No lanes, no chlorine, just the great outdoors

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel news

It’s official, England has gone wild swimming crazy. From TV shows and books to charity competitions, it seems we can’t get enough of outdoor swimming spots. Now Cumbria has announced its first winter open water swim on 1st February in the chilly waters of Lake Windermere. From a leisurely few laps in the grounds of Mr Darcy’s residence to more challenging swims in waves wild enough to put Ellie Simmonds off, VisitEngland looks at some of the country’s best al fresco swimming experiences

The Big Chill Swim, Cumbria
If you thought wild swimming was all about warm summer days then think again. Cumbria’s very first official winter open water swim, The Big Chill Swim, takes place in the Lake District next month in freezing water with no wetsuits allowed. It’s for solo and team racers over distances ranging between 30 and 450 metres. In the depths of winter, temperatures drop to less than 5 degrees Celcius, so the big question is: are you brave enough? The race takes place at the Low Wood Bay Resort Hotel & Marina in Windermere on Saturday 2 February.

Pier-to-pier, Brighton

This 1,500-metre swim between Brighton’s West and Palace Piers is a south coast classic. Recommended for experienced swimmers, the waves here can be pretty wild and it’s a fair distance – just short of a mile. You won’t be on your own, though – large crowds gather every year to cheer on the participants whilst breathing in the fresh sea air and chomping on a stick of rock. Brighton Sea Swimming Club organises the race each summer which this year falls on Saturday 13 July. After battling the waves all day you’re sure to be shattered so make a night of it and stay at Snooze in the quirky Kemptown district. This funky B&B, close to the beach, has six rooms which are all uniquely styled in an original mix of vintage and contemporary design.

The Peter Pan Cup, London
This quirky race takes place in the Serpentine in Hyde Park every year on Christmas Day. Whilst most of the country is unwrapping presents to the tune of Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, members of the Serpentine Swimming Club dive head first into waters as cold as just three degrees Celcius to swim the 110 yard race in front of a crowd of bewildered onlookers. The race starts on the south side of the lake, close to the Serpentine Café. If you’d rather stay by the fire munching mince pies then hold off until the summer months. The Serpentine is centrally located so it’s perfect for an after-work dip on a hot summer’s day. The water is still so it’s ideal for beginners or those with children.

The Great North Swim, Cumbria

The UK’s biggest open water swimming event takes place every year on Lake Windermere in the breath-taking surroundings of the Lake District National Park. Swimmers can choose from either half a mile, one mile, two miles or a five kilometre course so it’s the perfect challenge for swimmers of all abilities, from first timers to Olympic champions. This year’s race takes place 14 – 16 June, which falls conveniently over a weekend. Stay at one of the oldest houses in Windermere, the Cottage Guest House. Built in 1847, this cottage has retained many of its original features and is only a couple of minutes’ walk from the train station.

Durdle Door to Lulworth Cove, Dorset
Durdle Door is one of England’s natural wonders and swimming through the arch out into wide open sea should help explain what the wild swimming fuss is about. It’s a beautifully scenic swim, under the arch, past the near vertical cliffs of Purbeck limestone, then into Lulworth Cove on the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. Top tip: leave your warm clothes on the shingle beach as it’s a long steep walk from the car park at Lulworth, over cliffs and down a rock staircase! Stay at the family-run 16th Century Castle Inn near Lulworth Cove. The thatched hotel and pub is dog friendly and prides itself in serving the best real ales and ciders around.

Lumb Falls, Hebden Bridge
If you’re an outdoorsy type, you’ll love this West Yorkshire gem. Scramble up a trail and down a bank to dip in the waters of this beauty spot near Hardcastle Crags. Locals love to picnic by the bridge and cool off in the semi-circular pool overhung by ferns and ivy during the summer months. The roar of the falls is deafening and there’s a mossy cliff that leads up to a rock ledge that’s perfect for diving. Always check pool depth first though readers. Rent a Croft Mill apartment, right in the heart of Hebden Bridge, for a home-from-home experience in a beautifully converted mill. A basket of fresh local produce welcomes guests on arrival, with all the ingredients needed to make breakfast.

River Derwent, Chatsworth Park, Derbyshire
This graceful sweep of the River Derwent is a lovely spot to swim outdoors, offering beautiful views of Chatsworth House, the inspiration for Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice. The river is deep enough to dive in and the water is easily seen from the lawn banks, making it suitable for families. Stay on the estate itself at The Devonshire Arms in Beeley, one of those picturesque country inns with bucket-loads of charm and character.

The River Thames, London

Yes, that’s right; you can swim in the River Thames. From its source in the Cotswolds, this famous river winds its way through some of the most picturesque countryside in England, before flowing through the nation’s capital and out into the North Sea. Open water swim specialists, Swim Trek, offer swimming breaks for one or two days on the Thames. Swim down the upper part of the river, currently the cleanest in living memory, with salmon, otters and kingfishers common on many stretches. It is a great way to explore this historical river and there’s a support boat which means you can moor up and spend time enjoying the essence of the river and of life alongside the riverbanks. If you’re staying overnight there are countless digs to choose from in the capital, from hostels to five-star hotels. Check out the local tourist board’s recommendations.


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