Itchy feet during lock down has seen the UK desperate to get outside whenever they can. Whilst many have laced up their trainers and pounded the pavements, others have opted to plunge into rivers, seas, lakes and lagoons and enjoy the chill of a wild swim. I am one of those people. I am also someone who has had a pretty tricky relationship with exercise over the years and it has been the best feeling to find something that calms me, connects me to nature and encourages me to be gentle with my body.
“When you swim, you feel your body for what it mostly is – water – and it begins to move with the water around it. No wonder we feel such sympathy for beached whales; we are beached ourselves at birth. To swim is to experience how it was before we were born.” – Roger Deaken
I thought it would be useful to collate the places I have been swimming in and around Bristol other the last few months. I don’t have any fancy drying kit, or a wetsuit or a swimming cap and that’s the best thing about wild swimming, it’s free, it’s easy to do and it’s really bloody lovely. As a relatively baby wild swimmer I quickly realized how helpful it is to have tips from people who have tread the waters before you and I hope this will encourage you to take the plunge.
Saltford: Mead Ln, Saltford, Bristol BS31 3ER
Saltford is the first place that I swam this year and it is my favourite. It can be reached off the Bristol to Bath cycle path (about 10 miles from the start of the path in Bristol) or by car – although be warned that the road directly next to the river where we used to park has now been filled with double yellow lines so parking is very limited. There are many easy access points into the water from both sides of the river. Being 5ft11 I sometimes struggle to find places that are deep enough for me to properly swim but I can’t touch the bottom at Saltford and there is a large area to do some energetic swimming. That being said, this probably isn’t the best place for children as it gets deep fast. This is definitely a place to bring a picnic as there aren’t many shops close by, however, there are 2 pubs along the main swimming stretch.
Dundas aqueduct: Brassknocker Basin, Monkton Combe BA2 7JD
Swimming at Dundas is pretty magical. We swam here on a really hot day and there were many families lining the ampitheatre style seating down to the water. Getting in and out of the water is easy and there are shallower and deeper parts meaning that it is suitable for all ages. There is limited (paid for) parking so I’d advise going early if visiting in the Summer. Getting to swim underneath an aqueduct is fantastic although watch out for the teens who love diving off the bank just beyond the bridge. Despite being busy you can soon find spaces of quiet if you swim away from the main hubbub and you’ll be greeted by lots of electric blue dragonflies flying the lily pads. Make sure you bring some cash as on sunny days there a canal boat selling delicious Cornish ice-cream.
Clevedon Marine lake: 170 Church road, Clevedon BS21 7TU
I’m from Cornwall and every now and again I need to be by the sea. Growing up, we swam in the sea all year round. October was always my favourite because on clambering back to the sand my Mum would have salty chips and hot chocolate to return my Dad and I to a functioning temperature. Sadly, Bristol is lacking in beaches but it almost makes up for it by being in driving distance of Clevedon which boasts it’s own marine lake. The marine lake was first opened in 1929 and has been kept full by the high tides every since. If you are driving there is a car park right next to the lake or on street options. Clevedon is also easily reachable by bus form the centre of Bristol. There are plenty of places to sit around the lake and there is a smaller shallow pool for children aswell as a very large deep pool for more serious swimmers. You will often seen triathletes training in Clevedon but it is suitable for all. It is fantastic on a hot day to perch on the edge of the lake overlooking the sea and the pier (you can almost kid yourself that your abroad!). When you have finished swimming there are lots of nice local walks, pubs and fish and chip shops – which as family tradition stands, is a must after a cold swim.
Important to note: Make sure to check that the marine lake is open before visiting as it is closed during hide tide when the pool is being refilled or if the water quality is poor.
Warleigh weir: Ferry Ln, Claverton, Bath BA2 7BH
We swam at Warleigh weir after a hot day of gardening. I was desperate for a swim and despite being told Warleigh weir would be absolutely packed we still went. The rumours were true, on a hot day Warleigh has people packed in like sardines and we even had to queue to get into the water. Be warned, when the sun is shining Warleigh feels more like a festival booze up than a tranquil place to dip on a hot day. That being said, the water is fantastic. You can sit on the weir and hang your feet into the water or take the plunge and enjoy a large open stretch for swimming. There is a shallower area for children too, lots of rope swings and despite the boozers, there is a family friendly atmosphere.
I have swam at Bitton a few times and it is easily accessible via the Bristol to Bath cycle path. Unfortunately there is no parking so a bike is needed for this trip. Just before you come across the railway bridge in Bitton that goes over the river, there is a turn right which takes you down a hill and to the riverside. Access to the water is from a wooden pontoon. When passing recently I noticed a lot of canal boats parked there so it might not be so easy and could cause some annoyance. Getting in is simple, however getting out requires lots of upper body strength. I’m just warning you because I ended up being hauled out by 3 friendly swimmers and it was not chic. The water is deep and there is a large space to swim in. I have heard there are other access points which don’t require annoying boaters or the beached seal routine when you have finished your swim but I am yet to find them.
Another place which deserves an honourable mention is the Portishead open air pool. Less ‘wild’ and more ‘lovely and heated’ but if you enjoy a swim outdoors and aren’t ready to take the plunge with a river then this is a really nice place to come for a dip. You must book before visiting as the swimming sessions are really popular.
I hope this has been helpful and will save me from the many DMs that I receive after uploading photos of wild swims (it does make me feel extremely popular though which is nice). We have so many fantastic swimming spots nearby that can transport you to somewhere which feels very far away from the city. With everything that has been going on in the world, wild swimming has been such a tonic. I hope you find that too. If you try any of the places I have suggested, I would love to hear about it either in the comments or on Instagram.