From hidden rivers, natural pools and secret coves, guest blogger Daniel Start, author of the best-selling book Wild Swimming, shares his five favourite places for a natural outdoor swim… (and if you like this, don’t forget to enter our competition to win all the books!)
There is something slightly naughty, a little bit scary and wonderfully invigorating about wild swimming. We swim regularly in the Avon just upstream of Bath and often see kingfisher and otter tracks. It always feels a bit renegade stripping off in the meadow and plunging in, while walkers look on somewhat startled.
People have been bathing in rivers for eons. From the holy wells and river baptisms of Celtic Pagan and early Christian times, through to Wordsworth and Coleridge frolicking in Lake District waterfalls, there has always been a strong tradition of wild water swimming in Britain. The health and psychological benefits of dipping in natural waters have also been long known. George Bernard Shaw, Benjamin Britten, Charles Darwin and Florence Nightingale were all advocates of regular cold baths to strengthen the mental constitution and physical state.
Bobbing along with a frog-eye view these are places to commune with nature, seek inspiration, and be humbled by the immensity and wonder of the natural world. They are also a place of fun, adventure and good times. So we invite you lay out the picnic rug, jump on the tree swing and plunge in. Welcome to a fresh world of holiday adventures, romantic escapades and family days out.
Best for… skinny dipping: Sharrah Pool, River Dart, Dartmoor
Sharrah is the largest and best pool on this wild and wonderful river stretch in the forested Dart Valley nature reserve. It’s also the birth place of Charles Kingsley, author of The Water Babies, so no better place to return to your natural state. You might also explore Bellpool Island just downstream, and upstream are the Mel Pools, a range of smaller pools, including a few good chutes if you have an inner tube. Descend to river from Holne and bear left along a good path for 40 mins to find this long narrow pool.
Best for… picnics: River Waveney, Bungay, Suffolk
The River Waveney was the favourite river of Roger Deakin, forefather of the wild swimming movement. I love the two miles loop around Outney Common, starting and returning from Bungay. This town is one of Suffolk’s most independent little places, with quirky cafes, food stores and craft shops, so it’s the perfect place to stock-up on picnic supplies. It even has its own river meadows at the bottom of Bridge Street, perfect for a picnic and quick dip if you don’t fancy the walk. There’s also a riverside campsite with canoe hire (www.outneymeadow.co.uk, T: 01986 892338).
Best for… canoes/boats: Anchor Inn, River Ouse, Sussex
This remote riverside pub, down a dead end lane, is in a bucolic position on the River Ouse. They have a fleet of rowing boats available for hire and you can swim and boat for up to two miles upstream through fields as far as Isfield. Continue to Barcombe village, turn right then right again, (Anchor Inn, BN8 5BS, T: 01273 400414) or walk upstream a mile from Barcombe Mills, another popular swimming spot.
Best for… pubs: Galleny Force, Stonethwaite, Lake District
Two sets of pools and cascades, with grassy knolls and ancient rowan trees. Fun for plunging, snorkelling and picnics. Upstream is Blackmoss Pot a brilliant place for jumps. But the best bit is the wonderful Langstrath Country Inn (CA12 5XG, T: 01768 7 77239) where you can warm up with an open fire and superb food. They even have rooms with white linen sheets, what could be more luxurious after a hard days wild swimming?
Best for… jumping: Faerie Pools, Glen Brittle, Isle of Skye, Scotland
The famous ‘Allt Coir a Mhadaidh’ pools and waterfalls are tinged with jade hues from the volcanic gabbro rocks. The mystical peaks of the Black Cuillin mountains tower over and they are embued with legend and fairy tales. You can swim through the underwater arch between pools and there’s also a high jump into one. The water is so clear you sometimes think there is no water at all, so you better double check first! From Sligachan Hotel (A87) follow A863 / B8009 and turn left (signed Glen Brittle) just before Carbost. After four miles find ‘Fairy Pool’ car park on your left.
*WIN the full set of Wild Swimming books*
If that’s whetted your appetite for some outdoor adventures (or if you just like browsing through beautiful books while cosying up indoors!) don’t forget to enter our fantastic competition to win the full set of Wild Things books, worth almost £150. You have until 5pm on 6 October 2014 to be in with a chance of winning nine inspiring books including Wild Swimming (UK, France and Italy editions), Hidden Beaches, Wild Running, Lost Lanes and more – See full details and how to enter