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to find a direct route to the spot. There's a 7-day free trial
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1. Goring and Pangbourne, River Thames, Berkshire
Goring and Pangbourne, River Thames, Berkshire
Just 30 minutes from the capital, this is one of the easiest
and best wild swims accessible by train from London. There are miles of
swimming meadows with little beaches, downstream of Pangbourne bridge, just a
short stroll from the station. Stay close to the shore to avoid boats.
something much more secret and a lovely walk, follow the left bank path
upstream towards Goring. After 1½ miles the path passes through Hartslock Wood
descending to riverbank. It’s a lovely wild stretch of the Thames with rope
swings. From Goring catch the train home again.
2. Shalford and Guidford, River Wey, Surrey
Shalford and Guidford, River Wey, Surrey
The tiny, ruined chapel at St Catherine’s Hill is the clue
that this was once a key fording point on the ancient Pilgrims’ Way – and
probably one of the oldest bathing points in Britain. A golden hill of sand
drops right down into the clean waters of the river Wey and the colour of the
sand gives adjacent Guildford its name: ‘golden ford’.
Today this is still a
serene place for a dip and it’s lovely to feel the sand between your toes as
you ease yourself into the cool waters. For more seclusion however, explore the
National Trust meadows upstream. The river has split and braided so it’s easy
to find your own secret pool. Cycle paths connect to either Guildford or
3. Pavenham, Great Ouse, Bedfordshire
Pavenham, Great Ouse, Bedfordshire
The Great Ouse means slow and strong and this beautiful great river meanders through our home counties yet still remains little known. Between Pavenham and the church at Stevington there’s a great loop of the river with willows, deep water and rope swings, all following the John Bunyan Way. To reach this spot, pass the Cock pub (MK43 7NJ), then take a left down Mill Lane and follow the footpath down to the river. You can continue downstream all the way to Park End church.
4. Botany Bay, Broadstairs, Kent
Botany Bay, Broadstairs, Kent
The Royal Sea Bathing Infirmary – a grand Palladian palace built in 1791 in Margate – started the Georgian craze for sea bathing and reminds us that a wild swim has long been considered a remedy for a whole range of maladies. Today those in the know head a little to the east, to Botany Bay. It lies at the bottom of plush garden suburbs on the road to Broadstairs. White sand stretches out beneath low chalk cliffs, and at low tide the intrepid can paddle round, through chalk cliffs coves, to the secret bay on the right.
Here you’ll likely have the long wild beach to yourself, or you can try to climb into the cliff chambers where smugglers once hid their booty. Continue down the coast two miles to find Kingsgate Bay or Joss Bay for surfing. From Broadstairs follow the B2052 north past Kingsgate Bay then turn right after a mile and park at the bottom of Botany Road.
5. Hoemill Bridge, River Chelmer, Essex
Hoemill Bridge, River Chelmer, Essex
It’s just a stone throw from London but few know about Essex’s best swimming river, the Chelmer. Its silky waters and grassy bankside footpaths weave all the way from Chelmsford to the pretty harbour town of Maldon. There are miles of opportunities for swimming and splashing on a hot summer’s day. The highlight is Hoemill Bridge, where you can walk upstream to swim opposite the charming riverside church of Ulting. Or perhaps explore downstream and lose yourself in the open meadows.
There’s even a cycle route from Chelmsford train station, for those looking for a car-free escape from London. From the A12, Hatfield Peverel, follow the B1019, then turn right signed Nounsley/Ulting. Park at the bridge and lock (CM9 6QU).
6. Anchor Inn, River Ouse, Sussex
Anchor Inn, River Ouse, Sussex
From Barcombe, follow narrow lanes through endless fields until you can go no further. Here is The Anchor Inn, a remote waterside pub with a fleet of blue rowing boats to hire and two miles of river to explore (BN8 5EA, 01273 400414). The Ouse here is deep with pretty grassy banks. For hidden swims galore head upstream - the spire of Isfield church is the only building in sight as you paddle or swim along. Downstream are the open fields of Barcombe Mills, a perfect place for cricket, leapfrog and other riverside games. The inn serves classic pub fare and wine from the local vineyard.
Leave Barcombe Cross (signed Spithurst). After ½ mile turn right.
Discover more great hidden places around London and the home
counties (reaching as far as Norfolk and the New Forest) with The Wild Guide to London and the South East by Daniel Start.
The Wild Guide to London and the South East