by Rachael Parkin
One thing the Lakes District definitely isn’t short of is water. Whether it’s sparkling in a glistening lake, surging down a thundering river or falling out of the sky to try and put a dampener on your day, to holiday in the Lakes is to get wet in the Lakes. And few things are more appealing on a hot summer’s day than a refreshing, cool swim amongst the magnificent scenery of the Lakes.
Whether you’re an experienced wild swimmer and looking to do some serious swimming on a picturesque lake or a casual bather looking for a bit of a dip and a splash then the Lakes has it all. Below are some of our favourite spots for braving the chill and taking the plunge in the Lake District.
With so many of our cottages being based in and around Coniston we were always going to recommend it for wild swimming however, bias aside, Coniston really is a truly wonderful place for a swim. Unlike its larger neighbour Windermere, Coniston is extremely accessible with plentiful access points available around its shores. The western shores slope off rather steeply and offer swimming amongst stunning surroundings; forests, fell-sides and a mountain backdrop. On its eastern side, the water tends to remain shallow as it shelves gently downward, growing deliciously warm on a hot summer’s day and ideal for swimming for the whole family. Peel Island, the inspiration behind Wild Cat Island in Swallows and Amazons, sits across a 100m straight and is ripe for exploring. Warm up after your swim with a BBQ on the pebbled lake shore - as days spent in the Lakes go – this is pretty close to perfection.
Also perfect for a spot of wild swimming for those staying in around Coniston, but without the need to avoid boats or other lake users is the beautiful and secluded Beacon Tarn. Only accessible on foot, from a short but rewarding walk from Water Yeat and close to Bee Bole House, Beacon Tarn offers the opportunity for serene, truly wild swimming with a stunning backdrop of Coniston Old Man and Dow Crag to enjoy while you bathe. Smaller tarns such as Beacon have the added advantage of warming up more quickly than the larger lakes during the summer months making them ideal for swimmers who feel the chill.
Nearby to our Duddon Valley and Broughton Mills cottages, this quiet corner of the Lakes is less visited but definitely no less beautiful. An absolute favourite of locals and in-the-know visitors is the village of Ulpha, with over 300m of grassy riverside which during the warm summer months is dotted with people picnicking, relaxing and swimming in the various pools and shallows of the river. There’s also a bridge over a deep pool, from which brave and adventurous types can take a daring plunge. You can happily while away a whole day in this heavenly spot.
Accessible via a pleasant, level 2 mile walk along Under Loughrigg Road from Ambleside or just a short stroll from White Moss Car Park, Rydal is one of the smallest lakes at just ¾ mile long. Boat-free and relatively shallow means Rydal is the perfect, warmer choice for swimming in the summer months. A shallow beach runs along its western shore, from which Loughrigg Fell begins to rise, allowing easy entry to the lake. There are several small islands for added interest, Rydal Cave to explore on the hillside after your swim and ample space for picnicking and relaxing next to the lake to soak up the stunning surroundings.
One of the most dramatic of all wild swimming spots, the impossibly photogenic Wastwater is England’s deepest lake. At its deepest point the lakebed is over 250 feet below the surface whilst Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain, towers above Wastwater at over 3,200 feet high. Meanwhile Great Gable earns its mighty name by standing imposingly at the head of the valley - all combining to make this incredible spot one of the most spectacular places to swim as you can possibly imagine. While its eastern shores plummet from the Wasdale Screes straight down to great, dark depths, its western shores are of a much gentler gradient and offer great opportunities for families to swim together. A truly glorious spot, albeit if often a little chilly! Children, in particular, will love swimming out to the rocky island close to Overbeck Bridge, just a few metres from the shoreline. There are no boats to concern yourself with on Wastwater either and there is good access to the western shores with off-road parking at wide grassy verges with ample spots for picnics.
If you’re looking to combine a walk with a swim then look no further than this small jewel in the Lake District crown. Approximately 2.5 miles from the centre of Grasmere, Easedale Tarn is reached via a well-trodden path alongside the cascading waterfalls of Sour Milk Gill. Your efforts will be instantly rewarded upon arrival; surrounding by spectacular towering fells and with sparkling, crystal clear water this place is a wild swimmer’s heaven on earth. A dip in the cool, clear water here will melt any woes away. The only thing to worry about – is having to ever leave.
For some true watery escapism then a visit to Crummock Water is hard to beat. Nestled between Buttermere to the south and Loweswater to the north, Crummock Water has great access for those wishing to dip their toe (or more) thanks to the road running along its eastern shore. Standing in the impressive shadow of Grasmoor the lake boasts incredible views in whichever direction you face. For those appreciative of water of a vertical, as well as horizontal, nature then nearby Scale Force, the highest waterfall in the Lake District with a drop of 170 feet, is well worth a visit after your swim.
Out of all the tarns in the Lake District then Blea Tarn has arguably the best backdrop; the stunning Langdale Pikes. Nestled is a hanging valley between Little and Great Langdale this small mountain lake is famously used in the opening credits of the BBC’s Countryfile so a wild swim here to recreate this sequence is a must. Don’t forget your camera as the incredible views of the tarn, perfectly framed by pine trees and the mountains beyond, are something you’ll want to bore your friends and families with for years to come! Blea Tarn is easily accessible from a nearby National Trust car park, meaning you can enjoy this truly mountainous landscape without the need for any hiking.
Tips for staying safe when wild swimming:
- Beware of cold water shock – always enter slowly to allow your body to adjust to the temperature.
- If cold water does set in then don’t try to swim – float until your body has adjusted to the water and your breathing has returned to normal
- Know your limits – never over-estimate how far you can swim or for how long. Aim to underestimate by at least 10% and gradually build up distance and time
- Never jump into water which you have not checked for depth
- Watch out for blue-green algae and do not swim if any is evident
- Keep a look-out for boats and wear a coloured swim hat so you can be easily seen
- Never swim in flood water
- Always make sure you know how you will get out before you get in
- Keep a constant watch on weak swimmers and children and use buoyancy aids where appropriate