Anyone for a dip? Sure, you could head off to your local leisure centre, but why not give wild or open water swimming a go? It's increased in popularity in recent years, with venues opening all over the country. While there are many beauty spots which offer tempting waters, open water and wild swimming can be dangerous, so we strongly suggest sticking to official open water venues like those listed below. Swim England offers these tips for safe open water swimming.
Check with each venue before you travel, as opening times and facilities may currently be restricted due to Covid-19, and many are operating strict timed sessions with pre-booking required, to allow for social distancing.
Wild and open water swimming spots in Kent
CHIPSTEAD LAKE, SEVENOAKS: Sitting right alongside the south-eastern corner of the M25, Chipstead Lake is an open water swimming venue operated by TriSwim. You'll need to be a member to get in the water, but that's easily done online, and you'll need to take part in a safety briefing on your first visit. Once you're ready to go, choose from a 750m or 400m circuit, or stick to shallow bay swimming. Families with children are welcome, and training is available.
HAYSDEN LAKE, TONBRIDGE: TriSwim also operates at Haydsen Lake, a few miles away in Tonbridge, and membership is required here too. There's a slightly longer 1km circuit here, or 600m for the less experienced swimmer. More of an observer? Haysden offers some great lakeside walks for those who prefer dry land.
LEYBOURNE LAKE, LARKFIELD: We're rather surprised to learn that scuba diving is an option at Leybourne Country Park in Kent (as is paddleboarding). No worries if you're not there yet though — open water swimming is also an option. Again, membership is required and you'll need an induction before you're let loose. A brightly-coloured swimming cap and tow float are required, for safety reasons — the latter is available to borrow on site. Children aged 8+ are allowed to swim, provided they take the induction, and are accompanied by an adult.
ACTION WATERSPORTS, LYDD: Out on the coast near Romney Marsh, Action Watersports operates open water swimming in a sheltered, freshwater lake, open Tuesday and Thursday evenings during British Summer Time. It's 650m long, with various entry and exit points along the way, so you can swim as little or as long as you like. Swimmers of all abilities are welcome, and you'll need to wear a tow buoy, but they're available to hire or buy on site. Other watersports including water-skiing and jet-skiiing are offered on the same lake at different times.
Wild and open water swimming spots in Sussex
WEIRWOOD RESERVOIR, FOREST ROW: At present, the only open water swimming option we're aware of in Sussex is Pop Up Open Water Swims' takeover of Weirwood Reservoir. You'll need a membership (£10 for the whole season) plus the cost of each session, and sessions run Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings. There's hopes of running moonlight swims and charity events in the future.
Know of anywhere else in Sussex? Let us know in the comments.
Wild and open water swimming spots in Surrey
HERON LAKE, STAINES: Sitting on the Surrey/Bucks border, Heron Lake offers 500m and 1km loops, and welcomes both experienced athletes and those new to open water swimming. Courses are occasionally offered for newbies too, and in 'normal' years, night swim events are held.
THE QUAYS, CAMBERLEY: Teetering on the Surrey-Hampshire border, Quay Swim is set in a spring-fed lake, making for some fairly clear water. It's open for early morning and evening sessions.
Wild and open water swimming spots in Buckinghamshire
DENHAM WATERSKI CLUB: Technically sitting on the London/Buckinghamshire border, and within the M25, Denham Waterski Club is one of the closest places to London on this list. It's a waterski club first and foremost, so swimming sessions are largely limited to mornings and evenings. You'll need to wear a brightly-coloured swim cap, and follow the path set out by the buoys. Fear not though — there's a safety lane in the middle where you can rest if you need to.
WESTHORPE WATERSPORTS CENTRE, MARLOW: Marlow Open Water Swimming is rare in that you don't need to have a membership, and advance booking isn't required — just turn up at the lake, pay for your session (£5) and slide on into the water. You'll need to fill out a waiver the first time you go, but as long as you're capable of following the clearly marked swim course, you're good to go.
WILLEN LAKE, MILTON KEYNES: Love Open Water run several swimming venues in the south, one of which is at Willen Lake in Milton Keynes. The course consists of a 450m loop, and is open Tuesday and Thursday evenings, and Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Wild and open water swimming spots in Berkshire
HORSESHOE LAKE, SANDHURST: Swimming is just one of the activities on offer in Horseshoe Lake, alongside canoeing, sailing and dragon boating, among others. At time of writing, swimming is only open to experienced swimmers, and as a result, most sessions here are two hours instead of the standard one hour. Brightly-coloured swim cap required.
LIQUID LEISURE, WINDSOR: Another one that's aimed more towards serious swimmers, you'll need to be able to complete the 200m course without any problems at Liquid Leisure Windsor, otherwise you'll be asked to leave. There's also a 750m course available. The site is home to various other activities too, including the Ninja Warrior UK Aqua Park. Actually, forget swimming, we'd rather do that.
BRAY LAKE, MAIDENHEAD: Not far from the Thames, near Maidenhead, Bray Lake Watersports offers options for all swimmers. Loops range from 100m to 1km in length, with coaching available for anyone who's interested. It's open year-round too, one of the few open-water centres that'll have you in those chilly winter months. You'll need to be registered with the Friends of Bray Lake before you can dive in.
Wild and open water swimming spots in Hertfordshire
MOOR PARK, WATFORD: Just a few minutes' walk from Moor Park station on the Metropolitan line, the lake at Merchant Taylors' School is used by Active Training World as an open water swimming venue. Choose between 750m or 400m loops of the freshwater lake.
STANBOROUGH PARK, HATFIELD: We recently discovered Stanborough Park as somewhere offering lovely lakeside walks, but there's plenty for water lovers to do too. Swimming sessions run on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings on a 400m and 150m course, with swimming strictly prohibited outside these times. No membership is required, but you need to book your session. Adults must wear a red swimming hat, and 14-16 year olds must wear a green one.
Wild and open water swimming spots in Essex
SWIM LAKESIDE, THURROCK: The eponymous body of water at Lakeside Shopping Centre is, as of July 2020, being put to use as a swimming lake. You'll need to be able to swim 400m continuously, and need to wear a tow float, goggles and a brightly coloured hat in the water. Wetsuits are required for most of the year too.
TRIFARM BOREHAM, CHELMSFORD: As the name suggests, Trifarm is aimed at anyone who's training for a triathlon. Cycling and running routes and facilities are available nearby, and the swimming option consists of an 800m supervised lake course. That said, there's a shorter, 400m course for novice swimmers, and plenty of easy exit points along the course. Wetsuits, tow floats and Trifarm branded green hats are required for all swimmers, and you'll need to undergo an induction before your first dip.
GOSFIELD LAKE RESORT, HALSTEAD: 'Resort' sounds a bit fancy, doesn't it? But it's justified, considering there's a campsite alongside Gosfield Lake, aimed at anyone interested in watersports holidays. Swimming is open to adults, as well as kids who can swim at least 50m. Your dip sets you back £5, and you'll need to wear a Gosfield Lake swimming hat, so bring another fiver to cover that on your first visit.
Know anywhere we’ve missed? Share your knowledge in the comments below.