Where Can I Wild Swim?
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At its best, wild swimming can be an exhilarating experience with great benefits to our physical and mental health, but it isn't always easy to find safe and legitimate swimming spots in the UK. To help you get started, we’ve put together this handy guide covering the main rules and regulations regarding your right to swim in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.
Is wild swimming legal in the UK?
England, Wales & Northern Ireland
The laws regarding wild swimming in England, Wales & Northern Ireland are somewhat complicated and often debated. There is no legal right to swim in open water, as such, but many locations have established navigation and swimming rights based on historic public use.
Generally speaking, swimming is accepted in tidal waters and in other waters that are freely navigable and open to boats, such as most rivers. However, you should be aware of potential local bylaws that can prohibit swimming in certain rivers, despite the navigational right.
You should avoid swimming in lakes, reservoirs, and parts of rivers that are considered private property and don’t have a history of tolerating swimmers. In some cases, you can pay to access them. However, as always, entering private land without the landowner’s permission is trespassing.
Although some landowners tolerate swimming on their land, gaining access to the water from a public access point can be challenging. You may also find lakes that are technically considered Common Land, but the ‘rights of common’ can exclude swimming. So, if you find yourself in a situation where you’re caught trespassing, whether it is accidental or not, it’s best to leave politely.
Before taking the plunge into unknown waters, it is best to do your research into the area you’re hoping to explore and discuss with experienced wild swimmers. However, as the official regulations are relatively unclear, you should ultimately rely on your own judgement and, most importantly, always behave responsibly.
According to the Scottish Outdoor Access code, the right to roam also includes access to water, meaning that you can swim relatively freely in inland and coastal water in Scotland as long as you do it responsibly.
How to swim responsibly
- Don't disturb other water users
- Avoid fishing nets and other fishing tackle
- Don't pollute the water or harm the environment in any way
- Respect the privacy of others
- Be aware of the potential risks of outdoor swimming
- Never go close to spillways or water intakes
- Take responsibility for your actions
How to find the best wild swimming spots
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- Talk to local swimmers - If you’re planning on going for your first wild swim or hoping to check out some new swimming locations, the most accurate information regarding the rules and regulations in that area usually comes from experienced local swimmers. Don’t be afraid to get in touch with local swimming groups as they’re usually more than happy to help. Best of all, if you join in one of their sessions, you will meet a bunch of new people with similar interests and find more friends to explore with!
- Ask other water users - Fellow swimmers are not the only source of information when it comes to finding great wild swimming spots. Other water users such as kayakers, paddlers, and fishers can often recommend fantastic locations too, especially if you’re worried about safety. They can warn you about high-risk areas and point you to alternative locations where boats and other watercraft are less likely to pose a danger to swimmers.
- Check out books & guides - You might feel tempted to rely solely on the internet for location research but getting your hands on a couple of wild swimming books or guides is also a good idea. They’re full of valuable information and insider tips on tried and tested nature swimming spots. The authors tend to be passionate wild swimmers who explore these places extremely thoroughly and end up discovering hidden gems that you wouldn't find out about otherwise.
- Buy or hire a water vessel (experienced wild swimmers only) - If you’re an experienced wild swimmer looking for an adventure, buying or hiring a little boat, a kayak, or even a paddle board will allow you to explore new locations that you may not be able to access easily from the shore. However, from a safety standpoint, you must avoid going alone, and you must learn how to operate your chosen watercraft before heading to deeper waters. But once you’ve mastered it, there’s a whole new world of natural swimming opportunities waiting for you.
About the Author:
Iida Ruokojärvi - Outdoor Expert
Iida grew up in Finland where she was introduced to the outdoors at a very young age. Snowboarding has become second nature to her despite now living in a less snowy part of the world. Since moving to the UK, she rediscovered her love for hiking and continues to explore the British mountains and beyond.