When you visit the Lake District, you naturally think of the lakes and other bodies of water that make up this stunning area. We walk around them, sail on them, picnic by them, and may even venture a paddle – but how many of us bravely submerge ourselves and enjoy a wild swim?
Wild Swimming simply means swimming in natural bodies of water such as lakes and rivers. It's an activity that has gained popularity over the last few years and the Lake District is top on the list of places to go for many wild swimmers. Whether you're a fine-weather swimmer, taking a dip to cool off on hotter days, or an all-year-round adventurer, the Lake District offers plenty of options.
To provide a true insight into the best places to go wild swimming in the Lake District, we’ve spoken to two locals who know a thing or two about where to go! Whether you’re a new wild swimmer or one who has been exploring open water for years, we hope you find something to your taste here.
Freya's top tips on where to go wild swimming in the Lake District
Meet Freya Hudson, an avid wild swimmer and all-around adventurer. Originally from Nottinghamshire, she moved to the Lake District in the summer of 2021. She now spends her time hiking the fells, taking a dip in lakes, waterfalls and plunge pools, paddleboarding and recording her outdoor pursuits on Instagram and TikTok at @freya_aventureawaits to encourage people to get outside and experience the full benefits of being in nature.
“I love the social aspect of wild swimming, I often go with friends, and we just have the best time enjoying the swim and the beautiful location we are in, followed by a hot drink. But, once you are confident in cold water, there is nothing better than taking yourself out for a solo dip.”
Hidden away in the enchanting woodland next to Rydal Hall, you'll find a handful of beautiful plunge pools and waterfalls that make you feel like you are swimming in a magical fairy glen. There is one that is very easy to access but the others further up in the woodland offer a bit more of a challenge if you're up for it. You will need to climb down and up, so I would only recommend these on dry days if you are a confident scrambler/climber.
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Famous for Tongue Pot, but along the whole length of the River Esk there are many beautiful plunge pools and waterfalls to soak in. It is approximately a 2-mile walk following the riverside path from Brotherilkeld Farm. When the weather is good, this is a wonderful spot to while away a few hours after a pleasant stroll and a dip in the water.
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This is one of my absolute favourite spots for a swim. Beautiful in late summer when the lily pads are floating on the water - and there is also a delightful small ‘beach’ section. Park at Dob Gill Car Park and take the steep ascent through the woodland to get to the tarn.
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It’s famous for Black Moss Pot, which is stunning but can get very busy. If you want to find quieter swimming spots, there are plenty of waterfalls along Greenup Gill right next to a footpath as you descend the fells (Eagle Crag, Sergeants Crag, lining crag, Ullscarf). It's somewhere we stumbled across during a hike and couldn't pass by without taking a dip – it's a real Lake District gem that we found by chance and fell in love with.
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Freya’s tips to stay safe and leave no trace
- Slowly ease yourself in – If it’s your first time wild swimming, go in the spring or summer months when the waters are at their warmest. Take nice, slow deep breaths and expect the water to feel cold, especially where it is flowing.
- Always go with someone else – if it's your first swim, make sure you go with someone else in case you get into difficulty.
- Wear the right gear – protect your feet with water shoes or wetsuit boots, and equip yourself for cold water with wetsuits and gloves.
- Prepare for straight after the swim – have warm clothes that are easy to put on when you get out of the water, and bring a thermos with a hot drink. A changing robe or towelling hoody is perfect for changing underneath.
- Wear a tow float when swimming in larger bodies of water as this acts as a buoyancy device and helps people to spot you out in the water.
- Leave no trace – take everything home with you to avoid spoiling beautiful places and risk harming wildlife with rubbish.
- Park respectfully – do not block any gateways to farms or homes and avoid making roads difficult for emergency services to pass.
Wild swimming in autumn and winter
If you go prepared and do it safely, you can continue to wild swim during the autumn and winter months. Freya finds that the cold water has health as well as social benefits for her by relieving her sciatica pain. Because of this, she plans to increase the frequency of her winter wild swims. Wetsuit boots, gloves and a woolly hat were game changers for her during the cooler months.
Suzanna Cuickshank's top tips to wild swimming in the Lake District
Suzanna Cruickshank is an open water and wild swimming guide – named “The Lady of the Lakes” by The Guardian newspaper - at Suzanna Swims. Below, she writes about some of her top wild swims.
Safety Note: The following swimming suggestions are intended as summary descriptions only, so always check details before setting off. Ensure you have suitable clothing (including something warm after your swim - no matter how warm the day!), footwear and equipment, and be aware of hazards such as currents and hidden rocks. Be clear on your limits as a swimmer and make sure someone knows where you are, ideally they should be with you. Please also be sensitive to habitats in the lakes. To avoid cross-contamination, you should carefully rinse yourself and all your kit after each swim, and dry it thoroughly. This will stop you carrying invasive species into other bodies of water.
Derwentwater, the lake next to Keswick, is the place where I fell in love with open water swimming. It’s my favourite spot to visit at either the crack of dawn or as the light dims over the fells. Ashness Jetty is a great place for a sunset swim, and you can often find me swimming out from the boat landings around dawn. Surrounded by stunning scenery, it’s well worth a visit at any time of the day.
This lake is easily accessible from the popular market town of Keswick, which also has a huge number of eateries. You can even stock up on your gear here, with lots of outdoor shops to choose from.
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Rydal Water is one of the smallest lakes in the Lake District and is popular in part because of its connections to the romantic poet, William Wordsworth. The world-famous Grasmere Gingerbread® is also a popular draw!
You can park at the White Moss car park between Rydal Water and Grasmere and then take the short walk (less than a mile) to the southern end. Here you will find plenty of trees to change behind and a rope swing to make even more of the beautiful water. If you’re lucky, you may even spot an otter or two in the water!
Post swim, trot over to the Badger Bar for a delicious hot chocolate served with Kendal Mint Cake and a swirl of cream! There are also plenty of gentle walks around the lake for a post-swim wander, or for any non-swimmers who would like to explore.
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Black Moss Pot (Langstrath)
If you're keen to be around plenty of other people or you enjoy a social swim, Black Moss Pot in the Langstrath valley is the place to go. A long-standing favourite for wild swimmers, it's always busy on summer weekends, thanks to its idyllic setting and cool waters.
With a waterfall at one end and surrounded by sheer rocks, you can watch people test their nerves as they jump off the cliffs. The water is crystal clear, so don’t forget your goggles so that you can marvel at the underwater world of this narrow, rocky chasm.
Black Moss Pot is about a half-hour walk from Stonethwaite in Borrowdale. The village also has a lovely pub called the Langstrath Inn – great for a nibble after your swim. If you’re going during the holidays, you might want to book your table ahead of time!
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High above Eskdale and Wasdale lies the lovely Burnmoor Tarn. In its isolated position just off the coffin path, there's something vaguely spooky about its setting. However, it's still well worth a visit for the tranquility and gorgeous location. With its relatively shallow water, you’re likely to spot fish darting between the plants on the lakebed.
Adding to the mystery of the tarn is the enigmatic Burnmoor Lodge that stands overlooking the water. Now owned by the Burnmoor Lodge Club, it is only available for rent to members, but it's still an interesting building in an unusual location – something that only adds to the character of the area.
Setting off from Eskdale, you will reach Burnmoor Tarn in about an hour. Try the Wasdale Head Inn for your post-swim drinks and nibbles.
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Buttermere has been repeatedly voted as one of the best views in the UK, so you can imagine how incredible it will be to see those vistas from the water.
The steeply shelving underwater edges all along the sides of this particular lake mean that it’s not ideal for beginners or kids, so only try swimming in Buttermere if you’re a confident swimmer and have some experience under your belt. The best place to swim if you don’t fancy plunging straight down into the deep is at the shallow foot of the lake nearest the village.
Afterwards, go for a drink at one of the two top pubs in Buttermere village, or try the cafes for ice cream and cake.
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It’s cold and it’s deep! Wastwater, situated in the Wasdale Valley, is the deepest lake in England, with a depth of 258 feet or so. Even if swimming in summer, be prepared to feel a bit chilly. But, despite that - or perhaps because of, Wastwater should be on every swimmer’s bucket list for the sheer exhilaration of the cold and the perfect clarity of the water. If the cold water doesn’t take your breath away, the view of the screes that rise straight from the water and reach 2,000 feet up perhaps will. If it's within your abilities, swim to the centre of the lake to get the best of this staggering view. If you're not ready to swim right to the centre, you can still enjoy the amazing outlook from closer to the shore.
You won’t see it from the surface, but rumour goes that there is a garden of gnomes at the bottom of the lake, left there by divers at the local club.
A road runs along the northwest length of the lake and offers numerous car parks and lay-bys to park up in and prepare for your swim.
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I swim in Crummock Water a lot. It's so accessible: you can pull up and park at various places along the lakeshore and jump straight into the water. The lakebed shelves gently and the water is wonderfully soft and clear.
In spring, you can also take time out from your swim to view the beautiful bluebells in the ‘secret' valley of Rannerdale. Local legend states that they grew from the blood spilled at a legendary battle. If you prefer something a little less gory, on the opposite side of the lake is Scale Force, the tallest single-drop waterfall in the Lake District.
There are plenty of parking spots along the road that runs by the side of Crummock Water, so you won’t have difficulty getting there, though do be aware that it can get busy in summer and you should be sensitive about where you park. The village of Buttermere also has a car park as well as two pubs and cafes to regain your energy after an invigorating swim!
Before World War I, there were plans to build a road over Styhead, linking Borrowdale to Wasdale. Standing there today, it seems impossible to think that the dramatic landscape would have been carved up for the sake of a road.
The tarn is chilly and rocky around the edges, and is popular with wild campers. The water is clear and the view simply awesome. You may be lucky enough to spot trout swimming in the water, but watch out for people fishing on the edges – you don’t want to be caught on a hook!
Styhead Tarn is just over two miles away from the hamlet of Seathwaite in the Borrowdale Valley.
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Image credit: Lakes Cumbria Tourism
Windermere is probably the most famous lake in the Lake District, and is one of the first places people associate with open water swimming, thanks to events like the Great North Swim.
This is the longest natural lake in England; Chill Swim and Swim The Lakes offer guided swims of the full length. However, if you are looking for something more manageable for your first dip then you can’t beat Borrans Park at Waterhead. The shallow edges are also good for paddling and, as long as you stay close to the shore, you shouldn’t be bothered by boats either.
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Whether you’re a new wild swimmer or one who has been exploring open water for years, we hope you find something to your taste here. Visit Suzanna’s website, Suzanna Swims for guided tours. Her book, Swimming Wild in the Lake District, is also available to buy for even more fantastic swimming tips.
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Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing,
please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.