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The Best Wild Swimming Spots on England's Coast

England’s Coast is a haven for swimmers, dotted with epic beaches, secret coves and coastal spots where you can dip with dolphins, swim around islands and even go for a paddle in the bay where Queen Victoria liked to swim and sketch. These favourite coastal swimming spots, chosen by Sian Lewis, are perfect if you’re in need a dose of salty seawater.

Cold water therapy in beautiful surroundings

For secret swim spots you can’t beat the coast of Exmoor in North Devon and West Somerset, where you’ll find hidden coves home to tall cliffs, temptingly clear waters and even a shipwreck or two. 

Crescent-shaped Broad Sands Beach, reachable only down a flight of steep steps, is one of my favourite places in England – and even on earth – to go for a dip. It’s closed until June 2021, so in the meantime try the lovely sweep of sand at Hele Beach, nearby. Further along the coast is Tunnels Beach, where a huge and glittering rock pool appears at low tide. And Rapparee Cove, where the 1796 shipwreck of the London lies somewhere in the depths, is a secluded spot for a swim in the turquoise waters that make this part of the coast so special – on a sunny day it’s hard to believe you’re still in England.

Don’t forget that Britain’s smaller islands – all 4,400 of them – have their own slices of coast. The Isle of Wight may only be 13 miles wide, but it has more than its fair share of special swim spots. Head to Shanklin Chine Beach for a morning paddle, followed by lunch at the charming Fisherman’s Cottage pub, right on the beach. And if you want to swim in regal company, visit Osborne House Beach. "We have quite a charming beach to ourselves," Queen Victoria wrote in 1845 of this tiny sandy bay, which was once her private holiday spot. Osborne House is now an English Heritage site, but it’s well worth the £13 entrance fee to spend a lazy day dipping in the waters where the queen once bathed. 

The Best Wild Swimming Spots on England's Coast The Best Wild Swimming Spots on England's Coast
The Best Wild Swimming Spots on England's Coast

To swap little coves for dramatic sweeping beaches, head to the north of England.

The Lake District isn’t just mountain scenery - my favourite Cumbrian swim spot is St Bees, a mile of golden sand loved by Alfred Wainwright, and perfect for rockpool paddles. 

For a sense of space, head to Northumberland. There can’t be a more epic view for an ocean swimmer than Bamburgh beach, where you can safely swim while looking across to Bamburgh Castle, the Farne Islands and Holy Island. Wildlife lovers, meanwhile, should head to Fisherman’s Haven, where you might be joined in the water by seals and dolphins. 

The North York Moors National Park offers 26 miles of coastline, but these Jurassic Age cliffs are stunning. Not all of its beautiful beaches are suitable for swimming, but Runswick Bay is safe and lifeguarded - the water here is cold but calm and the water quality is excellent, making it perfect for keen open water swimmers. 

By Sian Lewis // The Girl Outdoors

The Best Wild Swimming Spots on England's Coast
The Best Wild Swimming Spots on England's Coast The Best Wild Swimming Spots on England's Coast
 

The RNLI’s key safety advice for taking an open water dip is:

  • Never swim alone – always go with someone else to a familiar spot
  • Always check the weather forecast, including tide information and wave height
  • If in doubt, stay out – there is always another day to go for a swim
  • Take plenty of warm clothes for before and after your dip, along with a hot drink to help you warm up again when you come out of the water
  • Wearing a wetsuit will help increase your buoyancy and reduce the chances of suffering cold water shock
  • Be seen – wear a brightly coloured swim cap and consider using a tow float
  • Acclimatise to the water temperature slowly – never jump straight in
  • Stay in your depth and know your limits
  • If you get into trouble remember FLOAT to live by leaning back in the water, extending your arms and legs, and resisting the urge to thrash around to gain control of your breathing
  • Take a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch
  • If you or someone else is in trouble call 999 or 112 and ask for the Coastguard

For more information from the RNLI, visit their website here

Images provided by Sian Lewis, England's Coast and the RNLI