The last few years has seen a huge rise in wild swimming, with more and more people embracing the naturally uplifting joys of taking a dip in an open, natural body of water. Thought to boost mental wellbeing as well as physical health, wild swimming can also bring a sense of connection and community, not just with our fellow swimmers, but with the great outdoors, reminding us that our lakes, rivers, and oceans need protecting now more than ever. To mark Plastic Free July, which aims to raise awareness of the devastating impact of plastic pollution on our planet, we asked the Neal’s Yard Remedies team to share their favourite open-water swimming spots in the UK – time to dive right in…
Situated at the base of Yr Wyddfa in the Nant Gwynant area, Llyn Gwynant is a beautiful natural lake and has been one of my favourite wild-swimming spots in North Wales for many years. Surrounded by mountains and thick woodlands, it’s the perfect place to take a plunge into the cool, crystal-clear water. Not only is it the visual delight that draws me to this place, it’s also the soothing effect it has on my mind, easing any stress or anxiety and lulling me into a state of blissful calm. An invigorating and soul-nurturing experience, I would recommend wild swimming to anyone. My favourite time to go is in the spring/summer months when the weather has warmed the water considerably – I have never been one for icy cold waters!
Llyn Gwynant, Snowdonia
Since I was a child my family have made it tradition to visit the North Yorkshire coast at least twice a year, in the summer and winter. And each time, come rain or shine, we would all take a plunge in the ice-cold North Sea. In fact, my grandad, up until he turned 83, still joined us (in March, with no wetsuit, only his swimming trunks!). There is something so freeing about it, and the rush you get through your body as you hit the water just makes you feel alive, more connected with your body and nature. What always surprises me is how remarkable our body’s resilience is, especially when you wild swim in the winter. We tend to forget how powerful the human body can be, and swimming reminds me of that.
Filey, Hunmanby Gap, North Yorkshire
I travelled to Lochinver, in the Assynt district of Sutherland in the Highlands, last September with friends. It was my first time doing cold-water swimming. To reach the water, we walked through a forest which was covered in a floor of moss and ferns, which added to the experience. The small bay is hugged by towering hills, with a view of the nearest town just across the water. My friend is a keen open-water enthusiast, so showed us the ropes. I can’t say I stayed in for any more than a minute on my first try, but for me, it was the challenge of staying in the water, the mind over matter nature of the experience and the power of controlled breathing that made it so special. When I left the water, I felt an instant rush of energy that would see me through the day. We ended up heading back to the bay every morning of the five-day trip, every day feeling the exact same balance of fear and excitement upon reaching the water, but every time being able to stay in a few seconds longer than the last. I’d recommend it to everyone.
I’d wanted to try out open-air swimming for a while and was recommended Hampstead Ponds. There are three different ponds to choose from: the ladies, the men’s, and the mixed, each with their own distinctive style. There is such a friendly vibe there, everyone mixes in from complete newbies to seasoned locals. Even at the height of summer, the cold water takes some getting used to, but that’s half the fun, and gives me a sense of achievement when I manage to spend more than 10 minutes in the water! My body feels invigorated, and the rest afterwards and relaxed chat with friends feels well-deserved.
Hampstead Health Ponds, London
I really enjoy swimming in Bosham as the water is so clear and the scenery is beautiful, immediately creating a sense of calm. Afterwards, I always feel more relaxed and at one with nature.
Most of our local wild-swimming spots are currently out of bounds due to water pollution or poisonous algae, but Frensham Pond is still a lovely place for a head-clearing dip. The water is clear and it’s generally sandy underfoot, so a good option for people that like to know what they’re treading on. There’s a little sandy beach for a picnic afterwards too – but mornings are best on hot days as it gets quite busy. Dogs love it too as you’ll see from the photo!
Frensham Ponds, Surrey
Wild Swimming at Latitude Festival was a great way to start the festival on Friday and relax into the weekend. The lake is situated in the middle of the festival, surrounded by woodlands. There were lots of great activities on the water available like paddleboarding and row-boating, but the wild swimming was the most refreshing!