Take the Plunge: Sea Swimming in the UK
From braving the cooler temperatures of the UK’s shores on summer holidays to taking a dip in warmer climes, for many of us, swimming in the sea is our first real introduction to wild swimming. However, it can be daunting taking the plunge, so to help you make the most of your experience, we’ve shared some advice to get you started as well as some fantastic locations across the UK to give it a go.
Swimming In The Sea
While swimming in the sea may be more popular than river or lake swimming in the UK, it's classed as being at the riskier end of open water swimming. That’s because the tide, waves, and current can all affect how safe it is to enter the water, as can the surrounding conditions like rocks and outcrops.
However, as long as you assess the conditions and surroundings before entering the water and react accordingly, swimming in the sea is an incredibly rewarding experience.
Some Top Tips For Coastal Swimming
• If you’re nervous about entering the sea, choose a sheltered bay as the sea is generally calmer or opt for a site where lifeguards are operating so that you know assistance is at hand if needed.
• Try to swim with someone else, and if this isn’t possible, you should tell someone where you’re swimming and when you expect to be back. That way, they can raise the alarm if you get into any trouble.
• Check the tide times before heading to the beach.
• Check your surroundings before entering the water. Swimming in natural environments means the environment constantly changes; from variations in depth to changes in the tidal pull, you must stay vigilant.
• Watch out for rip currents – although they can be hard to spot, you should be wary of channels of churning, choppy water or debris on the sea’s surface which could indicate a rip current.
• Consider using a buoyancy float and wear a brightly coloured swimming cap to ensure you are more visible.
• If you’re not acclimatised to cold water swimming, wear a wetsuit on cold days as cold water shock can be triggered in water that is below 15°C. Discover how to choose the right wetsuit in our guide.
• Don’t forget a towel and plenty of warm layers for when you get out. Bring along a flask of tea, coffee or hot chocolate for after too.
Our Favourite Areas For Coastal Swimming
St David’s Head – The Pembrokeshire Coast
Jutting into the sea on three sides and with fantastic coastal access, St David’s Head is dotted with beaches perfect for sea swimming.
We recommend Whitesands, which is regarded as one of the finest beaches in Pembrokeshire. The beach has Blue Flag status, and lifeguards patrol the northern end in the summer months.
Meanwhile, Porthlysgi beach is worth checking out if you’re looking for somewhere quieter. Only accessible from the Coastal Path about 1 mile west of Porthclais, its clear blue waters are well worth the effort it takes to get there.
Finally, for confident swimmers, the Blue Lagoon at Aberiddy is a must-visit spot. The home of the Red Bull Diving Championships, this former quarry has been flooded by the sea, leaving a deep pool ideal for confident swimmers and those who love to dive.
Easily accessed from the capital, the Kent coastline offers some fantastic sandy, blue star rated beaches to take a dip in.
Stone Bay in Broadstairs is an accessible spot that is often quieter than the more well-known Viking Bay. With high chalk cliffs, you get some shelter from the breeze when you venture into the sea.
Minnis Bay is the perfect spot for family swimming as part of the sea has been walled off to create a paddling pool that youngsters can splash about in. However, if you are planning to venture into the sea itself, be aware that the area is popular with windsurfers, so you should keep your wits about you.
If you’re up for a real challenge, then St Margaret’s Bay is the place to head. As the closest point in Britain to France, it’s the place most people start their channel crossing swim. But you needn’t push yourself to make the most of this stunning coastline.
North West Coast of Scotland
If getting away from it all is one of your goals when taking to the open water, then there’s no better place to head than the wilds of the North West Coast in Scotland.
Big Sand Beach by Gairloch offers a sheltered spot for a swim with protection from prevailing winds provided by Longa Island. What’s more, you can soak up the incredible atmosphere, which boasts magnificent views of the mountains of Skye and Torridon.
Another spot to visit along this coastline is the remote curving bay at Oldshoremore beach. It is regularly named one of Scotland’s most beautiful beaches and is the perfect place to enjoy a tranquil and reflective swim.
We also love Sanna Bay, where crystal clear waters, rugged scenery and white silverly sands make the perfect backdrop for your swimming adventure.
If you want to escape the crowds on your swim, we recommend heading to Northumberland. Often overlooked for more southern counties where the waters may be warmer, Northumberland has plenty to offer those willing to take on the North Sea.
One of the best beaches in Northumberland for finding some space is Rumbling Kern. A ten-minute walk from the nearest parking point, accessibility isn't its strong point. However, if you're willing to put the effort in, you're rewarded with a sheltered and secluded beach that features a tempting swimming hole cut into the rock at the north end.
For a more family-friendly location, you should visit Beadnell Beach. The horseshoe-shaped beach is a haven for all kinds of watersports thanks to its more sheltered waters, so is perfect if you want to enjoy a quiet dip while your family get involved with all the other activities on offer.
And no visit to the Northumberland coastline would be complete without mentioning Bamburgh Beach. The EU designated bathing beach is home to Bamburgh Castle, which stands guard above the beach, and after braving the cold waters, is well worth a visit.
North Cornish Coast
Although Cornwall is a haven for all kinds of watersports, it’s the northern coastline that offers some of our favourite swimming spots.
Carbis Bay, located not far from the popular resort of St Ives, is a sheltered spot with an almost tropical feel. It’s a great place to enter the water and is even the location of an annual Biathlon, which involves running from St Ives to Carbis Bay, and then swimming over to Porthminster.
If you’re looking for a more tranquil swim, then Daymer Bay on the edge of the Camel Estuary is the place to head. Waves are rare, making it the perfect place to get the whole family involved in swimming in the sea.
And for those nervous about entering the sea, Cornwall is home to several sea pools, natural pools near the beach which fill with seawater as the tides change. Bude sea pool has been a popular tourist attraction since the 1930s. Free of charge and open all year round, it's the perfect place to build your confidence whilst technically still swimming in the sea. Bude sea pool can get busy during the summer, so we recommend checking out Perranporth and Porthtowan sea pools as well.
Castlerock to Portrush, Northern Ireland
The stretch of coastline between Castlerock and Portrush in Northern Ireland offers plenty of opportunities to experience all the benefits of sea swimming.
West Strand beach or Millstrand, as it's often known locally, offers great accessibility to the beach. With a harbour at one end and protection from the cliffs at the other, it is a more sheltered spot than the eastern strand, making it ideal for taking a dip. Plus, it’s in the heart of Portrush, so there are plenty of places to grab a drink or snack to warm you up once you’re done.
For something a little different, we recommend heading to Portstewart Strand. This National Trust managed two-mile stretch of beach is designated an Area of Special Scientific Interest and is home to an incredible array of fauna and flora. Named one of the UK’s best beaches by Rough Guides, it's patrolled by a lifeguard during peak season, making it the ideal spot for you to take to the water with confidence.
Further west, you’ll find Benone Strand. This seven-mile stretch of beach is a watersports lovers paradise and offers everything from swimming to jet skiing. Fear not, though, as different activities are zoned off to ensure everyone can make the most of their day at the beach.
Find Your Favourite Beach
As an Island, one thing we're blessed with is our coastline, so this list is far from exhaustive when it comes to UK swimming spots. However, hopefully, it will have provided plenty of inspiration to get you started and soon, you’ll be discovering your favourite places to swim in the UK near you. Why not check out locations near you using the Wild Swim map.
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