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9 wonderful wild swimming spots

Beating caravans to the coast not your idea of fun? Take a dip at a secluded wild swimming spot instead - the ideal summer hideout for a cool-off.

Ah, the Great British Heatwave! Where to go? What do to? And, most importantly, how to avoid the heaps of traffic and other fair-weather warriors? If you want to swerve the coastal crowds but you’re still craving a refreshing dip, these secluded, tantalisingly cold, and lesser-known locations for a spot of wild swimming.

1/ Long Pool, Watersmeet, Lynmouth

What? Located in National Trust woodland, this is an ideal spot for experienced swimmers. Long Pool is set in a 50m long ravine and is deep enough to jump into at high tide. If you’d rather start with just a toe in the water, you can do just that at the shallow pools. Featuring a natural waterfall, overgrown ferns, and oak woodland, this location makes for a suitably wild swimming spot. For an after-swim snack, (and the chance to warm up!) visit the Watersmeet Tea Rooms, a former fishing lodge now owned by the National Trust.  

Where? To find the long pool, walk 1.5km up from Watersmeet (before Rockford) and stay on the western side, crossing the footbridge. 

2/ Chagford Weir

What? Surrounded by warm flat rocks (ideal for sunbathing) is an idyllic swimming pool. Ranging from medium to deep water, the length and breadth of this pool make it ideal for swimming full strokes. 

Where? Over the bridge from the Mill End Hotel *afternoon tea opportunity*, you’ll find a gated footpath on the left-hand side, leading into shady woodland. Follow the path along the river, almost until the very end, and you’ll find a small weir.

3/ Landacre Bridge, Exmoor

What? A suitable swimming spot for families with young children, the shallow river below this medieval bridge is perfect for paddling. Following the River Barle, you’ll find numerous picnic spots along the grassy river bank.

Where? No need to traipse through the woods for this one. The location is easy to find with a car park 10 minutes walk away. 

4/ Double Waters, Yelverton

What? On the western border of Dartmoor National Park, nestled among Oak Woodland is Double Waters, so-named because this is where the river Walkham runs into the River Tavy.

Where? Walking from the car park at Grenofen Bridge, and following the path to where the two rivers meet, you’ll find shallow pools, a rope swing, and numerous natural water slides. Swimming under the dappled light, this secret valley feels like another world. 

5) Cullever Steps, Belstone

What? Well worth the trek, this deep plunge pool gives Wuthering Heights vibes, surrounded by wild moorland and granite stone. The pool is 1.5m deep and 15m long making it suitable for a quick dip or a shallow dive. Walking through the valley you’ll find numerous shallow pools, rock slides, and waterfalls.

Where? The pool is downstream from the Cullever Steps River (after which the pool is named). To find it, follow the west bank of the East Okement River downstream. You can walk from Belstone or Okehampton Camp where you’ll find plenty of parking spaces. 

6/ Salmon Leaps, Castle Drogo

What? Ideal swimming spot for large groups – this extensive freshwater pool sits in the woodland valley of Castle Drogo. Dropping to 1.5m deep, you can fully immerse yourself in the cool water and spread out for a proper swim. If thrilling rapids are more your thing, you’ll find plenty of these further downstream. Wetsuits recommended for this location to avoid bumps and scrapes.

Where? You can walk downhill from Castle Drogo Car Park, or, park over the bridge from the Mill End Hotel (Chagford). From here, go through the wooden gate on your right and head towards Fingle Bridge weir. 

7/ Haytor Quarry Pool, near Bovey Tracey

What? The perfect spot for first-time wild swimmers, a sheltered natural pool surrounded by wild heather. With easy access to the water, the encompassing rocks protect you from chilly breezes and offer a convenient spot to change behind.

Where? Despite its idyllic location, the pool is rarely overcrowded and is a short walk from the nearby carpark. 

8/ Sharrah Pool, New Bridge 

What? Popular with experienced and novice swimmers alike, the cool waters of Sharrah Pool have become one of Dartmoor’s most loved swimming spots. Make sure to allow significant walking time (one hour each way) plus some good footwear for rough terrain. Weaving your way through the woodland path that follows the River Dart, you’ll pass a waterfall before finding the clearing where Sharrah Pool is located. 

Where? Park at New Bridge car park (take coins) and follow the path to the right after crossing the bridge into the woodland. Continue this path and stick close to the river. You’ll soon come to a waterfall where the path will begin to narrow as it leads you to the secluded area of Sharrah Pool. You can identify the spot by the small sandy coves in the surroundings. 

9/ Skaigh Woods, Sticklepath

What? A deep swimming pool set within ancient woodland. An ideal place for shallow paddling or letting your dogs off for a swim.

Where? Start walking from the car park and follow the upper path until you reach a wooden bridge on the left-hand side. Once over the bridge, turn right and walk into the grassy clearing. Above the river you’ll find a deep pool perfect for cooling off. This one requires a little scrambling and careful footing on the rocks, so take grippy footwear.

WILD SWIMMING TIPS

  • Don’t forget the flask and extra warm cover-ups.
  • A general rule is that you can only swim one-tenth of your normal distance in cold water. If teeth are chattering, and hands are shivering, get out.
  • Wear grippy shoes for pools accessed by slippy rocks. Dartmoor granite is not somewhere you want to hit your head!
  • Stay safe! Check the depth before attempting a jump (even if you’ve visited the spot before) and beware of undercurrents below waterfalls and weirs. 
  • Always tell someone where you’re going, or even better, take them with you.

Words by Zoe Williams

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