Five of the north west's most stunning and picturesque wild swimming spots

Some hardy types swim all year round but for many, May is the month to dig out the changing robe and head to a picturesque spot to enjoy all the benefits of fresh air and cold water.

Lancashire is blessed with an abundance of spots both in our own county and within an hour or so drive.

From an inland beach, 350m above sea level, to a dipping pond where novelist J R R Tolkien enjoyed swimming lessons as a boy, we take a look at some of the most stunning wild swimming spots in the region. But remember to be safe.

If you are thinking of wild swimming, be sure to check weather conditions and local warnings. If you are unsure consider taking outdoor swimming lessons at a dedicated open water swim centre such as Capenwray Dive Centre or Wyresdale Park.


Gaddings Dam

It takes a 20-minute trek up a steep hill to reach the beach, but the effort is definitely worth it.

Located just a short hop over the East Lancashire border, Gaddings Dam visitors can enjoy breathtaking views from the moorland natural beach above Todmorden. The beach on the moors is known as the highest inland beach in Britain and has become a popular swim spot for locals.

There are no changing or cafe facilities, so be sure to pack a flask and large towel or changing robe.

Parking is limited on the roads and visitors are asked to be considerate. On a sunny weekend it is advisable to park in Todmorden and get the the Walsden Circular bus (either the T6 or the T8) to the Shepherd's Rest from Todmorden Bus Station.

Marles Wood

Marles Wood
Families enjoying the sandy beach at Gaddings Dam

Marles Wood is located east of Ribchester in the Ribble Valley. It is a popular spot for families and local swim groups who meet regularly to enjoy a dip together.

A picturesque walk from the car park to the beach takes you through bluebell woods and a picnic site with benches.

Swimmers are advised to swim within their own capabilities and be aware of currents and weather conditions before embarking on a swim.

How to find it

Park in the carpark on Salesbury Hall Road and follow the footpath along the riverside and through the wood. The swimming spot is through the kissing gate.

Postcode: PR3 3XU

Aira Beck

Above the well-known Aira Force is a series of pools and deep pots. Specifically, the Aira Beck waterfall found beside a wooden bridge creates an unforgettable, and cold, experience for swimmers. Wild swimmers have even been seen to jump nude into the pool on hot days.

Parking is found at Aira Force, High Cascades and Park Brow.

How to find it:

Take the Dockray road, off the A592, Ullswater. Park and find the series of falls and plunge pools. Continue downstream to the wooden bridge, (CA11 0JS)

Monk Coniston

Coniston Old Man the fell you'll see from the pub
Marles Wood -Credit:LancsLive

Located on the north shore of Coniston, this spot offers spectacular views across the length of Coniston.

Swimmers here can enjoy peaceful and shallow waters away from the main boating areas of the lake. Monk Coniston is one of three spots on Coniston which have been designated as bathing water sites ahead of Summer 2024, meaning the water quality wioll be tested regularly by Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).

The shoreline is a narrow strip of pebbly beach and there is a small wooden pier. For those who enjoy swimming later in the day, Monk Coniston offers some of the most beautiful sunsets in the area.

How to get there

Park in Monk Coniston car park (a parking fee applies) - Postcode LA21 8AA

Stonyhurst Dip

Nestled on the banks of the River Hodder is Sonyhurst Dip.

In years gone by, this swim location was used by pupils at Sonyhurst College for their swimming lessons. The tranquil spot on the edge of the Forest of Bowland is a peaceful haven, with the river flowing upstream towards the wier.

Discover the long-forgotten bathing sheds, or combine a dip with a walk around the Tolkein Trail to discover the stuinning scenery which inspired the author's Lord of the Rings and Hobbit books, while he was a student at the college. Swimmers are advised to swim upstream of the wier.

How to find it

Just off Knowles Brow, Clitheroe, BB7 3LP

How to make sure you’re swimming safely

The RNLI’s top tips are:

  • Be prepared – Check the weather conditions and tides – because this may affect your plans.

  • Ensure you go to a familiar place and seek advice from a health care professional especially if you have underlying health conditions, particularly cardiac, and are going to experience cold water immersion for the first time.

  • Never go alone – Always go with a buddy. Open Water swimming and cold water dipping has a fantastic community feel about it and it is much more fun going with someone else so you can look out for each other. It is also important to tell someone on shore when you expect to be back so they can call for help if you are overdue.

  • Acclimatise slowly to avoid cold water shock – It is important to enter the water slowly and allow time for your body to get used to the cold. Don’t jump or dive straight in, as this could cause cold water shock. Ways to do this are to splash your face, back of your neck and try not to hold your breath.

  • Always be seen – Wear a bright coloured swim hat and consider using a bright coloured tow float.

  • Stay within your depth – The sea can be unpredictable and staying withing your depth will reduce the chance of getting into trouble.

  • Always swim parallel to the shore as the wind and currents can push you off course, and it is important to keep an eye on your exit point. Remember water is always moving.

  • Float to live - If you get into the water too quickly, you may experience cold water shock. If this happens, fight your instinct to thrash around. Instead, relax and float on your back until you can control your breathing and the shock passes.

  • Call 999 or 112 and ask for the coastguard if you get into difficulty or see someone else in trouble.

And of course make sure you adhere to any warning signs that may be displayed.

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