Different Strokes: UK’s Top Open Water Swimming Venues


23.05.19 at 11:13 am

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Summer is right around the corner, and that means it’s the perfect time to plunge into open water swimming. Whether you’re training for an Ironman triathlon or simply want to enjoy the sunny weather, don’t miss our pick of the best open water swimming venues up and down the UK.

Capernwray Diving Centre
Over Kellet, Lancashire, England
Primed for swimming all day, every day

Formerly a limestone quarry, Capernwray was flooded after the end of its commercial use and converted into an inland scuba dive centre. Now it’s one of the country’s most sought-after open water swimming locations. Thanks to its crystal waters, you can expect excellent visibility. In fact, Capernwray has some of the cleanest and freshest water in the UK. For safety, inflatable buoys mark the site. And below the surface, hidden treasures wait to be discovered, counting an old boat and aircraft wreckage.

As long as you have a watcher on the shore, you can swim all day, seven days a week. On top of that, the centre organises monthly swims and races, with easy access to toilets, showers, changing rooms and a cafe for refreshments. Grab a day pass of unlimited swimming and facilities access for £8, or sign up for an annual membership, which grants entry for £5.

Cotswold Water Park
Gloucestershire, Wiltshire
The UK’s largest marl lake system

Cotswold Water Park, Open Water Swimmers
*Image courtesy of Waterland Outdoor Pursuits

The Cotswold Water Park comprises 150 lakes set over 40 square miles. You can arrange open water swimming at Waterland (Lake 32) and Cotswold Water Park Hire (Lake 86), both of which are well worth a visit.

Spread over a 44-acre lake, Waterland is a friendly site with good launching and ample parking, not to mention hot showers, toilets and a group camping area. The site stays open for day use from March–October, seven days a week. Day tickets and membership options are up for grabs, depending on your needs.

Meanwhile, Cotswold Water Park Hire is an outstanding choice whether you want a challenging or mellow day out. Besides swimming, you can try rowing, kayaking or canoeing. If you’d like to spend the night, the De Vere Cotswold Water Park Hotel is a short stroll away.

Dock 9, Salford Quays
Greater Manchester
Fabulous facilities for all the family

If you fancy an open water swimming spot with excellent facilities, public transport links and lots of action, this is the premier open water swimming destination. Dock 9 offers coached swim sessions and different length courses (300m, 500m) for all ages and abilities. A professional water safety team ensures safety and regulates the water quality. And with exciting events throughout the year, this venue is no stranger to the world’s elite swimmers.

Facilities include showers, changing rooms, toilets, on-site parking and wetsuit rental. Join regular swim sessions on Wednesdays, 5:30–8 pm, and Saturdays, 8–11 am. As a bonus, Dock 9 is set by the lively MediaCity complex so you can grab a bite at one of the restaurants before or after your swim.

Coniston Water
Cumbria, Lake District
Ideal when you want to go the distance

Chillswim swimmers, Coniston Water

The next spot on our list ranks as an iconic spot for long distance swimming. Besides sporting scenic valley views, Coniston Water in Cumbria is the Lake District’s third largest lake. It measures in at a whopping five miles long, a half mile wide and covers a total area of nearly two square miles. If you’re up for a challenge, try swimming the length of it.

Or, you could go for a Chillswim, a wetsuit-optional event that sees swimmers complete the lake’s full length in six separate starts. The route kicks off at the south of the lake and ends at the north shore. After the first mile, swimmers keep within 50 metres of the beach, directed by mile marker buoys and support watercraft.

The 2019 Chillswim Coniston will be held on Saturday, 31 August. Entry includes transportation, four feed stations along the route, prizes, medals and memorabilia. Save yourself a place by registering online, but don’t leave it to the last minute: this will be the seventh edition of the event, and it has sold out every year since its inception.

Pennington Flash
Leigh, England
Home of the Ironman UK

The water stage of the Ironman UK takes place at Pennington Flash. If it’s good enough for Ironman, it’s good enough for us. Part of a country park, this man-made lake offers regular open water swimming sessions by My Open Water Swim.

Lap lengths range from a novice area through to 5km for events. As for facilities, Pennington Flash has changing rooms, hot showers, plus a cafe serving drinks and snacks. Wetsuit hire, swim coaching and a range of memberships are available.

Shepperton Open Water Swim
Ferry Lane, Shepperton
From leisurely loops to competitive races

Swimmers at Shepperton Open Water Swimming

Shepperton Lake boasts a tranquil atmosphere, whether you want to do a casual loop or you’re training to swim across the English Channel. The venue’s 400m and 750m swim courses are manned during normal opening hours, which change as the days get longer or shorter.

£5 swim sessions come complete with changing rooms, showers, toilets and parking. Group swims can be organised, and the venue holds races, events and coached sessions at an extra charge. Want to pair your swim with a run? Just lace up your training shoes and hit the 1.5km cross-country running track around the lake.

Fell Foot Park
Lake Windermere, Cumbria
Top pick for a first dip

Another Lake District favourite, Fell Foot Park was formerly the grounds of a Victorian house. These days it’s owned by the National Trust, so there’s a parking fee unless you’re a member. But with easy lake access, shallow water and generous facilities, the park remains popular for families or those new to open water swimming.

In the summer, SleekerSwim provides introductory swimming courses, family-friendly sessions and open water swim events with distances from 1.5km to 5km.

Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park
Southern Scotland
Swimming with a splendid view

Group of swimmers in pink caps at Loch Lomond,, open water swimming, panoramic shot, day
*Image courtesy of loch-lomond.co.uk

Beautiful shores and Ben Lomond, Scotland’s southernmost Munro, frame Loch Lomond. As a result,  you can practice your stroke and admire the dramatic Scottish scenery at the same time. You’ll also see groups of people donning their wetsuits and coloured caps for fun and competition year-round.

On 7 September, Go Swim Loch Lomond welcomes novice to endurance level swimmers to distances ranging from 250m to 10km. This is a great chance to experience the world-class open water swimming venue where the 2018 European Open Water Championships were held.

Holme Pierrepont Country Park
Nottingham, East Midlands
Home of the National Waters Sports Centre

This unique venue is purpose-built for open water swimming and water sports. Throughout the year, events are held onsite, while swimming takes place in a smaller lake next to the Regatta Lake, host of the award-winning Outlaw Triathlon.

New changing rooms, reception, a showroom and a cafe are in the works, but that’s only the start. With plans for swim coaching, training races, a club hire space and retail stores selling open water and triathlon gear, Holme Pierrepont is shaping up the be one of Britain’s flagship open water swimming venues.

London’s Royal Docks
Newham, East London
Safe swimming in the capital

London Royal docks, group of swimmers

One of the world’s most spectacular open swimming water venues, London’s Royal Docks ensures an enjoyable time. The site prides itself on providing a safe environment, requiring a NOWCA wristband to keep you safe in the open water while monitoring your performance. Despite the £12 cost, in addition to swim session prices, it comes with a ton of benefits.

London’s Royal Docks test the water every two weeks and provides all equipment to make sure you get the full experience. For competitive training, choose from three standard race distances: 400m, 750m, 1.5km. A separate area offers casual swimming and beginner courses.

Of course, there are way too many open water swimming venues to list in one go. Have we missed a gem? Share your favourites, and we’ll add it to the list.

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