Outdoor and open water swimming is experiencing a surge in popularity, with more and more of us searching for spots to cool off on a warm summer’s day, and the hardier among us continuing to swim all year round. Many people swear by the health benefits of open water swimming, including a boosted immune system, increased happiness and better sleep. Sound good? Why not try it yourself?
The South West of England is blessed with a long coastline, which means there’s no shortage of beaches for you to take the plunge from, but our region is also home to many lakes, rivers and open-air swimming pools that are perfect for an al fresco dip.
Pull on your swimmers and grab your towel and goggles as we dive into some of the best spots for outdoor swimming in the South West. We’ve broken down our suggestions so you can go as wild as you want to, from a gentle freshwater splash in a purpose-built pool right through to totally rugged rivers and natural pools.
The beauty of these spots is that they’re all relatively remote, so you’ll often need to take a taxi from the station or, alternatively, take your bike on the train with you and cycle to your chosen swimming spot.
Lidos and outdoor swimming pools in London and the South West
All up for an al-fresco soak but not quite ready to take to wilder waters? Then why not dip your toes into this activity by heading to an open-air swimming pool. With options that include heated pools and those with lifeguards on duty, this is a more family friendly way to swim outdoors.
Chagford Swimming Pool, near Newton Abbot
This charming location features a heated, open-air pool that’s fed by the River Teign – the largest freshwater swimming pool in the South West of England. There’s a toddler pool for young swimmers, complete with toy boats, ducks and watering cans, and plenty of space to relax and dry off in the sun. Once you’re all done splashing around, head to the Tea Shed where you can refuel after your swim. The nearest station is Exeter St. David’s, and the pool is a 30-minute taxi ride from there.
Brockwell Lido, London
Set on the edge of pleasant Brockwell Park, this open- air pool in London is a sight to behold. Surrounded on all sides by Grade II-listed art deco architecture and lush greenery beyond it, the brisk waters certainly look tempting, no matter the weather. You can visit Brockwell Lido and take a dip or get yourself booked in for an activity such as an aqua dance or Pilates class. Either way, you’ll find it easy to reach from London Waterloo – just use southbound Northern and Victoria Line services to get to Brixton. The Lido is just 16 minutes’ walk from there.
Lymington Sea Water Swimming Baths, Lymington
Right on the harbour where the Lymington River meets The Solent, this sea water baths has been entertaining guests since 1833. Back then, this spot was renowned for its health-giving waters and natural mud minerals, but it’s high-octane family fun that’s the main draw for crowds today. Guests can attempt to tackle more than 200 metres of wacky inflatable assault courses, alongside other activities like aqua jousting, stand-up paddle boards and hot tubs to hang around in. If that sounds up your street, get yourself to Lymington Town station. The baths are just 14 minutes’ walk along the waterfront from there.
Cold water swimming in London and the South West
Cold water swimming is all the rage. Whether you just need help getting the day started or you’re interested in the potential health benefits, this is an activity more and more people are taking up. All of our cold water swimming recommendations use natural water and are full of wildlife, yet have been built or adapted to ensure they’re suitable for a splash.
The Serpentine, London
You may not have thought that London would have much to offer when it comes to outdoor swimming spots, but as well as several lidos dotted around, there are also a few lakes that are a haven on sticky summer days in the city. The Serpentine, in Hyde Park, was created in 1730 and was one of the first manmade lakes in England that was designed to look natural. Nowadays, it’s a peaceful place to escape the hustle and bustle of London and cool off – you'll need to join The Serpentine Swimming Club first though! Take the train to London Waterloo then jump on the Jubilee Line to Green Park and walk from there.
Eastleigh Lakeside, Eastleigh
Located in the picturesque Lakeside Country Park in the New Forest, Eastleigh Lakeside is a large lake that’s perfect for open-air swimming. It’s shallow enough to stand the whole way around – so it’s a good spot for beginners as well as avid swimmers – and you can swim small sections of it or try the whole 350m loop. Register online before your first swim, then dive right in and admire the idyllic surroundings. Catch a train to Southampton Airport Parkway, and you’ll find the lake less than 15 minutes’ walk away.
Salmon Leaps, near Castle Drogo
Rapids are a recurring theme in Dartmoor, and Salmon Leaps is the ideal spot for wild swimming with a twist. Set below the National Trust’s Castle Drogo, Salmon Leaps is part of the River Teign and is made up of three plunge pools with connecting “slides”. The water is shallow (and approximately 1.5 metres at its deepest point), and adults and children alike will enjoy moving with the current between pools. Be cautious at the bottom pool, as the current can be strong and there’s a hidden underwater rock, so if you’re there with kids, make sure an adult is there to catch them at the bottom. Visit in autumn for the chance to see salmon leaping over the dam! The nearest station is Exeter St. David’s. From there, it’s a 30-minute taxi ride to Castle Drogo, and then a scenic woodland walk will lead you to Salmon Leaps.
Wild swimming in London and the South West
If you’re something of a wild swimming puritan, you’ll agree that manmade lakes and lidos just won’t cut the mustard. Thankfully, London and the South West have no end of places where it’s safe and suitable to go for a truly wild dip, including several rivers and natural ponds.
Pamphill, near Poole
The River Stour opens up at Pamphill, creating a wonderful, wide stretch that’s perfect for a long swim. Admire the views of the rolling hills and the beautiful bridge as you practice your breaststroke, and if you keep your eyes peeled, you might spot a kingfisher, a little egret, or a heron! Head to the Pamphill Parlour Café for a light bite or cream tea afterwards. The nearest station is Hamworthy, just 20-minutes' drive away.
Colber Bridge, Sturminster Newton
Glide into the serene and still waters beneath Colber Bridge on the River Stour and let all your troubles float away. The water here is clean and fairly deep, and you can enjoy a swim upstream before drifting back towards the historic wrought-iron bridge. If you’re lucky, you might even spot an otter en-route. Templecombe is the nearest station, then it’s a 25-minute taxi ride to Colber Bridge.
Teffont Evias, near Salisbury
This small and secluded pool on the River Nadder is a delightful spot for wild swimming. You’ll feel like one of the Famous Five as you walk down through the field and along the stream to reach this concealed pool – pack a picnic of sandwiches and lashings of ginger beer to enjoy on the riverbank afterwards in true Enid Blyton style. Teffont Evias is on a fishing beat, so avoid swimming if there are fishermen there. Take the train to Tisbury, then ride for 25 minutes on the number 25 bus from The Square to Bus Shelter and walk from there.
Now you’ve got some inspiration, all that’s left to do is grab your swimming gear and head out across London and the South West via our rail network! Take a look at our ticket types and find the best train tickets for your journey. We’ve plenty of affordable options, especially when you travel off-peak – and don’t forget to check if you could be eligible for any Railcards and discounts.