Escape from the hustle and bustle of the capital with a peaceful dip at one of the best spots for wild swimming near London. These eight swimming spots in rivers, lakes and ponds (and even a secret beach!), chosen by Chelsea Davies, are the perfect places to reconnect with the wild, and are all reached in an hour or so from London by car or public transport.
EIGHT OF THE BEST PLACES TO GO WILD SWIMMING NEAR LONDON
HAMPSTEAD PONDS, North London
Shake off the London smog with a dip in the cool waters of Hampstead Heath’s much-loved ponds. These idyllic beauty spots are reachable in less than an hour by public transport from the centre of the city centre and are a sight to behold in summer, when blooming woodlands are reflected on the tranquil water and the banks are busy with happy Londoners escaping to a little slice of nature. You can choose from three ponds – the men’s pond, ladies pond and mixed pond – all overseen by lifeguards, and with hot showers and changing rooms to boot. The women’s pond is especially idyllic, a lilypad-fringed oasis hidden from view by tall trees. Opening times for the ponds vary with the season, so it’s best to check the website. There’s also a small entry fee of £2.
How to get there: By tube, take the northern line to Hampstead. The ponds are a fifteen minute walk away. Or take the overground to Hampstead Heath – the ponds are a five-minute stroll from there.
RIVER COLNE AT RICKMANSWORTH, Hertfordshire
Combine wild swimming with the perfect country walk with this six-mile circular route, starting and ending in Rickmansworth and easily reached from Rickmansworth Underground Station. From Bury Lake, follow the footpath until you find the River Colne (the walk has step-by-step instructons on where to enter the water). The river is fairly shallow, and lined with willow trees that dip their branches into the water. The shady banks here are ideal for a riverside picnic after your swim – sounds like a pretty perfect day away from the city.
How to get there: An easy spot for wild swimming near London, Rickmansworth is in zone seven of the metropolitan line, with ideal swimming spots around two miles into the walk. Driving? There’s free parking at Rickmansworth Aquadrome, Frogmoor Lane, WD3 1NB.
Take your pick from from several lovely, quiet wild swim spots on this eight-mile river walk from Chilworth to Guildford. The River Wey is edged with sandy beaches, perfect for paddling, and the slow current makes this ideal for families. This may feel like an amazingly rural ramble and river swim, but it’s just an hour’s train ride away from city streets, and you’ll also pass farmland, churches and chocolate-box villages on your walk. Follow the walking instructions to find where to enter the water.
How to get there: From Waterloo Station, take a train to Chilworth Station and follow signs for the Wey Navigation. From Guildford, the endpoint of the walk, you’ll have regular direct trains back to London.
The River Thames has a bit of a bad reputation for cleanliness, but it’s actually now believed to be one of the cleanest urban rivers in the world. Following the Thames Path from Pangbourne to Goring, you can wild swim in a shallow stretch of London’s storied river around three miles into the walk, near to Hook End Lake. The river is fairly wide here, with gorgeous countryside views of rolling hills and wavering long grass. You won’t believe the city is just a forty-minute train journey away from this glorious stretch of river.
How to get there: Arriving at Pangbourne Station, cross the river and turn left to follow the meandering footpath in the direction of Goring. A map of the route can be found here, with the best swim-friendly spot found at the curve closest to Hook End Lane.
FRENSHAM GREAT POND, Surrey
Who knew there was such a perfect beach so close to the city? Okay, so this isn’t exactly the sea, but the sandy shores of Frensham Great Pond, just an hour and a half drive from London, make the perfect day out by the water. The pond’s calm waters are perfect for children, who can splash in the shallows, and for novices just beginning to dip their toes into wild swimming. This is amuch-loved spot, so expect crowds during hot weather – if you’re keen on a more private wild experience, stay for a sunset swim, when you might just have it to yourself.
How to get there: There’s on-site parking that is free on weekdays, and free year-round for blue badge holders and members of the National Trust. Find the car park, toilet and snack bar at Frensham Great Pond, Bacon Lane, Churt, GU10 2QB.
HACKNEY MARSHES BEACH, East London
A favourite wild swimming spot with London’s younger, arty crowd, Hackney Marshes Beach may be in the city but it feels very far removed from the skyscrapers you can see peeking through the bushes. There are low-hanging trees with wide trunks to dry off on and shady banks with enough room for picnic blankets to spread. There’s even a tire swing if you’re looking to make a splash, although the water is quite shallow. Nab the best spot by heading for the very end of the park and looking for the well-worn bank on your right.
How to get there: Biking? Head through Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park towards Clapton. The closest tube stations within easy walking distance are Leyton or Hackney Wick. You can also take the overground, getting off at Stratford International.
Henley-on-Thames doesn’t host the Henley Swim Festival for nothing – it’s easy to find beautiful places for a wild dip along the River Thames. There are sandy stretches with easy access to the water at Cock Marsh (no sniggering, please), and the Flower Pot Pub, pictured above, is another popular wild swim spot. Head for the river from Aston Lane – you’ll be rewarded with wavering wildflowers, a pontoon and an island to explore.
How to get there: It’s easiet to reach these wild swim spot by car from London. From the city, it’s around an hour’s drive to Henley. The Flower Pot Pub and Aston Lane are found at RG9 3DG.
BECKENHAM PLACE PARK, South London
Fancy taking a wild dip on the grounds of a former manor house? Hop on a train to Beckenham Place Park. The park’s wide, glassy lake has been here since the eighteenth century – there’s something rather grand about swimming laps in this 285-metre stretch of water. There is an entry fee of £3 to swim here, with lifeguards and changing rooms facilities available. Come early in the morning if you fancy joining the locals swimming lengths. The park also has plenty of paths to wander as you’re drying off.
How to get there: Beckenham Hill and Beckenham Junction Stations are both easily reached a short walking distance from the lake, with regular trains from Blackfriars, London Bridge and Victoria. There’s also parking at Beckenham Place Park, Beckenham, BR3 1SY.
Chelsea Davies is a writer, blogger and postcard enthusiast. When she’s not climbing mountains, you can find her planning her next budget-conscious escape with her travel buddy of choice, her twin