The UK’s best walks with a wild swim at the end

The Falls of Swindale, Cumbria

Distance: 7.2 miles
Start/end point: Filter House, Hartsop CA10 2QT (NY 521144)
Swim at: Forces Falls

Swindale is handsome and enjoys a fraction of the footfall of the more popular Lakeland valleys. Park by the roadside south-west of the Filter House. Walk along Swindale Lane to the farm at Swindale Head. Follow the bridleway through the meadows and cross the footbridge at Dodd Bottom. Leave the path and follow the beck. The best of the Forces Falls, with deep and inviting pools, are found just before the beck levels out. 

From Forces Falls, follow the beck south until the terrain levels out. Carry on south along the bridleway to Swine Gill and the fence that cuts across the path. Follow the fence west and climb to the broad spur of Nabs Moor. Head north down the spur following any path towards Selside End. Turn right at Old Corpse Road, following the track as it heads straight into Swindale Head and go back along Swindale Lane.

The emerald pool, Sprinkling Tarn and Styhead Tarn, Cumbria

Distance: 7.1 miles
Start/end point: Wasdale Head car park, Seascale CA20 1EX (NY 186084)
Swim at: the Emerald Pool, Sprinkling Tarn, Styhead Tarn

Spouthead Gill is home to the Emerald Pool, a rare gem. Together with Sprinkling and Styhead Tarn it provides a perfect day out. Head up the track and at Burnthwaite Farm, go through the gate, following the track over a bridge. When the path forks, go to the right upstream. There is a prominent holly bush by the path; turn right towards the beck here to discover the pool.

From here, drop back downstream until the footpath can be reached by fording the stream. Follow this path as it steepens and joins Styhead Pass at the stretcher box. Take the gravel path to reach Sprinkling Tarn. The best basking rocks lie above the north-west shoreline. Retrace your steps to the stretcher box, then follow the main path to Styhead Tarn, which lies in sight. From here, return to the stretcher box and descend all the way to the valley bottom. The route rejoins the ascent where the path nears Lingmell Beck. The same route is followed to return to the car park.


Manningtree circular, Essex/Suffolk border

Distance: 7.25 miles
Start/end point: Manningtree station CO11 2HH (TM 0938 3221)
Swim in: River Stour

A delightful way to experience Constable country. The painter grew up in the nearby village of East Bergholt, so you can walk immersed in landscapes that still look like Constable’s. Turn right out of the station and find a footpath to Flatford and Dedham. At the tarmac track, turn right and take a footpath left leading uphill. At the top of the hill the path bears right and continues to St Mary’s church. From here all the way to Dedham the route follows the Essex Way (EW). When you arrive in Dedham, the EW emerges on to a road just east of Dedham church.

Take the road opposite the church and follow it to cross the River Stour. For a short diversion to a good swimming place and picnic spot, take the path to the left along the river to arrive opposite Dedham Mill. Afterwards, retrace your steps to the road and take the path opposite, which follows the Stour downstream towards Flatford Mill. From here to Manningtree station, the route follows the St Edmund Way.


Port Meadow, Oxford

Distance: 6 miles
Start/end point: Oxford station, OX1 1HS (SP 5048 0638)
Swim in: River Thames

A gentle stroll around the meadows that inspired Alice in Wonderland and back along the Thames Path to Oxford. Turn left from the station and follow signs to the Oxford Canal. When you reach it, turn left along the canal path. At Bridge 240 (all the canal bridges are numbered) come up to road level, and turn left past the recreation ground. Head east along Navigation Lane and continue along a dirt path over a railway bridge. Emerge on to a concrete path running north-south along Port Meadow. Turn right through the gate into Burgess Field Nature Park following the gritted track. 

When it splits, take the left fork over a wooden bridge. Cross the open ground over the low bridge, heading towards the houses at the right end of the row. Turn left across the common, skirting the houses. Aim for a small wooden gate between a car park and a thatched cottage, which lets you out on to the road. A second bridge takes you to a gate on the left side of the road, which leads to the Thames Path. The next mile of riverside offers the best swimming spots. Follow until an arched metal bridge and turn left along the stream then cross a second metal bridge to the left to return to the main stretch of Port Meadow. Follow the canal path back to the station.


Finsbury Park to Hampstead Ponds

Distance: 4 miles
Start point: Finsbury Park underground station, N4 2DH
End point: Hampstead Heath overground station, NW3 2QD
Swim at: Hampstead Heath Bathing Ponds

This is an easy and peaceful walk, incorporating woods, historic Highgate and the most magical outdoor swimming in the city. Head into Finsbury Park and follow the path along the western edge until you see the sign to Highgate. Cross the railway bridge and take the path to the right. You are now in Parkland Walk, which brings you out just below Highgate Tube station. As you emerge from the path, turn right to reach Archway Road, then right again, crossing at the traffic lights. Walk up Jacksons Lane, and at the T-junction turn left into Southwood Lane and follow it to Highgate High Street. Turn first right into Pond Square, keep going, passing the Flask pub on Highgate West Hill until you reach Merton Lane. Follow this until you find yourself in front of the Model Boating Pond, turn right for the ladies’ pond and left for the men’s. To reach the mixed pond, cross the causeway between the Model Boating Pond and the men’s pond and follow the path straight up the hill and follow the signs. Descend past the lower ponds of the Hampstead chain on a path that ends at South End Green where you’ll find Hampstead Heath rail station.

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