When the sun comes out, UK natives tend to lose the plot. They dress inappropriately and look for somewhere, anywhere, to cool off. The heat wave we’ve been hoping for has finally happened this summer, and a wild swimming craze has taken hold. Helpfully, Daniel Start has written a series of wild swimming guides (details below), telling us of the most beautiful–and most safe–places to swim. Here Daniel talks us through his favorite swimming holes in the UK and France.
Daniel Start’s Top 10 Best Swimming Holes: UK & France
1. Pamphill, Dorset Stour (UK) The Stour is one of England’s iconic rural rivers. At Pamphill the river opens up in wonderful, wide meanders with a deep ford and a bridge. Float downstream for miles on the sun-dappled current as mayflies dance and fronds of water buttercup tickle your toes. Follow path upstream from small carpark outside Pamphill village, near Wimbourne Minster.
2. Faerie Pools, Glen Brittle, Isle of Skye, Scotland (UK). Famous “Allt Coir a Mhadaidh” pools and waterfalls, tinged with pink and blue hues, set under the mystical peaks of the Black Cuillins. Crystal clear water and underwater arch to swim between pools. Shown above.
3. Grantchester Meadows, Cambridge (UK). Take tea in Grantchester and enjoy a length of river that has changed little since Edwardian times. It was here that Rupert Brooke, Virginia Woolf, and other brilliant minds gathered to camp, picnic, and swim naked. Anywhere along the meadows is good for swimming, particularly on the outside of the bends where the river deepens, often to more than 6 foot, so just lay down your picnic blanket, pour cream on your strawberries, and soak up the by-gone atmosphere. Shown above.
4. River Dart at Newbridge (UK). River pools and sandy bays, oak gorges, and towering tors. The River Dart is the setting for Charles Kingsley’s The Waterbabies and one of the most beautiful wild-swimming rivers in the UK. Dense woodland tumbles down the side of the moor, a light spray lifts off the water and the forest twitters with birdsong.
5. Tongue Pot, Eskdale, Lake District (UK).The Esk is a delightful mountain stream that tumbles down from England’s highest mountain peak, Scafell Pike. “Tongue Pot” is the most beautiful of the many pools. Just beneath a packhorse bridge in a rocky cleft, about an hour’s walk from the road, a long emerald pool has formed beneath a waterfall at the meeting of two rivers. A white pebble beach shelves down on one side and an oak tree overhangs. Shown above.
6. Waterfall Woods, Brecon Beacons (UK). The “Waterfall Woods” abound with natural pools and the sound of falling water. Sgwd Gwladys, or Lady Falls, occupies a giant amphitheater rimmed with a lip of dark black gritstone. Moss and fern grow in profusion in this misty microclimate, and many say this is the most beautiful waterfall in Wales.
7. The river Loue (France) is one of many rivers that emerge from huge underground springs. At Mouthier-Haute-Pierre, it still glows luminous with minerals, and is still very cold. Shown above.
8. Lac d’Ilay (France) is in the Jura region, a remote and empty land with countless lakes and waterfalls.
9. The Célé (France) is a tributary of the Lot, and with shallows and beaches it is perfect for families. This is a wooded bay near Marcilhac, a beautiful village with ruined monastery. Shown above.
10. The Lac de St Croix in Provence (France) is one of its largest. The limestone geology of the area gives the lakes an azure hue and it remains warm for swimming until late October.
11. Quieter than the Dordogne, the Lot (France) also enjoys many impressive chí¢teaux and fine villages. Once a working river, at Chemin de Halage the old tow path, cut from the cliff, is an excellent place to access the river, with good jumps for the brave.
12. In the Massif Central, source of many of France’s greatest rivers, the landscape is characterized by basalt from ancient lava flows. At the Pont du Diable, near Thuyets (France), deep green pools have formed, perfect for swimming and snorkelling.
For more must-see spots, see Wild Swimming: 300 Hidden Dips in the Rivers, Lakes and Waterfalls of Britain by Daniel Start (May 2013); £16.99 and Wild Swimming France: Discover the Most Beautiful Rivers, Lakes and Waterfalls of France (May 2012); £14.99.
Don’t think you’ll make it across the pond anytime soon? Wild Swimming California will be published in June 2014. Visit the Facebook Page for updates.