Author of Swimming Wild in the Lake District Suzanna Cruickshank shares her favourite iconic swimming locations.
The mere use of the word ‘iconic’ in the title will have some readers gritting their teeth, awaiting a slew of wild swimming cliches, but bear with me. Although I work as a wild swim guide, my experience is still pretty limited to the Lake District and a handful of other spots across the UK. So I asked my Instagram followers for their iconic swims to pad out a few of my favourites...
Windermere is the iconic Lake District swim for many. Yes, it’s the longest lake in England and one of the key qualifying swims for a Channel attempt. But it’s not the most exciting or dramatic in my eyes. Give me Wastwater any day. I love how cold and deep Wastwater is, and the stark emptiness of the valley is thrilling. Fun fact: I once got so cold on a long swim in Wastwater that I had hallucinations of a giant butterfly on top of Great Gable.
Wastwater, © Suzanna Cruickshank
Drop a map pin on the Ross of Mull and you will hit a white sand beach. There is almost too much choice. So for something truly iconic I look towards a swim that has eluded me on three attempts. Fingal’s Cave is on the isle of Staffa, six miles west of Mull. The Atlantic swell can rise as much as ten metres around the island making it hard to get ashore from the tourist boats, never mind swim into the cave. But this doesn’t stop me dreaming. I know it can be done and I am always hopeful.
Ventnor on the Isle of Wight is one of the sunniest places in the UK. Thanks to a sheltered southerly position, Ventnor enjoys its own microclimate and with the backdrop of the botanical gardens a swim here can be (whispers) positively tropical. The sandy beach sits in a sheltered bay but if the sea is rough you can dip a toe in the paddling pool and circumnavigate the replica island. And above all, finish with a pint in the Spyglass Inn which is one of my all-time favourite pubs.
Ventnor, Isle of Wight. © Suzanna Cruickshank
Lizard Point in Cornwall is the most southerly point of mainland Britain, a big tick on the iconic swim score card. You can take your pick of the beaches on the Lizard, probably the most popular is Kynance Cove. It has has sea caves to explore, a tidal island, rock pools big enough to swim in and most importantly a cafe serving cake. Remember that the sea is an unforgiving mistress and this beach is not lifeguarded nor does it have good phone signal. Check the tide times and do not swim outside of your ability. One for really wild swimmers.
Kynance Cove, Lizard Peninsula. © Elktra Kimi via Unsplash
Loch Morlich boasts a natural beach 300m above sea level and a stunning backdrop of the Cairngorms. One of the problems with wild swimming, and any outdoor activity really, is that dramatic, remote places can be largely inaccessible for the less abled. Not so at Loch Morlich. There are accessible facilities and trails, and the sandy beach is close to the car park, making access to the water quite straightforward. The live webcam lets you watch conditions throughout the year.
Loch Morlich, © @georgiadelotz via Unsplash
Durdle Door is a magnificent rock arch on Dorset’s Jurassic coastline. Understandably the beach gets very busy but come here at dawn and you will only have to share it with photographers. To swim through the ‘door’ is the ultimate south coast swim for me but conditions need to be right to attempt it. Submerged ledges mean the gap is smaller than you think and the limestone arch is razor sharp. On my visit I sat watching the swell rise through the arch for twenty minutes before deciding the risk was too great. The reward for my caution was a magnificent sunrise framed by Durdle Door.
Durdle Door, © Suzanna Cruickshank
Apart from winter swimming championships, I have never taken part in a mainstream swimming event. The mass starts and manic thrashing of the Great Swim series don’t really excite me. The Henley Club to Pub, however, sounds right up my street. The distance is 1500m and starts with an upstream section to get your blood pumping before looping round Temple island and then heading downstream to finish at the Angel on the Bridge pub and claim your post-swim beer. Where do I sign?
Beyond the endlessly photogenic sand dunes, Bamburgh has a dreamy and seemingly endless beach. A fairytale castle overlooks the beach from its rocky perch, you will definitely get some Instagram bangers here. Bamburgh’s exposed location brings good conditions for surfers so swimmers will need to approach with caution, but if you drop lucky with a calm day Bamburgh is hard to beat.
Bamburgh, Northumberland. © @benjaminjohelliott via Unsplash
At Clevedon Marine Pool it’s not just the setting that makes it iconic, but the people too. After a period of decline during the 80s, swimming between was banned in the lake till local enthusiasts set up a community group in 2004. They were awarded lottery funding and backed by the local council, and a £1m renovation project brought the pool back into usage for swimming and boating. It’s a wonderful asset to the community and a source of encouragement to many other groups trying to resurrect lidos across the country.
My friend Clare described Llyn Padarn as ‘a friend who always looks good in photos’, a description I am definitely going to steal and put in my next book. I’m yet to swim in Welsh waters but I know where I will be heading first. Llyn Padarn is one of the longest lakes in Wales at two miles long and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Running along one side is the Llanberis Lake Railway that connects with the Snowdon Mountain Railway. I’m already planning a swim/train hike adventure as we speak.
Llyn Padarn, © Charlie Hammond via Unsplash
For as long as I can remember Brighton Beach has been top of my swim wish list. Photographs of the historic Brighton Swimming Club were the mainstay of winter swimming reportage long before it became fashionable. Through these evocative images I could hear the surf crashing on the pebble beach and I long to swim round the magnificent Brighton Pier. From autumn and through winter, crowds gather to watch the starling murmations. It must be unimaginably beautiful to watch from the water. Although it might be a good idea to wear your goggles.
For more iconic swims and tranquil hidden gems, click here to buy a copy of Swimming Wild in the Lake District.