Taking the plunge: the joys of wild swimming in Britain

written by
Joe Minihane

updated 11.08.2021

Travel writer and wild swimmer Joe Minihane travels from London to the Isle of Skye — featured in our reader survey of the most beautiful places in Scotland — in search of one of Britain’s most remote wild swimming spots.

A pair of wet trunks lay clinging to a rock next to the path. Up ahead, the burn skittered and burbled over rocks, its water on a final push towards the loch below.

Upstream, smooth slabs of rock and narrow shingle beaches offered perfect entry points to a series of deep pools. I dropped my bags and looked around for the owner of the abandoned bathing shorts. There was no one in sight.

I stripped down to my trunks and felt the warmth of the Scottish summer sun on my face. A light breeze kept the midges at bay as I took two strides into the water and offered myself up to the depths of this distant, remote swimming hole.

Just outside the hamlet of Torrin, at the southern end of Skye, this series of small pools provided the most idyllic of swimming spots. The journey had been epic, a four-hour drive west in a campervan from Inverness after a flight north from London that morning.

Isle of Skye

I ducked my head beneath the gin-clear waters and swam hard against the white water which raged over the high rocks, white noise filling my ears and drowning out the sound of gannets swirling above.

Swims in the wild are always magical and never regretted. But coming all this way to try somewhere new made this dip even more special.

Unlike the hugely popular Fairy Pools at Glen Brittle, on the other side of Skye, Torrin’s pools are less crowded with tourists. The narrow, single track road from Broadford makes it harder for coaches to reach this remote side of the island, meaning it’s left to those with a keen eye for cold water to explore without distraction.

They’re a blessing for wild swimmers, especially as the pools are just a three-minute walk from the road and offer the opportunity for a longer soak in Loch Slapin which sits on the other side of the track leading to the village of Elgol.

I swam hard against the current, the water easing out the kinks in my back after the long journey, before clambering out and climbing further upstream. I slipped into the next pool, where an eddy swirled and flipped me onto my back, twirling on the surface, the cold working its magic, the endorphins beginning to course through my veins. The elation that follows a perfect wild swim was close at hand.

Back on the bank, I lay down in the afternoon heat to dry off. Clouds were gathering to the west and the sun was beginning to dip behind the soaring Cuillin mountains. Swims in the wild are always magical and never regretted. But coming all this way to try somewhere new, distant and hard to reach made this dip even more special.

I towelled off, stuffed my wet things in my bag and headed back to the van for a brew. The abandoned trunks were still drying on their rock, no owner around to claim them. It was good to know I had an unseen swimming companion and that the remote location meant their kit would be here whenever they returned. I sipped on my tea and breathed in the fresh Highland air, refreshed, invigorated, happy.

5 of Britain's best remote wild swims

Bure Valley, Norfolk, UK

Bure Valley, Norfolk © Richard Bowden/Shutterstock

Inspired? From a dip high in the Lake District's northern fells to a soak in one of Wales' gorgeous lakes, here are five other British wild swims you should try:

1. John's Water, River Bure, Norfolk

West of the village of Aylsham in North Norfolk, this mill pond can be reached by car, or bike, but is never overrun with swimmers thanks to its rural location. A gently shelving bank slips into a wide pool, water rushing over a mill race to create the perfect spot for a languid summer dip.

River Bure, Norfolk, UK

River Bure, Norfolk © Chris Glasel/Shutterstock

2. Llyn Cwm Bychan, Wales

East of the central Welsh coast village of Llanbedr, down a long track which follows the crashing waters of Afon Artro, sits Llyn Cwm Bychan. Beneath the glowering Rhinogydd mountains, this vast lake is the ideal location for a long soak away from prying eyes.

3. Bowscale Tarn, Lake District

High in the Lake District's northern fells, Bowscale Tarn's deep waters can only be reached on a long hike. Those who make the effort are rewarded with the chance of a dip in one of England's purest bathing spots. The changing weather and 17m depth mean caution is advised whatever the time of year.

Bowscale Tarn, Lake District, UK

Bowscale Tarn, Lake District © Duncan Andison/Shutterstock

4. Dulsie Bridge, Scottish Highlands

The rapid, icy River Findhorn flows beneath this spectacular Victorian-era bridge, making for an exhilarating swim in this remote Scottish Highland location. Giant slabs of rock drop into pitch-black depths, with sandy downstream beaches making it easy to get in and out of the water.

5. Bryher, Isles of Scilly

At just half a mile wide and two and a half miles long, Bryher is a wild swimmer's paradise, its white sandy coves all easily swimmable in a day. Stinking Porth, in the west, is an Arcadian vision, its cool waters home to swaying kelp forests and starfish. It's unquestionably worth the two boat journeys from the Cornish mainland to the Isles of Scilly.

Bryher, Isles of Scilly, UK

Bryher, Isles of Scilly © Stephen Rees/Shutterstock

Image credits top to bottom (left-right): Elgol, Isle of Skye © Sara Winter/Shutterstock; Loch Saplin, Torrin, Isle of Skye © Helen Hotson/Shutterstock; tea after a swim © Youproduction/Shutterstock; Bure Valley, Norfolk © Richard Bowden/Shutterstock; River Bure, Norfolk © Chris Glasel/Shutterstock; Bowscale Tarn, Lake District © Duncan Andison/Shutterstock; Bryher, Isles of Scilly © Stephen Rees/Shutterstock

Joe Minihane

written by
Joe Minihane

updated 11.08.2021

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