The best wild swimming spots near London – and there's no need to book
There's nothing quite like taking a refreshing dip in cool, calm waters on a hot sunny day.
But coronavirus restrictions mean swimming pool spots now have to be pre-booked, with many selling out days in advance.
Luckily, there are plenty of wild swimming spots near London that don't need to be booked. Even better, they're completely free.
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River Wey, Surrey
The slow-moving waters and shallow, sandy banks of the Wey make this pretty river ideal for families keen to escape the heat with a day of paddling. From London, an hour’s train ride to Chilworth, or 40 minutes to Guildford, carries you out into proper countryside – from either station you can follow the river’s footpath to find shady spots and tiny beaches.
Getting there: Take the train to Chilworth Station and follow signs for the Wey Navigation to swim near the Manor Inn, or get off at Guildford and follow the river’s footpath, swimming just outside the edge of town.
You may not want to swim in the River Thames in the heart of the Big Smoke, but head just 40 minutes out into the countryside and London’s storied river is a very different – and far cleaner – place. The Thames Path between Pangbourne and Goring is lined with lovely meadow-backed spots for a laid-back wild swim – follow the path by foot or by bike to seek them out. The wide area of the river near Hook End Lane, 2km from Goring and 5km from Pangbourne, is a great place to swim.
Getting there: Take the train to Pangbourne or to Goring & Streatley stations and follow the Thames Path between them.
Frensham Great Pond, Surrey
Dreaming of hitting the beach? It may lack salt water, but Frensham Great Pond in Surrey has everything else you could want – golden sands to relax on and calm waters for a cooling dip, with shallows perfect for younger swimmers to splash about in. The pond, which is an hour and a half from London, can be popular on the dog days of summer, but if you’re dreaming of a day at the "seaside’"that’s still close to home, you can’t beat it.
Getting there: Frensham Great Pond is an hour and half drive from London, and parking is available on-site.
River Colne, Hertfordshire
There’s a real pleasure in reaching a beautiful slice of nature on the tube. Rickmansworth may still be within the confines of Zone 7, but once you’ve stepped off the tube, which takes an hour from London Victoria, you’ll quickly reach the willow-lined banks of the River Colne. Simply follow the footpath along the water to find deeper spots to swim in.
Getting there: Take the tube to Rickmansworth Underground Station, an hour from London Victoria.
The home of the Henley Swim Festival also boasts beautiful sandy stretches of the Thames where you can slip into the river for a less competitive swim. Aston Lane is a popular local spot – there’s a pontoon you can dive off, an island to explore and the Flower Pot Pub next door is perfect for a lazy day of pub lunching and paddling.
Getting There: Henley is an hour’s drive from London, and parking is available by the river.
Port Meadow, Oxford
This is another spot you won’t believe is the same Thames that winds through London. Port Meadow’s clear green waters are a wonderfully tempting spot for a swim, with a vast neighbouring field that’s perfect for a lazy day of picnicking, and where you’re likely to find plenty of space even in a heatwave. The meadow is a 20-minute walk from Oxford Station.
Getting there: Oxford is an hour and 20 minute train journey from London. Access the meadow via Walton Well Road or Aristotle Lane.
Grantchester Meadows, Cambridgeshire
Join the locals for a swim in the reed-edged waters of the River Cam. The meadows can be busy on baking hot weekend days – although with 2km of grassy bank to spread out over there’s usually space for everyone to splash about – so if you like a solitary swim, try coming early in the morning or at sunset. Grantchester is an hour and half's drive from London – if you need refreshing before you drive home again, stop for a cuppa at the Orchard Tea Garden nearby.
Getting there: Park in Grantchester – it’s a short walk to reach the River Cam. Or take the train to Cambridge and walk an hour to reach the meadows.
Peaceful Shillingford makes the perfect tonic for a hot day in the capital. Walk along the river-hugging path to find stretches of the tree-lined Thames with wider sections of bank ideal for sunbathing on and jumping in from – you can also get into the river upstream and float down to Shillingford Bridge. Both the current and the pace of life are delightfully slow here.
Getting there: Shillingford is an hour and 20 minute drive from London. Park near the Shillingford Hotel and walk upstream for 15 minutes to find swim spots.
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