornton Force Waterfall, River Kingsdale

This well-known waterfall plunges 14 metres over the limestone cliff and is set on the Ingleton Waterfall Trail – a circular, four and a half mile-long footpath that follows the edge of two rivers, giving fantastic views of the area’s waterfalls. Further round the footpath, you’ll find the trio of Beezley Falls, which is also popular amongst swimmers and paddlers. It’s worth noting that the trail includes a lot of steps and inclines, and so sturdy shoes or walking boots are recommended.

How to find it: The start of the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail is situated on the edge of Ingleton village and can be found at Broadwood Entrance, Ingleton, Carnforth LA6 3ET. Entrance charges to the trail apply. Coordinates: 54.1727, -2.4690

Thornton Force Waterfall

Catrigg Force, Settle

Catrigg Beck flows between steep rock walls to create the six-metre fall of Catrigg Force and the atmospheric pool below. As the footpath that leads here doesn’t lead on to anywhere else, it’s nice and secluded, so you can hope for an uninterrupted swim. Surrounded by woodlands, it’s said that Edward Elgar was a fan of this attractive area, and it’s easy to understand why.

How to find it: Starting out at Stainforth village green, turn right and head up the steep track. Follow the signs for Catrigg Foss. Coordinates: 54.0994, -2.2580

Gormire Lake, North York Moors

Formed over 2000 years ago by glacial erosion, this tempting tarn lies at the foot of Whitestone Cliff and is shrouded in myth and legend; some say its bottomless, whilst others believe that there’s a submerged village to be found down in the lake’s depths. The waters can be relatively warm here, as streams don’t feed the lake there are hardly any currents. Swim out from the mulchy shoreline (a short-lived discomfort, as the lakebed descends quickly) and gaze back to enjoy lovely views up the escarpment.

How to find it: Park in the Sutton Bank car park and follow the signs along the escarpment. Coordinates: 54.2427, -1.2283

Janet’s Foss, Malham

Legend has it that Janet, Queen of the Fairies, resides in the caves concealed by these tumbling waters, and you might be inclined to believe it when you sit back on the banks to enjoy the ethereal magic of this place. Janet’s glimmering green waters have provided respite in the woods for generations, and were traditionally used for sheep dipping. Today, however, the only creatures you’ll find sharing this pretty pool with you will be the river trout.

How to find it: Head east from Malham and take the path on the right, following the beck away from the village, and then follow the signs. The walk takes around two hours and incorporates National Trust woodlands. Coordinates: 54.0657, -2.1365

Janet’s Foss waterfall

Home Counties

River Wey, Tilford, Surrey

Set by a quintessential village green in Tilford is a ford and a shallow section of river that’s ripe for paddling. Below the ford and upstream from the bridge, there’s a deeper area that affords better submersion for the more serious swimmer. Elsewhere on the River Wey, the shoreline can take shape as sandy beaches and banks, and there’s plenty of peace and quiet in the waterside meadows towards Old Woking. All in all, it’s an area well worth an afternoon of exploration.

How to find it: Head to Tilford and look for the car park on the road that connects Tilford Road with Tilford Street. From Tilford, it’s about an hour’s walk to Fensham Great Pond – a large, man-made pond with a sandy beach area and designated swimming spots. Coordinates: 51.1830, -0.7518

River Wey

River Thames, Buscot, Cotswolds

Buscot Weir can become quite popular in clement weathe, which is understandable given its deep natural pool and charming, willow-tree lined edges. The lawns that look onto the water make great picnic areas and the trees’ expansive roots provide make-shift launching points for young and old alike, so you can really make a splash between sandwiches.

How to find it: From Lechdale, head east on the A417 then turn left for Buscot. The weir lies north of Buscot Manor. Coordinates: 51.6809, -1.6683

River Lugg, Bodenham, Herefordshire

Bodenham provides a beautiful, storybook-like location for a handful of serene wild swimming spots along the River Lugg. Slowly flowing through, the river here boasts sandy beach areas along its edges, as well as natural pools. There’s something for everyone, as the water is home to both shallow and deep areas – drawing paddlers and divers alike. The surrounding countryside is peaceful and enchanting, so you can really drift away from it all.

How to find it: Head for St Michael’s Church (HR1 3JU) and follow the path just behind it to reach the water’s edge. Cross the bridge and head downstream to find the sandy beaches. Coordinates: 52.1535, -2.6892

River Thames, Pangbourne, Berkshire

The beauty of this wild swimming spot is how easy it is to access from London yet, once you’ve found it, there’s no concrete in sight. Stretching along the edge of the Chiltern Hills, this section of the Thames meanders through Pangbourne’s meadows and offers access points to the water via chalk beaches, grassy verges or boat ramps.

How to find it: Get the train to Pangbourne and walk three miles upstream, accessing the Thames Path via Hartslock Bridleway. If you’re driving, aim for Lower Basildon and gain access to the water from the opposite bank. Coordinates: 51.5080, -1.1109

Image: Flikr/gabriellaksz

River Stour, Fordwich, Kent

Fordwich might be England’s smallest town but it still manages to squeeze in a top-notch wild swimming spot. Following the Great Stour River from here, you’ll meander from an open and sunny expanse to shaded woodlands, which eventually lead to a wild lake, that’s only accessible by swimming or canoe. There are plenty of places to enter the Stour’s clear waters as you stroll along its banks, but head to the mooring platform near The Fordwich Arms pub if you want to make life easy for yourself.

How to find it: Head to The Fordwich Arms on the river’s south bank and you’ll find the mooring platform nearby. Coordinates: 51.3001, 1.1513