Hello, I’m Sian – and I’m a fresh air addict. I’ve been voyaging across the globe for most of the last decade, working as a travel and adventure writer, and before 2020 changed the world, I was rarely at home. After the pandemic hit, I suddenly had a lot more time to explore from my own front door, walking, camping and trundling along in my campervan through Great Britain, and it turned out to be incredibly rewarding to have more time to seek out the magic hidden in local landscapes.
My idea of a good adventure usually involves lacing up my hiking boots, strapping a tent to my rucksack, throwing my swimsuit and a towel in my bag and heading out the door in search of remote mountains to hike in and secret swim spots for a refreshing dip. That said, I also love swapping my tiny tent for special and quirky places to stay – and there are plenty of them in Britain, from remote yurts to cosy cabins (and fancy pyjamas are always at the top of my packing list when I go glamping!). Below you’ll find some of my favourite spots for wild swims, wild walks and cosy places to warm up by the fire at the end of a busy day’s exploring in Britain.
Five of the best wild swimming spots in the UK
1, Lake District Pots
The mountainous land of the Lakes is a wild swimmer’s dream. The gorgeous big tarns this area of Cumbria is named for are rightly famous, but even better on a baking hot day are the small, deep local ‘pots’, full of fresh cold water. A pot, in case you’re wondering, is a local name for a natural plunge pool. Seek out Black Moss Pot, where you can jump off six-metre-high rocks into the water, or lesser-known Tongue Pot, a necklace of inviting little pools in a deep green valley. At Tongue Pot there’s a pebbled beach to walk into the water from, or you can leap off the rocks into the clear waters.
2, Cornish tidal pools
Cornwall has long been a holiday favourite for its turquoise waters – and when the tide rolls out you can go hunting for deep, calm saltwater pools left behind on the rocky coastline. They’re great natural swimming pools if the actual sea is looking rough, and are lovely for kids to splash in. Treyarnon tidal pool is wide enough for swimming lengths, and the well-hidden mermaid pool at Porthtowan is well worth seeking out. If you want to swim somewhere that doesn’t depend on time and tide, Penzance’s new Jubilee Pool, a wonderfully restored art deco lido, is also fabulous.
3, Fairy pools, Isle of Skye
If you’re on the ethereal island of Skye, make a pilgrimage to one of the loveliest wild swimming spots I’ve ever encountered. Clear spring flows from the foot of the Cuillin mountains and feeds deep, crystalline lagoons that you can dive into, fed by rushing waterfalls. These are the Fairy Pools, where the water is icy-cold but so enchanting you might not notice you’ve got a bad case of brain freeze when you take the plunge. There’s even a submerged arch connecting two of the pools you can dive under if you’re feeling brave.
4, Blue Lagoon, Pembrokeshire
If you've got a thick enough wetsuit you can prove your mettle with a skin-tingling autumn swim in Pembrokeshire's Blue Lagoon, hidden in the cliffs above Abereiddi Beach. Walk up a little path past ruined slate workers' cottages and you'll suddenly stumble upon this man-made sea-water lagoon of deep, sapphire blue. If you’ve ever wanted to try cliff jumping, this is a great place to take the leap (with due caution), as the Blue Lagoon has handy step-like rocks above obstacle-free water to plunge off.
5, Isles of Scilly
The subtropical Isles of Scilly lie just 28 miles from the Cornish coast, but they feel like another world. There’s a slower pace on this garden-like archipelago, quite literally - four of the five inhabited islands are car-free, so they’re wonderful for relaxed rambles along country lanes and coastal paths. The chilly but crystal-clear waters that lap these islands are great for a cooling dip – you can swim between some of the islands, such as from Tresco to Bryher, and you may even encounter inquisitive local seals joining you for a dip.
Five of the best quirky places to stay in the UK
1, Ditchling Cabin, Sussex
Dive straight in to your very own lake from the doorstep of this beautiful cabin hideaway – wild swimmers will never want to leave. Ditchling Cabin, perched on the edge of a four-acre lagoon, is all about life on the water, with pontoons you can dive off and a rowing boat, raft and canoes tied up right next to the cabin for you to paddle about in. Inside is just as special, with a cosy sitting room, wood-clad kitchen and, upstairs, a huge bed and a bath looking out over the lake.
2, Eilean Shona
Peter Pan’s fictional island home, inhabited by mermaids and threatened by pirates, may only be reachable in your imagination, but you can come pretty close to finding Neverland on Eilean Shona, the small Scottish island that inspired Barrie’s story of the Boy Who Never Grew Up. This tiny, car-free slice of land sits off the west coast of Scotland – and this was where Barrie spent a balmy summer in the 1920s writing and exploring, and where he found the inspiration for Peter Pan. These days, anyone can journey to Eilean Shona by boat to stay off-grid and reconnect with the wilder world at one of the holiday cottages scattered across it.
3, Troytown Campsite, Isles of Scilly
Troytown is one of the loveliest campsites in Cornwall, and that’s saying something. It’s also in one of my favourite places of all time – the Isles of Scilly, a dreamy sub-tropical archipelago off the Cornish coast where you can explore white sand beaches, kayak around the archipelago and walk the coastline before catching a ferry back to real life. Camp at this grassy family-run site on the island of St Agnes with a view out to sea and spend your days swimming in the ocean, exploring the coastline by kayak or just toasting marshmallows over a fire on the sand when evening comes.
4, Another Place, The Lake, Lake District
This welcoming modern-meets-traditional hotel hugs the shores of Ullswater Lake, and makes for the perfect stay for active types - kayakers paddle on the water while wild swimmers can borrow wetsuits before jumping of the hotel’s very on pontoon. Inside you’ll find a big board displaying weather conditions for hikers, a warm welcome from the charming staff, luxurious modern bedrooms, wood fires in the sitting rooms and a pool with a view.
5, Eco Retreats Yurt, North Wales
Feeling the need for a big dose of wild woods, big mountains, fresh air and very little else? Eco Retreats tucked away in Wales’ Dyfi forest on the edge of Snowdonia National Park, makes the perfect off-grid hideaway. Eco Retreats is well-named – this peaceful site is about as far from big cities, main roads roads and civilisation as you can get, and is designed to work in harmony with the natural world. Just five yurts dot a 1,300 acre farmland, so all you’ll really have for company are the forest, a rushing river and a flock of sheep. The yurts are completely off-grid – this is about disconnecting and embracing a slower, simpler pace of life. Each yurt, which also has a wood-fired bath, a fire pit and a compost loo, is pretty much invisible from the others, so you feel like you have the whole of the hills to yourself.