Eight of the best wild swimming walks within easy reach of London

Hurrah it’s open-water swimming season again! The water’s warming up – slowly – and we think it’s time to winnow out some of this country’s best wild swimming spots.


So we’ve asked the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association, authors of Wild Swimming Walks (Wild Things Publishing, £14.99), to share their favourite country walks with us – each one featuring a recommended wild swim…

>>> 220’s guide to the UK’s best open-water swimming venues

Shepreth to Cambridge, Cambridgeshire

Maps: OS Landranger 154 (Cambridge & Newmarket) or OS Explorer 209 (Cambridge). 

A 9.5 mile walk. From Shepreth train station, follow the signposted footpaths through Barrington, Harston, Hasslingfield and then onto Grantchester. The River Cam can be followed into Cambridge. The River Cam is a clear river with a modest current, and offers scope to do a long swim downstream from Grantchester all the way to Newnham. 

Farnham to Frensham Great Pond

Map: OS Landranger 186 (Aldershot and Guildford); OS Explorer 145 (Guildford and Farnham); for the Bentley option only, OS Explorer 144 (Basingstoke). 

An 8 mile walk from Farnham Station. The main swim is in Frensham Great Pond, and there are also swims in the young River Wey. Follow the North Downs Way along the River Wey, then join the Surrey Cycleway Link before your fist swim in Tilford. You can then follow a track to Frensham Great Pond.

Southease to Newhaven

Map: OS Landranger 198 (Brighton & Lewes); OS Explorer 123 (Eastbourne & Beachy Head). The hamlet of Southease is on Explorer 122, not 123, but is easy to find without the second map.

This is a walk of contrasts, between tranquil Southease, and the industrial present and remains of Newhaven. Follow the South Downs Way signposts eastwards to Itford Hill. Follow the ridge, and descend to the sea. The best place to access fairly deep water at any tide is outside the Newhaven and Seaford Sailing Club.

Manningtree circular 

Maps: OS Landranger 168 (Colchester); OS Explorer 184 (Colchester) and 196 (Sudbury, Hadleigh & Dedham Vale).

A beautiful walk through Constable country with several opportunities to enjoy good river swimming in the famous Stour. A particularly good spot is opposite Dedham Mill where the river opens into a pond and there is a small beach. Follow footpaths to Flatford and Dedham, and once you’ve sawm, follow the river back to Manningtree station.

Shillingford to Didcot

Map: OS Landranger 164 (Oxford) or OS Explorer 170 (Abingdon, Wantage & Vale of White Horse).

An easy walk with plenty of opportunities to swim in the River Thames. There are many possible swimming places – the river is quite wide and deep and easy to swim across.  Follow the footpath signed for the Thames Path. At Little Wittenham follow the river bank to Day’s Lock and a weir. A cycle track will take you back to Didcot station.

Kirby Cross to Frinton and Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex

Maps: OS Landranger 169 (Ipswich & The Naze); OS Explorer 184 (Colchester, Harwich & Clacton-on-Sea).

A perfect summer’s walk of 10.5 miles with sea swims from sandy beaches. From Kirby Cross station footpaths lead through open countryside, past the village of Great Holland, all the way to the sea. All the way along the shore, the swimming is exceptional with sandy beaches.

Folkestone to Dover, Kent

Maps: OS Landranger 179 (Canterbury & E Kent); OS Explorer 138 (Dover, Folkestone & Hythe).

Starting from Folkestone station, the day starts with swims from shingle coves or sandy beaches and continues with a 9 mile walk over towering cliff tops and past mysterious relics of war. The first swimming opportunity is from Mermaid beach, Mill Point. The second swim is on the other side of Folkestone Harbour at Sunny Sands, a lovely sandy beach. 

Chilworth to Guildford, Surrey

Map: OS Landranger 186 (Aldershot & Guildford) or OS Explorer 145 (Guildford & Farnham)

This 8 mile walk crosses heathland dotted with pretty Surrey villages before dropping down to follow the Wey Navigation, where there are many swimming places. From Chilworth station, the route crosses a mixture of wild and rather forbidding heathland, but soon gives way to gentle pastures, small woods and cosy commuter villages. The swimming is good with sandy beaches.

(Images: Margaret Dickinson / Sarah Saunders / R Corney / Liz Valentine)


Wild Swimming Walks: 28 lake, river and seaside days out by train from London by the Kenwood Ladies Pond Association (Wild Things Publishing, £14.99) is available from all good bookshops and www.wildthingspublishing.com

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