Words: Lucy Grewcock (Wild Guides Author) Photos: Daniel Start
The Lakes and Dales are a paradise for wild swimmers, offering everything from secret plunge pools and hidden creeks, to the biggest, deepest and highest lakes in England. Many of the best swimming spots are set in remote valleys, dark woodlands or craggy mountains that promise endless adventures – watery and otherwise. To make the most of your surroundings and seek out more swimming spots, stay a while in a local campsite, bunkhouse or B&B, and head out each day to plunge, dip and swim to your heart’s content.
Loup Scar – Wharfedale
Welcome to the River Wharfe – Yorkshire’s wild-swimming mecca. Here, you can take your pick of chutes, pools and waterfalls, along with village pubs and pretty campsites. The limestone gorge of Loup Scar is one of the most adventurous spots – you can leap from the cliffs (if you’re brave enough) and plunge into a deep pool. Once you’ve recovered on the grassy banks, it’s a 15-minute walk to the Red Lion in Burnsall village – a riverside pub serving local game, cheeses and more. Camp by the river at Masons Campsite in Appletreewick and wake up to freshly-baked bread.
Galleny Force – Borrowdale
Six miles south of Keswick, this twin set of sparkling pools boasts crystal clear waters that are great for snorkelling. Complete with grassy knolls and ancient Rowan trees, it’s also a lovely spot for a picnic. Make your base at Stonethwaite Farm campsite and explore other local treasures, like the grade 2 scramble and secret cave at Cam Crag, and the mini gorge at Blackmoss Pot with its deep pool and cliff jumps.
Overbeck Bridge – Wastwater & Eskdale
Swim in England’s deepest lake and float on your back beneath a dramatic backdrop of the Lakes’ highest fells. Wild and secluded, this serene lake has crystal clear waters and white quartz beaches. At the northern end, the National Trust campsite is tucked beneath Scafell Pike (England’s tallest mountain) and is just down the road from a legendary hikers’ pub, the Wasdale Head Inn.
Rydal Bower – North Windermere
A magical place, hidden in the woods. Deep, dark and cold, look for this pool in a narrow cleft between rock walls and a waterfall. Jump in from the cliffs, then scramble out, unseen, and head upstream to Buckstones Jum to swim in another lovely pool on the edge of the fells. Camp nearby at Rydal Hall and spend your evenings in the Badger Bar at Glen Rothay Hotel – a cosy drinking hole with wonky floors, bar food, and badger feeding after dark.
Redmire Falls – Wensleydale & Langstroth
A place of real peace in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, this is a serene spot where you can take a dip in true isolation. Swim above or below the falls, taking your pick of the rope swings, pools and limestone cliffs. Recoup beneath ancient oaks in the surrounding grassy pastures, then head to Berry’s Farm Shop and Café for Yorkshire rarebit or a homemade pie. There are historic treasures to discover here too, like the Penhill Knights Templar. If visiting on a weekday, the Old School Bunkhouse in Newbiggen is a good place to stay.
People have been swimming wild for centuries but the recent upsurge in its popularity has reminded everyone of the benefits. Submerging yourself in a Cumbrian lake or a Yorkshire river can raise endorphins, soothe your mind, and offer a whole host of natural healing powers, from lowering your blood pressure to boosting fertility and easing depression.
Nothing beats the euphoric feeling of plunging into freshwater, and the epic scenery of the Lake and Dales makes it all the more rewarding. The high elevation of many spots in the Lakes and Dales means that waters are often crystal clear but cold – If you’re swimming on colder days and can’t brave the temperature or are worried about the effect of the cold shock (which can sometimes be severe), buy a wetsuit (a cheap one will suffice), make a flask of hot drink and bring a warm jumper for afterwards. That way, you won’t miss out.
For more inspiration on wild adventures this Autumn take a look at Wild Guide Lakes and Dales and other Wild Guides.
About the Author:
Lucy Grewcock - Travel Writer & Author
Lucy Grewcock is an award-winning travel writer and author of Wild Guide – Southern and Eastern England, which won ‘Travel Guide Book of the Year’ at the 2015 Travel Media Awards. She has worked on several other books in the Wild Guide series as a researcher and proofreader.