Wild Swimming in the North of England

Rory Calland

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

  • 1. Derwent Reservoir

    Wikipedia, Derwent Reservoir

    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.

  • 2. Windermere

    Lake District, Windermere and Ambleside - explore and visit

    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.

  • 3. Janet’s Foss in Skipton

    National Trust, Malham village to Janet’s Foss

    Janet’s Foss in Skipton, Malhamdale, Skipton, North Yorkshire, BD23 4DL - Visit now

    Janet’s Foss is a well known place of pilgrimage for the wild swimming community. Putting yourself under its powerful but calming water is the best way to start a day exploring the Yorkshire Dales.

  • 4. Wastwater

    Visit Cumbria, Wastwater

    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.

     

  • 5. Black Moss Pot in the Lake District

    Life Hop, Black Moss Pot

    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.

  • 6. Slippery Stones, Derwent Valley

    National Trust, Slippery Stones, Derwent Valley

    Slippery Stones, Derwent Valley, Howden Reservoir, Hope Valley, S33 0BB - Visit now

    At the modest beginnings of the river Derwent, this pool can reach 3 to 4 metres deep and is a great location for a cannon ball as well as paddling in the shallows.

  • 7. Hell Gill

    Visit Cumbria, Hell Gill Force

    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.

  • 8. Bolton Abbey, Stepping Stones

    National Trust, Visit Cumbria, Bolton Abbey

    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.

  • 9. Wild Shore Liverpool

    Wild Shore Liverpool
    Albert Dock, Wild Shore Liverpool

    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.

  • 10. Morecambe Bay

    Visit Lancashire, Morecambe Bay

    Morecambe Bay, Central Promenade, Morecambe, LA4 4DB - Visit now

    Morecambe bay, is one of the natural wonders of the Northern coast. It is a very rewarding swim, however, be sure to check tidal charts before venturing out and be wary of quicksand.

  • 11. Manley Mere in Cheshire

    Manley Mere, The Lakeside Venue

    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.

  • 12. Hull Lido

    Hodson Architects

    Hull Lido, 94 Albert Ave, Anlaby Rd, Hull, HU3 6QE - Visit now

    Expected to reopen within the next two years. Hull Lido will bring outdoor swimming back to the humberside city. With gym and leisure facilities as well as a fully renovated outdoor pool and wet play area.

  • 13. Lacy’s Caves in Penrith

    Visit Cumbria

    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.

  • 14. River Wharfe in Ilkley

    River Wharfe
    Wikimedia Commons

    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.

  • 15. Hathersage Swimming Pool

    Hathersage Swimming Pool

    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.

  • 16. Uswim at Salford Quays

    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.

  • 17. Low Force in Durham

    This Is Durham, Low Force Waterfall

    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.

  • 18. Blea Tarn in Little Langdale

    National Trust, Blea Tarn Trail

    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.

  • 19. Chatsworth House in Derbyshire

    Chatsworth House, Derbyshire

    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.

  • 20. Ilkley Lido

    Ilkley Lido
    Ilkley Lido. Image courtesy of James Smith/ Only By Land.

    Ilkley Lido, Denton Road, Ilkley, West Yorkshire, LS29 0BZ - Visit now

    Although this swimming spot is man made, the views are stunning. As you take a dip you feel like you’re slipping into the heart of the valley while the hills of the Yorkshire moors encase you on all sides.

  • 21. Hatchmere Nature Reserve

    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.

  • 22. Pickmere

    Photo by Brian Deegan via geograph

    Pickmere, Pickmere, Knutsford, WA16 0LG - Visit now

    A favourite spot for many swimmers, you’ll have to share the water here with kayakers and windsurfers but its crystal clarity makes it well worth it.

    Parking/access off Mere Lane, Pickmere, Knutsford, WA16.

  • 23. Gaddings Dam, Todmorden

    Gaddings Dam, Todmorden, Lumbutts Road, Todmorden, OL14 6JJ - Visit now

    This disused reservoir is a perfect place to cool off post hike. Owned and maintained by a group of locals determined to keep it open for swimming, the Dam is usually less crowded than other spots in the area.

  • 24. Helly Hansen Watersports Centre

    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.

  • 25. Sale Water Park and Chorlton Ees

    BW

    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.

Things to do right now

Powered by culturehosts
Activity Until 14 August 2022, from £2.00

Heaton Park Pump Track

The Gruffalo at The lowry
Families Until 21 August 2022, from £10.00

The Gruffalo at The Lowry

The Jungle Book at Williamson Park
Families Until 28 August 2022, from £15.00

The Jungle Book at Williamson Park

Open Air Theatre in Manchester and the North
Childrens Until 29 August 2022, from £28.00

Stig of the Dump at Grosvenor Open Air Theatre

Activity Until 30 August 2022, Quarry Bank admission prices apply (free for National Trust members) £1.50 for trail

The Lost Words at Quarry Bank

Festivals Until 31 August 2022, from £9.95

Flying Fighters of Taiwan at HOME

Great Northern Sandpit
Families Until 31 August 2022, FREE

The Great Northern Sandpit

Activity Until 31 August 2022, from £40

Northern Quarter Taster Walk with Manchester Food Walks