You’re out walking and the mercury climbs, fancy a swim? Well, here are 11 of the most beautiful and invigorating walk-swims you can make courtesy of a new book from the Kenwood Ladies Pond Association
1. SHEPRETH TO CAMBRIDGE, CAMBRIDGESHIRE
A nine and a half mile walk, starting at Shepreth train station, across stretches of East Anglian farmland, passing through several attractive villages, via Grantchester to Cambridge. Follow the signposted footpaths through Barrington, Harston, Hasslingfield and then on towards Grantchester. The River Cam can then be followed all the way into Cambridge City Centre, with the walk ending at the train station.
You can swim in the River Cam, a clear river with a modest current. Expect crowds on the river in high summer, especially at weekends, and biting winds in late autumn or winter. The walk can also be combined with punting – the end of the route passes Scudamore’s boat station above the weir below Silver Street Bridge, the traditional location for hiring a punt to go to Grantchester. The river offers scope to do a long swim downstream from Grantchester all the way to Newnham.
2. KIRBY CROSS TO FRINTON AND WALTON-ON-THE-NAZE, ESSEX
A perfect summer’s walk of ten and a half miles with sea swims from sandy beaches. This walk starts at Kirby Cross train station and ends at Walton-on-the-Naze. From Kirby Cross station a little white gate opens directly into fields and, apart from a short stretch of road, footpaths lead through open countryside, past the village of Great Holland, all the way to the sea. Carry on walking along the sea-front until you reach the pier, and you are then in Walton-on-the-Naze. All the way along the shore, from the rural stretch through the resorts, the swimming is exceptional. The beaches are sandy and pleasant for sitting on at low tide, with breakwaters in the resorts every 100 metres or so that also act as windbreaks. There are numerous cafés and pubs in Walton-on-the-Naze including one at the Naze Tower for post swim refreshments.
3. CHILWORTH TO GUILDFORD, SURREY
This eight-mile walk crosses heathland dotted with pretty Surrey villages before dropping down to follow the Wey Navigation, where there are many swimming places. The route, from Chilworth station, starts by crossing a strange mixture of wild and rather forbidding heathland of scrub and gorse, but soon gives way to gentle pastures, small woods and cosy commuter villages. Once the route joins the Wey Navigation it follows the towpath right into Guildford and almost to the station. Swimming is quite well established as a local pastime and two spots in particular seem popular. The first occurs very soon after reaching the Wey, just beyond the Manor Inn, and is a tiny patch of sandy beach where someone has placed poles, presumably to warn non-swimmers not to go on into deep water. The next main swimming place is close to Guildford and has a more extensive sandy beach and also a steep sandy bank. Rowing boats and canoes can be hired from Farncombe Boat House, Catteshall.
4. FOLKESTONE TO DOVER, KENT
Starting from Folkestone train station, the day starts with swims from shingle coves or a sandy beach and continues with a nine-mile walk over towering cliff tops and past mysterious relics of war. There are so many good swimming opportunities around Folkestone that walkers may be tempted to change their plans and linger all day. The first swimming opportunity is from Mermaid beach near Mill Point. The second swim is on the other side of Folkestone Harbour at Sunny Sands, a lovely sandy beach where swimming is nearly always possible. After Sunny Sands there are two options: one is to climb up to the cliff tops to join the North Downs Way, enjoy magnificent sea views and pass the Battle of Britain Memorial – or you can enter the Warren, a site of special scientific interest created by repeated landslides. The route rejoins the cliff top one by taking a very steep, long winding path up through woods to emerge at the Clifftop Café. A little further on the route turns inland towards Dover Priory train station, but walkers reluctant to leave the sea could ignore our directions and continue on the well-signposted North Downs Way into Dover.
5. GORING AND STREATLEY TO CHOLSEY, BERKSHIRE
This is a glorious walk from Goring and Streatley station, embracing wide stretches of the Thames, open meadows, woody paths and a beautiful Brunel railway bridge. With three swimming spots, you can take your time in good weather, enjoying a peaceful meander along the Thames Path with views of the Chilterns. At Goring Lock cross the bridge, and turn right just past The Swan pub to St Mary’s church. Exit the churchyard and follow the path alongside The Swan car park. Take a right fork for the Thames Path – which passes through a wooded area and across a field onto the towpath – where you turn left and follow the river. The walk now opens out onto beautiful wide meadows with the Chiltern Hills to your left. There are a couple of swimming spots along this stretch. When the river is running fast, take care and stay close to the bank. In normal conditions it flows steadily and slowly and the swimming is very enjoyable.
6. SCARBOROUGH TO FILEY, YORKSHIRE
This ten-mile walk starts with a swim on Scarborough’s South Sands, one of the earliest resorts to popularise swimming. Walk along the sand then pick up the Cleveland Way which is signposted all the way to Filey. After a spell on the cliff tops, the wide sands of Cayton Bay offer the ultimate wild swim – the north end is known as an unofficial naturist spot! Or try Lucy’s Beach Shack for a friendly cup of tea. A mile or so later, prepare for a stunning sight: two miles of sheer cliff apparently stretching out into the North Sea. This is Filey Brigg, and you can walk to the end to enjoy the views and the bird life. Head to Filey for a final swim before returning home. Trains to Scarborough run regularly from York.
7. TOTNES, DEVON
This six-mile walk with two swims starts from Totnes railway station. Turn left, and follow the signpost for the riverside towpath towards Dartington Estate. After a quarter of a mile you get your first swim in deep water from a grassy bank. This is a favourite spot for swimmers and canoe launchers. Carry on along the towpath, and at the road turn right 400 yards into Dartington Estate. You walk through meadows with several easy access swim points – one watched by gnomes, pixies and possibly the Staverton steam train. Follow the path along the river through the woods. Emerging onto the road, turn left uphill, passing Staverton Nursery Tea Rooms. At the top, Huxham Cross, cross the road and take the footpath to Dartington church. Cross the road to take the path to Shinner’s Bridge shops and cafe. Once refreshed, you can then take the footpath about one and half miles back to Totnes train station.
8. LOUGHRIGG TARN AND RYDAL WATER, THE LAKE DISTRICT
The Lake District must have inspired more writing than any other piece of land in Britain, and is famous for its glorious swims in crystal clear water. This is a moderate seven-mile hill walk from Ambleside. Start from Ambleside church taking a path from the North side across a park and over two small bridges to a minor road. Turn right and after a few yards take the signed path on the left up and over hills to Loughrigg Tarn and the first swim. Rejoin the path you arrived by and turn left to continue along it through a small wood and then look for a turning to the right going steeply uphill to Loughrigg Fell (335 metres) where there are fine views. Take a path left to the west, downhill towards Grassmere but then turn right for Rydal Water and walk along the bank choosing a place to swim. Where the lake ends go up to the main A591, turn right to take a minor road on the left to Rydal Hall. Just past the Hall’s drive, a path to the right leads you back to Ambleside.
9. LUNE, LANCASTER
A twelve-mile walk starting from Wennington Station – which is served by trains from Lancaster. The walk starts over slightly hilly country and then follows the Lune where there are many places to swim in its clear, dark waters. From the station walk on footpaths to Wray and then Hornby. Walk through Hornby and take the cycle route on a minor road to cross the Lune by a bridge near the thirteenth century ruins of Castle Stede. Take the riverside path all the way down to Halton, taking in the beautiful Lune valley.
10. CHARMOUH AND LYME REGIS VIA PENN, DORSET
This is a six-mile hilly walk in beautiful Dorset. The walk starts at Charmouth, on the Jurassic coast, an interesting beach popular with fossil hunters. Swimming is off a mixture of sand and shingle. Take the path towards Monkton Wyld, the easternmost of two footpaths heading inland, climbing steeply through pretty country. Before Monkton Wyld take a turning left which crosses the A35 at Penn and descends into Lyme Regis through a steep valley with remnants of mill based industry. In Lyme Regis you can swim off a lovely sandy beach partly sheltered by the Cobb, made famous by the scene of an accident in Jane Austin’s Persuasion.
11. MAIDEN NEWTON TO CATTISTOCK, DORSET
A nine-mile walk starting at the crossroads in the middle of Maiden Newton. Walk up the road taking the right hand fork towards the station (not the road to Sydling or Cattistock). Continue on this road and then a track past the allotments for about half a mile. Take a left and follow this field track past farm buildings until you reach the main road to Yeovil. Cross this road, go through a field gate immediately opposite, then go through the second gate on your left. Follow the path down the hill; at the bottom the path widens to become a farm track which you follow to Sydling St. Nicholas. Turn right along the road until you meet a track to the right after about a quarter of a mile. Go up this track for about 100 yards, turning left onto one at right angles to it. After a short time follow it right up the hill. Continue up, taking a gate into the field on your left after a short distance. Proceed through fields over another gate. Bear slightly to your right and traverse the highest field to reach the gate by which you entered this valley from the Yeovil Road. Cross it, go back down the track opposite until you reach the farm, taking the first entry between the buildings, reaching the path to Cattistock. Follow the road for about half a mile; under the railway bridge the road turns to the left. Where the road then turns right, there is a church straight ahead and a house on your left. Take the path to the left of the church into a field, crossing a stile at the end. Follow the path to the left and you reach the river bank which you follow to Maiden Newton (about three-quarters of a mile). You may want to try swimming here – the best area is immediately below a bridge. Continue along the bank until you reach a track crossing the river which leads you to Maiden Newton by the church.
WILD SWIMMING SAFETY TIPS
- Swimming in open water is not dangerous as long as you follow reasonable precautions, are aware of possible risks and know your own limits. Remember that most of the swims on these walks are in the countryside where there are no lifeguards, no facilities and no one but you to decide whether the conditions are safe.
Avoid getting too cold. Be cautious about length of time in the water, especially if you are not acclimatised. If in doubt get out. If you feel cold after swimming dress quickly, put on an extra layer, start walking again and, if your fingers are numb, exercise them.
Early signs of hypothermia include extreme shivering and numb fingers or toes; more serious ones include feeling sleepy and dizzy. If you have symptoms leave the water, put on layers of warm, dry clothing and sip a warm drink.
Never jump or dive unless you have checked that the water is deep enough, there are no underwater obstructions, and that you will be able to get out of the water.
Look out for blue-green algae, which can occur in lowland lakes or ponds, usually in summer. It may appear as a turquoise or greenish scum and some kinds are toxic, can be an irritant, or make you sick if you swallow it. Try to avoid it by swimming in a part of the lake without it or swimming away from it.
In rivers always check which way the water is running (it can be deceptive if a wind is blowing). Swim upstream as it will be easy to return. In powerful rivers, make sure there is somewhere to get out in case you are carried downstream.
When sea swimming always check tide times and conditions – if in doubt seek local advice. Make sure you can swim in both directions parallel to the shore (in case there is a current) and don’t swim too far out. If caught in a rip current that takes you out to sea, don’t panic. Swim out of it parallel to the beach, then aim for the shore or use the waves to help you bodysurf back.