We live on a wet island, we may as well embrace it. The North of England is veined with cuts and canals that once were vital to the functioning of our society. Our lakes are treasured by all and none go unpainted for long, while rivers forge through our towns and cities, defining them. The local word for stream changes every 20 miles, and it rains – it rains a bunch. Making the North an ideal place to indulge in some wild swimming.
Exploring the blue parts of the North is one of the great simple pleasures, and wild swimmers reflect the waters themselves with their array of characters. Some see challenges to be met, trials to be endured. Others just see a chance to get away, relax, and reconnect with something honest and good. For me the purge in a mountain tarn at the end of a hike is the biggest draw, for regulars at places like Sale Water Park and Hathersage Swimming Pool it’s also the sense of community. The tapestry of our waterways throws up a similar diversity, waterfalls like Janet’s Foss and Low Force are dramatic set pieces, while lakes like Windermere, Wastwater and Derwent Reservoir exude a more tranquil majesty.
With more man-made outdoor venues opening up every year like Ilkley or Hull Lido, you’ll never be too far away from a swim. Even in the middle of the city, you can enjoy the chilly thrill and adventure of cold water with wild shore Liverpool.
Unrelenting curiosity and a sense of adventure are two of the only constants among wild swimmers. Once you’re in, you’ll find that the country is a refilling cup. The more tarns you dip or ghylls you scramble, the longer your wishlist will become.
Here are our picks
Derwent Reservoir, Blanchland, Consett, County Durham, DH8 9PT - Visit now
Of the two Derwent reservoirs in the UK, this is by far the friendlier to wild swimmers. The shoreline is dotted with great access points as well as glamping and water-sports facilities. It’s a great place to visit if you’re looking for stunning scenery and diverse wildlife as well as exhilarating swims.
Windermere, Windermere Lake, Cumbria, LA23 1AH - Visit now
The first of our Lake District destinations, Windermere has been inspiring poetic words and lending it’s name to settlements for centuries. For those who aren’t as keen on getting in the water, it’s a great place to take a boat trip as well as a chilly dip.
Wastwater, Overbeck, Wasdale, CA20 1EX - Visit now
A must for any true cold water enthusiast, the strikingly black and impressively deep Wastwater. As England’s deepest lake, its temperatures aren’t for beginners, but the views of the 2000 ft sheer scree edge on one side of the water are well worth the cold.
Black Moss Pot in the Lake District, Langstrath Valley, Keswick, CA12 5XQ - Visit now
Located in the Langstrath Valley just a short walk from Stonethwaite, Black Moss Pot is a deep secluded pool with crystal clear waters. Whether you wade, paddle or plunge into it, you feel as though you’re entering into and becoming part of the landscape.
Hell Gill, Mallerstang, Aisgill, CA17 4JY - Visit now
Burrowing into the soft rock bordering Yorkshire and Cumbria, Hell Gill journeys through limestone walls leading to powerful waterfalls and picturesque pools. You can navigate the twisting gill in wetsuits and helmets or just relaxed and swim in the surrounding pools.
Bolton Abbey, Stepping Stones, Skipton, North Yorkshire, BD23 6EX - Visit now
The deceptively spaced out stepping stones are a great watery challenge, but one recommended only for those who are fully prepared to get wet. There are also wonderful picnic spots near by and you can finish the day with a swim in Wordsworth’s crystal Wharf.
Wild Shore Liverpool, Gower St Dukes Dock, Albert Dock, Liverpool, L3 4AD - Visit now
Embrace cold water in the heart of Liverpool with this fun and family friendly inflatable obstacle course. Unless you’ve been training for this all year, you’re guaranteed to get wet and have a laugh with this one way bouncy ride into the waters of Albert Dock.
Manley Mere in Cheshire, Manley Lane, Frodsham, Cheshire, WA6 0PE - Visit now
Admittedly, this one does also have a giant inflatable obstacle course. This man made lake between the Mersey and the Dee is specially designed to help people get into water-sports. As well as swimming, you can try sailing, kayaking and fishing here.
Lacy’s Caves in Penrith, Little Salkeld, Penrith, CA10 1NW - Visit now
The river Eden is a haven of tranquility which is well worth exploring by water. Lacy’s caves are a particular highlight along its banks. Carved directly into the sandstone in the 18th century, no one quite knows why the former Colonel commissioned them, but they make for a great swimming spot.
River Wharfe in Ilkley, Riverside Gardens, Ilkley, Bradford, LS29 9EU - Visit now
Ilkley was recently declared the best place to live in the UK and this can’t be in small part down to designated bathing spots in the River Wharfe. The waters here are regularly tested to make sure they’re safe for swimming and there are endless banks and nooks where you can find a quiet space for a dip away from the crowds drawn in by good weather.
Hathersage Swimming Pool, Oddfellows Road, Hathersage, S32 1DU - Visit now
A rarity on this list, Hathersage Swimming Pool is one of the places where you can find heated water whilst still being under the clouds. During the summer this pool can be 28 degrees, however, in winter it’s left to take on the temperature of the air so the cold water seekers won’t loose out.
Uswim at Salford Quays, Dock 9, Salford Quays, Salford, M50 3AZ - Visit now
Mancunians who don’t want to travel far can try open water swimming with Uswim in Dock 9 at Salford Quays. Every Wednesday from 5:30 – 8 pm or Saturday from 8 – 11 am they welcome all levels, and for first timers they offer swim coaching sessions where you can get to grips with the temperature change and ensure that you’re staying safe while in the water.
Low Force in Durham, Bowlees, Barnard Castle, County Durham, DL12 0XF - Visit now
Low Force is the smaller of two cascading walls of silty water and a popular site for kayakers. However, if you follow the pennine way path downstream it’ll lead you to a calm and very swimmable pool away from the froth and foam of the waterfall.
Blea Tarn in Little Langdale, Blea Tarn Trail, Langdale, Coniston, Cumbria, LA22 9PG - Visit now
Tarns are a different kind of swim. Their often secluded feel and higher altitudes somehow make the water feel more special. You can find Blea Tarn in a hanging valley above Great Langdale and although it has the feel of a remote mountain tarn, you can conveniently park around 100 yards away.
Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, Chatsworth House, Bakewell, Derbyshire, DE45 1PP - Visit now
This is maybe the only place on our list where swimming will have you transported into the world of your favourite period dramas. Have a luxurious dip or live out your Mr Darcy / Viscount Bridgerton leaving the water fully clothed fantasies.
Hatchmere Nature Reserve, Blackere Lane, Frodsham, WA6 6NL - Visit now
This Lake is particularly good for kids as the water deepens gradually and there’s plenty of parking, a lawn area and tiny sandy beach to explore. Conveniently there’s also a great looking pub with outdoor seating just next to the shoreline, so you don’t even need to bring a picnic.
Helly Hansen Watersports Centre, 15 The Quays, Salford, M50 3SQ - Visit now
Manchester Ship Canal might not sound like the most inviting water. However, it’s much much cleaner than it used to be and the turquoise liquid stands out against the brutalist concrete surrounding it. It’s a bit more of a commitment than your turn up and get in type swims as you need to sort out your paperwork and fees beforehand, but well worth it for city dwellers seeking that cold water thrill.
Sale Water Park and Chorlton Ees, Rifle Road, Sale, M33 2LX
Just a short walk from Beech road and Chorlton, you’ll find Sale Water Park. On a hot day the waters are teeming with everyone and their dogs getting in for a swim but on one of Manchester’s more typically grey days it’s the perfect place to escape the city.