Katherine Moore

Clear rivers, fresh lakes and waterfalls — British wild swim spots by bike

erwlas (CC BY 2.0)

Clear rivers, fresh lakes and waterfalls — British wild swim spots by bike

Mountain Biking Collection by Katherine Moore

Nothing quite compares to stripping down to your bib shorts (or even less for some) on a hot, sunny ride and first dipping in your toes, before wading into the fresh and clear water of a gorgeous wild swimming spot. Whether you’re keen to front crawl for lengths of mile-long lochs or just want a bit of a splash about, the refreshing cold water of a wild swim, truly immersed in nature, is one of the best parts of summer riding.

Here I’ve collated just a few spots from across the UK, from the mineral-rich bright green waters of Meldon Pool on Dartmoor to Loch Morlich in the Cairngorms, and many in between! Would you opt for high mountain reservoirs with far-reaching coastal views like Llyn Anafon in North Wales or the secluded gorges and pools of Wolf’s Leap on the Abergwesyn Common? The expansive shores of Derwentwater in the Lake District or the tiny corner of paradise on the River Thames at the National Trust’s historic Cheese Wharf?

You’ll notice that as a general rule these tend to be in the west; thanks to the greater rainfall on this side of the country and therefore more extensive river and reservoir networks. Thankfully that also means bigger hills and even mountains, an off-road rider’s favourite place for rocky singletrack trails, sublime dirt roads and big, open views.

As well as these glorious wild swimming spots, you’ll find a range of routes here to help you find them, each taking in brilliant off-road riding. You’ll need a mountain bike for most of these routes, as they include some technical riding where you’ll benefit from wider tyres and even some suspension. Some of them also go to really quite remote areas, so make sure you have all the tools, spares and snacks you need before you set off.

All of these wild swimming spots are best enjoyed in the hotter, drier and sunnier months of the summer, where the river levels will be lower and more safe, as well as making the experience more enjoyable than ice-cold water!

Wild swimming is something that you should practice with caution and respect; I’d really recommend reading the Outdoor Swimmer’s Code from the Outdoor Swimming Society here before you go. It essentially covers points on how to keep yourself and others around you safe, consideration for others including landowners and other waterway users and the environment, including the leave no trace principles. Read more at
outdoorswimmingsociety.com/outdoor-swimmers-code

On The Map

Tours & Highlights

    Difficult
    04:38
    32.2 mi
    6.9 mph
    3,600 ft
    3,600 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    This area of Wales just keeps coming up again and again; incredible, vast and almost empty slick roads, leg-busting climbs, neverending gravel roads and spectacular hilltop vistas; it’s no great surprise that you’ll find wonderful wild swimming in Powys, Mid Wales too.
    Pick up this route and I’ll show you some of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful dusty gravel roads across the Cambrian Mountains, from the waterside road around the stunning Llyn Brianne Reservoir to forest trails, an off-road alternative to the infamous Devil’s Staircase climb and the most sublime tarmac you’ll ever find; Abergwesyn Common. And halfway down that, a swim-spot like no other.
    Wolf’s Leap is a local favourite, and much loved by some from further afield too. You’ll find it by following a small path cut into the rock, revealing a deep pool along the River Irfon. This river that runs down over the Abergwesyn Common is typically more broad and shallow, but at this point the river cuts through a narrow gorge in the rock to make a perfect place for a refreshing wild swim.The loop starts and ends at Llanwrtyd Wells, a town made famous by hosting the World Alternative Games and Man vs Horse. You’ll find a train station there, so it’s really easy to access by rail. The swim spot is near the end of the ride and not at all far from the finish, so you shouldn’t get too cold after your dip! You can enjoy this route on a gravel, cyclo-cross or mountain bike, although I would recommend tyres of at least 40 mm width. After taking the many gravel switchbacks up the hillside opposite the Sugar Loaf Railway, you’ll reach the shores of Llyn Brianne, crossing over the dam to the gravel road. This follows the western shores of the beautiful reservoir before a gravel descent to the most remote chapel in Wales, Capel Soar Y Mynydd. You’ll then follow the River Towy to the north to reach the Devil’s Staircase, where you can opt for either the road or off-road version of the descent, after the steep ramp of the tarmac climb from the other side. It’s here that you’ll find Wolf’s Leap for that dip! From Wolf’s Leap back to Llanwrtyd Wells, you’ll take the off-road forest tracks over Cefn Waun-lwyd, or alternatively you can take the road through the Irfon Valley if you’d rather cut out the last climb!

    Difficult
    03:46
    23.7 mi
    6.3 mph
    3,475 ft
    3,500 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    Sometimes the best rewards are the hardest to reach. Llyn Anafon is a classic example, a high and shallow lake in the Carneddau mountain range of Snowdonia National Park. It’s quite some climb to get up there on the off-road access road, but with incredible views out to the Irish Sea and usually the place to yourself, it’ll be well worth it. Choose a very hot day and you’ll melt on your way up, or choose a cooler day and you’ll likely chill on the long descent after your swim. Perhaps the latter would be better, with some spare layers packed? You can ride this route on either a cyclo-cross, gravel or mountain bike, as long as you have some chunky tyres of 40 mm width or more. An A to B ride, this route links the town of Conwy to the smaller Llanfairfechan on the North Wales coastline. Both starting and finishing at train stations, you can link the two by rail, or if you still have energy at the end, ride back to your starting point in Conwy, or even further west to Bangor. From the River Conwy, you’ll follow parallel to the North Wales coastline, up into the hills above Penmaenmawr. This is some of the very best single and doubletrack in the area, often overlooked by the more popular sites within Snowdonia. Just stop to admire the views here; they’re quite incredible with the mountain peaks to the south and sea to the north. From the edges of Llanfairfechan, you’ll head along the cycle track to Abergwyngregyn, climbing up the valley side to reach the wide, gravel doubletrack of the access road to get up to Llyn Anafon. Pace yourself, this is a beastly climb! At the top, sweaty and hot, you’ll be desperate to get into that refreshing cold water. After descending down the access road, you can take a slightly different way to end your ride at the train station in Llanfairfechan, straight down to the coast on a mix of off-road trails to visit the beautiful Morfa Madryn Nature Reserve before you make your way home.

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  • Difficult
    05:24
    55.5 mi
    10.3 mph
    775 ft
    775 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    Let’s face it, Oxfordshire probably isn’t your number one thought when it comes to wild swimming spots, but you don’t need to get all that remote to enjoy a dip. Not all that far from the golden stone city of Oxford, this bend on the River Thames, owned by the National Trust Buscot Estate, is a simply delightful place to take a swim in the Great British countryside. One that can be enjoyed by riders of all abilities, this route is certainly rideable on gravel, cyclo-cross and mountain bikes, especially on the dry trails of summer, which is when it’ll be most pleasant to swim too. Besides a plunge in the river, you’ll find quiet woodland dirt singletrack, wide gravel farmland byways and quiet lanes en route. Heading west out of Oxford centre from the train station, you’ll ride to Cumnor village via a great strip of byway through the centre of green fields, before a series of lanes leading you to Appleton, and on to the bridleway through Lower Common Forest. Follow parallel to the River Thames heading upstream as you continue on a mix of lanes, byways and singletrack bridleways to the west, crossing the water to finally reach the Cheese Wharf to the south of Lechlade. Named as this used to be the spot where cheeses were loaded onto boats to head to London, you’ll even find stone steps carved into the bankside to help you get in here! It’s right next to the road, but still a totally idyllic spot. The return journey is to the north, with more off-road segments linked by small lanes and minor roads, through Bampton, Ducklington and Eynsham. Finish the loop with a ride through the gorgeous Port Meadows to the north of the city, before ending your grand day out with a celebratory drink taking in some of the local sights, perhaps?

    Intermediate
    03:38
    22.8 mi
    6.3 mph
    2,500 ft
    2,500 ft
    Intermediate mountain bike ride. Good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    Rough, remote and at times utterly inhospitable, Dartmoor is one of the few remaining rugged and wild places in the South West. Great moorland swathes of heather and pony-mown grassland host unique peak-top granite tors, while wooded valleys shelter deep green forests behind ancient dry stone walls. On a bad day, it’s remarkable that anything survives up here at all, but visit on a good day and you’ll see it’s a total haven for wildlife.In this Tour I’ve chosen the north side of Dartmoor, with a loop heading out of Okehampton on the national park’s border to the well-known Meldon Reservoir. Wild swimming is forbidden here, but look beyond the impressive dam further down the West Okement River, where close-by you’ll find Old Meldon Pond. Formed out of an old limestone quarry, here the water is deep and a lucid green, thanks to the minerals in this rock. Secluded yet not far from the Granite Way, it’s a local favourite when temperatures start to soar. This route will take you to Old Meldon Pool from nearby Okehampton, but not before taking in some excellent off-road riding for a proper taste of Dartmoor. You cannot access North Dartmoor by train, so your best bet is to either ride here from Exeter or drive up, with parking available in Okehampton for a small fee. From Okehampton, pass the legendary Fitz’s Well as you make your way up onto the moor, onto gravel roads. Cross the water at Cullever Steps ford to make your way to the gorgeous Belstone village in the east, then follow parallel to the River Taw as you climb up Oke Tor on the unpaved Steeperton Tor Road. Crossing the heart of the Okehampton Military Range on a series of unpaved roads next, you may need to adjust your route if there is any action here, with warnings given by the presence of flags and notices. Off the high ground and down to the West Okement River, you now have an optional loop over South Down on a brilliant slither of singletrack, before taking the cycle path back over the top of the impressive Meldon Viaduct, and then down to the pool. After an exhilarating dip, it’s just a short ride back into Okehampton through Old Town Park nature reserve.

    Difficult
    03:47
    25.9 mi
    6.8 mph
    3,475 ft
    3,475 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    Where better to find expansive bodies of water, nestled between imposing mountain ridges than the Lake District? If you’re a wild swimmer that loves going the distance, this trip to the well-known Derwentwater could be just for you! This loop from Keswick town is by no means an easy one, and you’ll definitely need a mountain bike to take it on, thanks to the high mountain singletrack tricky climbs and rocky descents where you’ll be grateful for both easy gearing and wide rubber. Climb out of Keswick to start, heading east to take the quieter ‘balcony road’ along the western edge of Thirlmere Reservoir. After these relatively gentle gradients to warm up, you’ll now start the first tough climb, up Bank Crag toward Low Saddle, where you’ll peak at Blea Tarn. Now get ready for the sweet, sweet descent that you’ve earned; Birkett’s Leap is one of the best in the Lake District. After taking the road to Seatoller, the bridleway to Grange is your next challenge, although you’ll have done the steepest climbing to reach it on the road. After descending the rocky trail down the side of the mountain and into Grange past the cafe, you’ll make your way along the less popular western shore of Derwentwater on the road. To reach our suggested wild swimming spot at Withesike Bay, you’ll need to dismount and use the footpath to reach this secluded spot. Withesike Bay is the widest part of Derwentwater where the lake measures 1.1 mile (1.7 km). If you're really keen, try the length of the lake from north to south which measures 2.9 miles (4.7 km). Due to the amount of boat traffic, for safety it is recommended that you use a chill swim float to be easily seen by boat crews and from the launches.After your glorious dip, it’s just a short ride along the road heading north to get back into Keswick where you started, and you’ll also find lots of great pubs, cafes and other eateries there for a much needed meal!

    Difficult
    09:06
    47.1 mi
    5.2 mph
    3,850 ft
    3,850 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary. Some portions of the Tour may require you to push your bike.

    The longest and probably hardest route of the Collection, this Scottish contender of Loch Morlich is a popular swimming spot for all ages. It can be easily ridden to from nearby Aviemore, but here I’ve put together a much longer route that you can either enjoy as a challenging day ride, or more suitably as a two day ride, including a night in Bob Scott’s bothy and visiting Loch Morlich for a swim near the end. The Cairngorms are a bikepacker’s paradise; endless trails, lochs, bothies and mountains, all with open access thanks to the Scottish Right to Roam act (see more at scotways.com/faq/law-on-statutory-access-rights). You can really feel lost out here, so make sure you’re well prepared for every eventuality. You’ll definitely need a mountain bike for this Tour, due to the rough terrain and rocky trails that you find here. The golden beach of Loch Morlich is possibly one of the least remote areas on this ride, and of course you can choose from many other spots along the route if you fancy a dip. The shallow waters along the shore are a great attraction though, as is the presence of a beach cafe for a much needed snack, no doubt! On the first day, you’ll leave the train station at Aviemore and start the loop heading clockwise. You’ll actually pass Loch Morlich here near the start, so you could even enjoy a dip on both days if you fancied! Along this eastern stretch of the loop, you’ll pass through the Abernethy Estate and down past Loch Avon to the Mar Lodge Estate National Nature Reserve, where you’ll find the brilliant Bob Scott’s bothy at the end of the Glen Derry trail. You’ll be ready for a generous cook up and sleep there after enjoying all that delightful singletrack.On the return leg, you’ll ride along Lairig Ghru, more singletrack that’ll blow your socks off. It can be really rough in places so you might need to make the occasional hike, especially with a bike laden with overnight gear. After the pools of Dee you’ll descend for the rest of the way past Rothiemurchus Lodge, to cool off your aching legs in the beautiful water of Loch Morlich, before returning to civilisation in Aviemore a short ride away.

    Difficult
    04:21
    30.8 mi
    7.1 mph
    3,600 ft
    3,625 ft
    Expert mountain bike ride. Very good fitness required. Advanced riding skills necessary.

    Clear, peaty-fresh water tumbles down over the small waterfalls and into deeper plunge pools, here the River Dane passes under the lovely Grade II listed packhorse bridge that marks the boundaries of Derbyshire, Cheshire and Staffordshire. Three Shires Head is not only a lovely place to enjoy a picnic in the Peak District not far from Buxton, but also a great place to swim. On this Tour, you’ll certainly benefit from a mountain bike rather than a gravel or cyclo-cross bike, as there are a fair few rough and rocky bridleways on the route. It’s a loop from the historic spa town of Buxton, made popular thanks to it’s warm thermal springs, starting and ending at the railway station for easy access if you’re visiting by train.The Three Shires Head swimming spot comes roughly halfway through the route, after 15 miles (24.3 km) of the total 30.8 mile (49.6 km) route. Therefore, it’s best on a really hot day, so that you can dry off well before tackling the second half of the ride without getting too cold! Other highlights along the route include the old coach road heading out of Buxton, Charity Lane in the Macclesfield Forest, Cumberland Clough and part of the White Peak Loop mountain biking route. They vary from wide and easy gravel roads that are rideable on wide tyre fitted road bikes like the White Peak Loop section that is also part of the Pennine Cycleway, right through to technical, stepped and rough singletrack descents like the bridleway crossing the River Dove valley, where you’ll be glad of suspension! You’ll follow a few quiet linking lanes in between these brilliant off-road segments and minimal busy roads. Make sure you bring your climbing legs, as it’s anything but flat with some 3,608 feet (1,100 m) of climbing over day, often with some rather steep gradients where you might need to hop off and push. It’s also super easy to shorten the route if you feel you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, or prefer to spend longer hanging out at the swimming spot. Simply ride back into Buxton from the end of the White Peak Loop segment to cut off the most eastern loop, saving yourself 6.2 miles (10 km).

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    7
  • Distance
    238 mi
  • Duration
    34:41 h
  • Elevation
    21,300 ft

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Clear rivers, fresh lakes and waterfalls — British wild swim spots by bike