Its lakes are the stuff of legend and the national park now enjoys UNESCO heritage. But while most outdoor fans head to the Lake District for long walks up rugged fells, the sheer abundance of water here makes it arguably the best place in the UK for wild swimming.
The lakes themselves are ideal for those looking for a long, chilly adventure swim. But venture away from the more obvious spots and you’ll find glistening tarns, deep pools and bubbling becks that are crying out for swimmers to take the plunge. Whether you’re a first-timer looking to get into wild swimming or a hardened pro keen on a new water hole to explore, these are the best wild swimming spots in the Lake District.
Word of caution: In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Swim England advises that only competent and experienced open water swimmers use this form of exercise, while adhering to social distancing guidelines. Check out the Swim England website for more information.
1. Tongue Pot, Eskdale
Why it’s so cool: As the River Esk tumbles its way down from beneath Scafell Pike, a series of chilly yet alluring pools form, ripe for anyone who wants to cool off after a long day’s walking. Tongue Pot is the one to aim for. “It’s tricky to get into if you don’t want to jump in,” says Suzanna Cruickshank, a Lake District-based wild swimming guide. Local daredevils tend to jump from the five-meter-high cliffs at its top end.
Where to find it: Tongue Pot is found just before you reach an old packhorse bridge, where the River Esk meets Lingcove Beck. A path follows the river up the valley from Hardknott Pass. Combine with a night’s wild camping in one of the most beautiful valleys in the Lake District.
2. Devoke Water
Why it’s so cool: In the southern part of the Lake District, this moody body of water is a big favourite among local swimmers. Often windswept, with white tips slapping swimmers about the face on entry, it can feel particularly wild when visiting in the colder months. “It’s west facing, so you get good sunsets,” says Cruickshank. Head to nearby Broughton–in–Furness for a hearty post–dip dinner and a chance to warm up in the Old King’s Head.
Where to find it: It’s possible to drive right up to Devoke Water, following the road north from Broughton for eight miles. Parking is extremely limited, though, with the last mile covered on foot. Arrive early and avoid peak weekend times.
3. Blea Tarn
Why it’s so cool: Blea Tarn is one of the most picturesque tarns in the Lake District – the majestic peaks of Langdale looming on the far horizon when you slide into its cool water from the stony beach on its southern shore. The tarn’s sediment hasn’t been disturbed since the last Ice Age, making it a site of special scientific interest. Try not to think about it shelving deeply as you swim for the middle.
Where to find it: Blea Tarn has a handy car park on its eastern side, found on a single-track road that loops through Langdale from Skelwith Bridge. It’s also a short walk from Langdale campsite and the excellent Old Dungeon Ghyll pub. The latter has climbing memorabilia and serves thirst-quenching local ales.
4. Easedale Tarn
Why it’s so cool: It might not, ahem, seem that easy to get to Easedale Tarn. But the reward is a swim within a bowl of moody hills, with the chance to stand up on a tiny rock at its centre, where the tarn becomes shallow. This is Lake District swimming at its best, demanding swimmers put in the effort to get to the water before delivering superb views and a chance to feel the searing high of slipping into the tarn’s cold embrace.
Where to find it: Follow the road up past Grasmere YHA and look for signposts to Easedale Tarn. The path winds its way up past a series of alluring swimming holes, which are best explored on the way back down to the village. Stop off at Emma’s Dell for snacks and Sam Read for local guide books.
5. Rydal Bower
Why it’s so cool: Perhaps the most famous non-lake spot for swimming in the entire Lake District, Rydal Bower is as magical as it is popular on a summer’s day. The rowan-lined banks and the roar of the water as it tumbles over the waterfall make for a delicious and invigorating swim. Those feeling brave enough should come in autumn, when most swimmers have packed away their trunks, but the burnished colours make the pool a spectacle to behold.
Where to find it: Park on the main road between Grasmere and Ambleside, close to Rydal Mount, the former home of William Wordsworth. Pass the house on your right, follow the old Coffin Road and then signposts to the falls. The access to the fells here is superb, meaning you should definitely have a walk to warm up afterwards.
Why it’s so cool: The deepest of all the lakes, Wastwater is known for drawing in swimmers from all over the UK. The screes that tumble down from its eastern side are some of the most arresting sights in the Lakes, made all the more dramatic from water level. “It shelves quite quickly when you get in, so you have to swim straight away,” says Cruickshank. “It’s not one to do if you’re not confident.”
Where to find it: Wastwater is in the western part of the Lake District, the winding road to it a long drive from the tourist hotspots of Ambleside and Kendal. There’s parking along its western shore and at a car park close to the Wasdale National Trust campsite. The latter is a perfect base for those who want to climb Scafell Pike.
7. Crummock Water
Why it’s so cool: Rydal Water and Grasmere are both beautiful, but attract a lot of swimmers when the weather hots up. The lesser known sibling of nearby Buttermere, Crummock Water is easily overlooked and therefore ideal for exploration. “It tends to be quieter, there are no cafes or pubs and you know that you’ll have the beach to yourself,” says Cruickshank. Combine a swim here with a hike to the summit of High Stile for gorgeous views.
Where to find it: Crummock Water can be accessed via the vertiginous Honister Pass to the south, although this is not recommended. It’s easier to reach from the north via Low Lorton. There’s a pay and display car park in Buttermere village, which is a short walk from Crummock Water’s southern edge.
8. Galleny Force
Why it’s so cool: In the heart of beautiful Borrowdale, Galleny Force is home to two stunning pools that can get busy when the days are long and the sun is high. “‘You’ll have to share it,” says Cruickshank. “It’s well known and easy to get to and you can walk to it in fifteen minutes.” Those who choose to make the pilgrimage will find crystal clear water and handy rocks for jumping and sunbathing when the weather allows.
Where to find it: Galleny Force is a short walk from Borrowdale village. Follow signs to Stonethwaite campsite and then stick to the track that winds up the valley to the falls. Black Moss Pot, further upstream, is ideal for those keen on big jumps and very cold water.
Suzanna Cruickshank runs year–round wild swimming trips across the Lake District for all levels. She is also the author of a forthcoming swimmer’s guide to the lakes of the Lake District.
Joe Minihane is the author of Floating, a memoir about a love of wild swimming and a deep appreciation for the British countryside. Buy it at Waterstones.