Published: 2nd OCTOBER 2023

11 of our favourite wild swimming spots on the National Cycle Network

Taking a dip out in nature is something which can leave you feeling exhilarated, energised and hungry for more. In this blog, we've put together a list of our favourite wild swimming spots on the Network around the UK for you to enjoy on your travels.

Bicycle handlebars in front of a beach on a clear day

As you bathe in the sea on a clear day at Barassie Beach in Scotland, you can soak up views of the Isle of Arran. Credit: Julie Arbuckle

Taking a plunge in a body of water while surrounded by nature is an incomparable feeling. 

Wild swimming is something which has been around for centuries, but has gained lots of popularity in recent years. 

Cambridge Dictionary defines wild swimming or open water swimming as: 'swimming for enjoyment in rivers, lakes, the sea, etc. rather than in swimming pools.' 

Scientific research highlights the many physical and mental health benefits of intermittent cold water exposure. Such as: 

  • improved cardiovascular health
  • improved mood and general wellbeing 
  • improved immune response.

Take a dive into our wild swimming recommendations on National Cycle Network routes across the UK. 

Leasowe Bay, Merseyside - National Route 89

This popular swimming spot is located just off Route 89 which hugs the west coast of The Wirral Peninsula. 

Its sandy beach is frequented by cold water swimming enthusiasts, Wirral Bluetits, who organise a monthly full moon dip - perfect for those new to wild swimming, who would prefer to go as part of a group. 

It's worth checking tide times before your visit as the tide in this part of the nation is fast-changing. 

This spot, which is surrounded in sand dunes, is just a stone's throw from the vibrant city of Liverpool and many other idyllic, coastal places on The Wirral which can all be reached on Routes 89 and 56.


The River Teifi, Ceredigion - National Route 82

Take a plunge in the River Teifi after a long walk, wheel or cycle in the surrounding countryside.

The Cenarth Falls, located next to Route 82 of the Network, is a cascade of waterfalls just upstream of the road bridge in the village of Cenarth in Ceredigion.

You can stop off at Salmon Leap cafe for a well-deserved post-swim ice-cream. 

Nature lovers flock to the river in autumn to watch the amazing spectacle of salmon leaping upstream as they return to breed.  

A flat sandy beach on The Wirral on a clear day

Leasowe Bay is located just off Route 89 which hugs the west coast of The Wirral Peninsula. Credit: Emily Cave

Guidance to staying safe

The Outdoor Swimming Society has a useful list of ways to stay healthy when wild swimming.

You can access free online training provided by The Royal Life Saving Society UK. They've also put together their top tips for staying safe while enjoying swimming outdoors.

For live updates of any pollution risk in the UK's waterways, you can visit Surfers Against Sewage's website

Holkham beach, North Norfolk - National Route 1

A traffic-free stretch of Route 1 runs parallel to this stunning beach. 

Kelly Clark, Project Manager at Sustrans, called it a "gorgeous beach". 

She added: "It's a spot where there's plenty of quiet local lanes that are lovely for exploring on bike if you are happy to cycle on the road."

You may recognise Holkham beach from the final scene of the romantic comedy film, Shakespeare in Love.

There's an opportunity to warm up after you swim and get cosy inside The Lookout cafe, which provides vast views of Holkham National Nature Reserve


River Dee, Aberdeenshire - National Route 195

Settle down at the river beach next to the white Victorian Cambus O'May footbridge for a dip in the River Dee. 

This particular spot on Route 195, also known as the Deeside Way, has deep sections and large flat rocks to sit on. 

A wonderful picnic spot to break up your walk, wheel or cycle on this beautiful, traffic-free section of the Network.


The Afon Ogwen, Gwynedd - National Route 82

The Afon Ogwen river and Route 82 run parallel to each other, making it extremely easy to hop off the Network for a paddle. 

An hour's cycle or wheel east up the Network will lead you to dramatic views of a combination of the Carneddau and Glyderau mountain ranges.

Jonny Eldridge, Project Coordinator at Sustrans, recommended the route. 

He said: "The traffic-free, gravel track is a delight to ride.

"Fringed with a mix of gnarled, deciduous trees, this section offers much needed shade on a warm summer's day.

"The cool waters of the Afon Ogwen meander and murmur down below, inviting you in for a refreshing dip when water levels are low in the summer."


A man and a boy swimming in a river surrounded by greenery

The Afon Ogwen river and Route 82 run parallel to each other, making it extremely easy to hop off the Network for a paddle. Credit: Jonny Eldridge

Druridge Bay, Northumberland - National Route 1

A section of Route 1 runs alongside the unspoilt coastline of Druridge Bay. 

Here, there are seven-miles of beach to choose from for your dip. 

This part of Northumberland is also a birdwatchers' haven as it's home to several nature reserves tucked away behind its rugged dunes. 

Route 1 stretches 1264 miles across much of the east coast of England meaning there are plenty other dramatic coastlines to discover. 


Warleigh Weir, Somerset - National Route 4

Route 4 snakes along the River Avon, offering access to a wide range of places to have a splash around. 

Warleigh Weir is renowned for wild swimming and attracts lots of bathers in the summer months. 

Heading east with the river on Route 4 will bring you to lots of other swimming spots nestled in Freshford and Avoncliff. 

Head to the west and you can explore Saltford with your snorkel. 


Barassie Beach, Ayrshire - National Route 7

This tranquil beach not only draws in swimmers, but is also popular among kite-surfers and people with paddle boards too. 

As you bathe in the sea on a clear day, you can soak up views of the Isle of Arran. 

National Route 7 will lead you from the long, sandy beach to Troon Harbour where you can find a bite to eat and something to drink. 


Bicycle handlebars in front of a beach on a clear day

As you bathe in the sea on a clear day at Barassie Beach, you can soak up views of the Isle of Arran. Credit: Julie Arbuckle

The River Plym, Devon - National Route 27

The mainly traffic-free Route 27 meanders alongside The River Plym in Devon. 

Plymbridge Weir, in Plymbridge woods, provides a tranquil swim spot - perfect for visiting with younger ones. 

A serene spot, a sunny day, lies underneath the dappled light from the leaves above. 

The 99-mile Route 27 combines the beaches and estuaries of North Devon with the lush green valleys of West Country rivers.


London Royal Docks, East London - National Route 13

Open water swimming may be the last thing on your mind in the capital. 

But London Royal Docks, situated on National Route 13, provides just that. 

It's less on the wild side of swimming, but you'll be pleased to know that the water here, at the west end of Royal Victoria Dock, is tested fortnightly - giving you peace of mind during your plunge. 

Booking ahead is required and costs £9 per person. 

Once you've dried off, you can catch a cable car across the river onto National Route 1.


Dundrum Bay, County Down - National Route 99 

A traffic-free stretch of Route 99 leads you from the seaside town of Newcastle to this beautiful, tidal bay. 

The Mourne Mountains provide this swimming spot with a stunning mountainous backdrop. 

Dundrum Bay also backs onto Murlough National Nature Reserve - which makes for a perfect post-swim wander through sand dunes and woodland.

Following National Route 99 towards Dundrum provides an opportunity to explore the village's medieval castle, if that's up your street. 

A bay in Scotland on a clear day with a mountainous backdrop

Dundrum Bay is one of our favourite wild swimming spots. Route 99 Credit: Anne Madden

Please note

To the extent permitted by law, Sustrans accepts no responsibility for any accidents or injury resulting from following these recommendations. 

Sustrans cannot be held liable for your safety and we advise that you swim at your own risk.


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