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Open Swimming Dartmoor

Sun sparkling on deep pools, dappled green leaves overhead – who could resist a refreshing dip in Devon’s beautiful waters?

Spring and summer bring fabulously scorching days to Devon and an old-fashioned dip in the river or sea is one of our favourite ways to cool off. A sunny riverbank picnic lunch and a splash with the family, or a peaceful solitary dip at dusk as bats start to flit overhead… you can’t beat it! And it’s not just for summer – for the resilient, a New Year’s Day dip is the perfect way to start the year.

The Devon valleys down which water cascades from Dartmoor springs to the sea are picture-perfect, with trout shining in secret bottomless pools, dippers on rocks, and wagtails and impossibly blue dragonflies skimming over the water. Irresistible.

Come to a Devon cottage and dive into our favourite swimming spots:

Wild Swimming in Dartmoor

The Devonshire valleys down which water cascades from Dartmoor springs to the sea are picture-perfect, with trout shining in secret bottomless pools, dippers on rocks, and wagtails and impossibly blue dragonflies skimming over the water. Irresistible.

Spitchwick Common – Sharrah Pool

Dartmoor Wild Swimming Sharrah Pool

Possibly the most popular swimming place on the moors, which can get crowded, but children love the sociable buzz of mass picnicking and newly made friends. It’s easy to get to and has a good grassy area on the banks of the River Dart, plus a deep channel for jumping into. Sharrah Pool, a two mile walk, is the best stretch of river for swimming.

Stay at Lazy Bear Cottage, Holne.

Chagford Swimming Pool

Chagford Lido

The perfect wild swimming compromise if you’ve small children. This picturesque 1930’s outdoor pool lies in a sheltered dip beside the River Teign. Chagford’s river fed pool has many of the benefits of a typical swimming pool, with heated water, a toddler pool, hot showers and tea hut. It’s the largest open-air freshwater swimming pool in the South West, cherished by locals and a revelation for visitors to the friendly little town.

Read our Guide to Chagford to find out more about the hidden gem in the heart of Dartmoor.

For opening times, take a look at the Chagford Swimming Pool website.

Stay at  the Boot Room, Chagford.

Mel Pool

Near the southern Dartmoor village of Holne, this remote pool is one of a series hidden at the base of a deep gorge where the River Dart cascades through wild woodland. With mini waterfalls and rapids, there’s plenty of fun to be had. You may find beach shoes or similar useful when clambering over rocks.

Stay at the Stone Barn Cottage, Holne.

River Teign

Wild Swimming Dartmoor River Teign Chagford

We’re loathe to pinpoint our favourite pool in the Teign, because the beauty of swimming this river is the absolute silence as you drift through golden peaty water under sun-dappled beech, interrupted only by the heavy plop of a leaping salmon. But follow the riverside footpath between Chagford and Steps Bridge and you can take your pick of weir pools, where trout fry will tickle your toes.

Stay at Primrose Cottage, Drewsteignton.

Wild Swimming in Exmoor

Watersmeet – River Lyn – Long Pool

Wild Swimming Exmoor Watersmeet River Lyn Long Pool

This wooded Exmoor valley near Lynmouth has some handy plunge pools next to the National Trust tea rooms, but if you follow the river downstream you come to Long Pool, a picturesque spot with a waterfall surrounded by oaks and ferns. It’s a great place for spotting wildlife whilst you swim.

Stay at Glenview, Barbrook.

Wild Swimming in East Devon

River Otter

Near Ottery St Mary you can easily access the river from a sunny field which is excellent for sunbathing and picnics. There’s a calm area of water for swimming near Fluxton Weir, surrounded by willow and complete with a natural Jacuzzi and rope swing.

Stay at The Stables, Ottery St Mary.

Wild Swimming in South Devon

River Avon

River Avon, Averton Gifford Bantham Swimming

If you’re a strong swimmer, there’s a 2½ mile stretch of the estuary between Aveton Gifford and Bantham beach which will transport you to a secret world inhabited by a wealth of wildlife, particularly fish and birds, protected by wooded banks. You’ll need to avoid tree roots and seaweed, but the sandy bottom is clear and you can even see the oyster beds. Start soon after high tide.

Stay at East Bickleigh, Halwell.

Denham Bridge

A 47ft deep pool on the River Tavy near Bere Alston, with further pools, rapids and a pebble beach downstream from the old packhorse bridge. The valley faces south-west so warms up beautifully during summer months. You can jump into the deep pool, but take care because it is narrow.

Stay at The Barn, Yelverton.

Sugary Cove

Sugary Cove Dartmouth Wild Swimming

Not a river, but a quiet, remote beach at the mouth of the River Dart, just around the corner from Dartmouth Castle, where you (and your dog) can swim. If you come within an hour either side of high tide, it’s possible to swim with care through a rocky channel to the left of Sugary Cove and emerge in Castle Cove.

Stay at Mainstay, Kingswear.

Hindu Temples

Not a typical West Country name, but it’s how Charles Kingsley, author of The Water Babies, described these sandstone sea caves between Paignton and Torquay. Famous with the Victorians, they’ve now been almost forgotten, but strong swimmers venturing inside enjoy a spectacular experience.
There’s plenty to see and do around Torquay and the English Riviera. Why not read out guide on things to do in Torquay, and get inspired to visit?

Stay at Wassail Cottage, Stoke Gabriel.

…. and finally, we’ve struggled to agree on a top ten of our favourite wild swimming places – there are many, many more we love in rivers, old quarries and coves, so do go exploring. But please stay safe – fast-flowing water, slippery rocks, cold temperatures and submerged objects are all potentially hazardous.

For more ideas on what to do during your stay in Devon, take a look at our article on events and festivals in Devon.

If you want to find more adventure, read our article on climbing and bouldering on Dartmoor.

Article adapted from original content written by Christine Phillips for Helpful Holidays.

Images Courtesy of: Derek Harper (CC-BY-SA/2.0); Stephen Craven (CC-BY-SA/2.0); Mark Percy (CC BY-SA 2.0); Ian Burt (CC BY-SA 2.0); Philip Halling (CC-BY-SA/2.0).