Wild swimming in the Lake District  

A natural mood enhancer that lifts your spirits, it’s no wonder more and more people are taking to the water. Let’s face it, the views are better than the local swimming pool too.

What is wild swimming?

Basically, it’s swimming outdoors in any natural body of water – be it in open sea, rivers or lochs, secret lagoons, hidden pools, or mountain streams. Here in the Lake District, we’re blessed with myriad places to take the plunge.

People have always taken to the water to exercise, invigorate the body and reconnect with nature, but the popularity of wild swimming has exploded in recent years. Keen to dive in? Lets talk about:

  1. The best places to swim in the Lake District
  2. How to get started
  3. Advice on staying safe

Where to wild swim in the Lake District

As you might expect, the Lake District is packed with places you can wild swim – in fact, you’re free to swim in any lake, tarn or river apart from Haweswater, Ennerdale Water and Thirlmere. We’ve listed five of our favourites wild swimming spots for ease of access from our Lake District Cottages

“I grew convinced that following water, flowing with it, would be a way of getting under the skin of things. Of learning something new. I might learn about myself too.”

Windermere sunset

Windermere 

The best known of all the lakes, Windermere is also the longest, so there are plenty of water sports going on already – but if you head to the Waterhead end of the lake, and swim along the west bank, where it’s possible to stay relatively shallow and still swim a long way, you should be fine.

Mornings are the quietest, and it’s a good spot for beginners to start their wild swimming adventures.

Want to stay nearby? Check out our holiday cottages to rent in Windermere and Bowness.

Derwentwater

Keswick

When it comes to spectacular views while you’re swimming, Derwentwater is right up there with its surrounding fells and woodland. 

With a footpath around most of the lake giving you plenty of access points, you can usually find a quieter section to swim – especially if you can go earlier in the morning before it fills up with boats.

There are several small islands on the lake to aim for, and you’ll also find Derwent Island, the only inhabited island on Derwentwater.

If you’d like to stay in the local area, you can find our holiday cottages to rent in Keswick and the surrounding area.

Wastwater drone photo

Wastwater

In the shadow of Scafell Pike, the tallest mountain in the UK, lies Wastwater – the deepest lake in England. You’ll often see groups of deep-water divers bobbing below the surface.

If you do plan to swim here then a wetsuit is recommended – the depth of the water makes it a colder swim than most, but the incredible views of Scafell Pike, Great Gable and Red Pike make the trip and the cold worth it.

Wastwater is well worth making the trip to, even if you’re staying more centrally.

Rydal water, with a small tree growing from a rock, it's reflection can be seen in the mirror still water surrounding it

Grasmere & Rydal

We don’t know if Wordsworth ever took the plunge, but he was very fond of Rydal Water. One of the smallest lakes in the Lake District, and relatively shallow (around 15 metres at its deepest) Rydal Water is ideal for a bracing swim.

Head to the southern end and you’ll find plenty of trees to get changed behind before enjoying your swim surrounded on all sides by the majestic mountains. 

And, if you don’t want to have to go too far to go warm up afterwards, you can find our holiday cottages to rent in Grasmere or Rydal.

Coniston Water from it's South Western shore

Coniston

From the southern end of Coniston Water, the third-largest lake in the Lake District, adventure awaits. Once you’ve admired the fantastic view of the Coniston Fells, you can swim out to Wild Cat Island.

Featured in Arthur Ransome’s much-loved Swallows and Amazons stories, you’ll enjoy navigating the rocky headlands and discovering the secluded coves. 

Stay local and check out our holiday cottages in Coniston and Langdale.

Of course, there are many more places to wild swim in the Lake District, so if we’ve whetted your appetite and left you eager to jump in, getting hold of a book that lists them all is a must. We’ll leave the last word to that icon of wild swimming and author of Waterlog, Roger Deakin.

Picked a spot you’d like to visit? Here’s some tips on how to get started.

Top 11 wild swimming locations

If you are feeling a little more adventurous, these are some of the finest wild swimming locations that might involve a bit of a trek to get to:

  • Rydal Water
  • Grasmere
  • Derwent Water
  • Windermere
  • Black Moss Pot
  • Burnmoor Tarn
  • Crummock Water
  • Styhead Tarn
  • Sprinkling Tarn
  • Galleny Force Waterfall
  • High Dam Tarn

Please note: Swimming is not allowed in Ennerdale Water, Haweswater and Thirlmere. Unsure what you can do where, take a look at some more info about access.

What do I need to get started?

The weather in the Lake District can be unpredictable, and the water will nearly always be cold, even on warmer days. So, even if you do plan to embrace ultimate freedom and swim in just your swimming costume, make sure you have what you need to wrap up warm you up when you get out – you’ll no doubt have seen groups of wild swimmers wearing those cosy-looking dry robes and bobble hats post-swim. Take a leaf out of their book and make sure you’re similarly equipped. And don’t forget your flask – a hot cuppa will never have tasted so good.

A swimmer in a lake with an orange wetsuit and tow float

Useful kit you might need 

  • Wetsuit – a wetsuit will keep you warmer in colder bodies of water and help you stay buoyant. Buy one that’s especially designed for swimming rather than diving as it’ll be easier to swim in. You can book a wetsuit try on day to get the perfect fit.
  • Hat – not only will a silicone hat help you keep your head warm, if you buy a brightly coloured one, you’ll be more visible too.
  • Boots and gloves – for keeping your hands and feet warm. Boots will also help you avoid annoying cuts and scrapes on stony river bottoms.
  • Goggles – a pair of goggles will stop your eyes getting sore or anything getting in them.
  • Tow float – when you’re swimming in larger bodies of water, it’ll help you stay buoyant and make you easier to spot if you get into trouble.
Friends swimming in Lake Windermere with 'The Teal' steamer in the distance behind them

How do I stay safe when wild swimming? 

  • Follow The Swim Safe Code
  • Always tell someone where you’re going.
  • Look at the weather forecast before you go – The weather in the Lake District can change in minutes.
  • If you’re swimming on the coast, beware of any tides and currents.
  • Check the depth of the water before getting in.
  • Don’t dive straight in – always acclimatise slowly to avoid shocking your body.
  • Don’t swim near reeds or other vegetation you could get tangled up in.
  • Whenever possible, don’t swim alone. Join a local swimming group and make new swim buddies.
  • Watch out for boats and other obstacles.
  • Don’t swim too far out. Be aware of your own swimming ability.
  • Don’t swim near blue-green algae.

Lake Rangers Advice on Being Seen as A Swimmer

Benefits of wild swimming

Not only is wild swimming good for your physical health, but your mental wellbeing will also get a welcome lift too. Wild swimming increases your heart rate, builds endurance, increases muscle strength, and is good for your heart and lungs too. And because it’s low impact, it also puts less stress on your body.

But before you dive in, let’s talk about how to get started, what equipment you need, how to stay safe and where you can swim in the Lakes.

Want to take the plunge and give it a try?

You could check out Swim the Lakes. This Ambleside based team offer it all. From short wild swims to longer adventure swims.

Many years ago, fast-flowing ice followed the valleys, steepened the sides and created deep basins in which lakes formed following the glacier recession. Now, wake in the ancient history of the Lake District to the sound of babbling rivers or lapping lake waves. Step from your doorstep into the landscape forged by ice and water.

Come swim in the lakes, and splash in the rivers at one of our River and Lakeside Cottages

Discover more of the Lake District

With weekly articles highlighting the very best of the Lake District, there’s always something to get you inspired for your next trip!

If you’d like to be the first to hear of our guides, all our new property listings, events around the lakes, and our last-minute deals

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6 Walks From Grasmere

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