Tarn Swimming in the Lake District

There is nothing quite like the experience of tarn swimming; it takes you to the very soul of a place. A true tarn is formed between the enclosing arms of a cirque as a glacier melts and recedes, forming a small mountain lake. Thanks to the dramatic location of many Lake District tarns, it is easy to imagine the truly awe inspiring effect that glaciation has had on the morphology of these ancient fells.

We are lucky to have over 200 tarns of dramatically differing character in Cumbria and many of them make for some of the most exhilarating swimming you will ever experience.

Take a tarn swimming adventure.

What you’ll need before you set out is a healthy Spirit of Adventure; there are no sign posts pointing the way so you’re going to have to be self-sufficient to get to the most remote and rewarding wild places. Owning a map and compass, and knowing how to use them will open the doors to some amazing swimming locations. Always pack plenty of warm clothes and full waterproofs. Yes, even in summer, you will appreciate it after a bracing tarn swim.

Our top 3 favourite tarn swimming locations

Easedale Tarn Swimming

#1 Swimming in Easedale Tarn

A beautiful tarn situated alongside a mini classic of a walk up Sour Milk Gill from Grasmere. One of the more accessible tarns and not too daunting a prospect to find on the map.

The scenery on the way is lovely as you follow Sour Milk Gill up to the tarn, with waterfalls and pools all the way. The tarn is situated in a very open glacial corrie with Eagle Crag and Tarn Crag dominating the skyline to the east and north but with an open view to the west between the large moraine deposits that guard the outflow of the gill. The swimming is great here and the swim out to the exposed rock in the centre of the larger of the two basins give the best view. Watch out for the friendly gull that often nests on the rock in spring, but keep an eye on your sandwiches at lunch time!

Swim the Lakes run this as a guided trip with a few secret swimming spots included on our Ease into Easedale Swim.

Tarn Swimming in Red Tarn

#2 Swimming in Red Tarn

Situated right underneath the impressive cirque beneath the summit of Helvellyn, this is a tarn for mountain lovers. The water is a crystal clear and slate green, seems to be constantly Baltic cold and is home to the rare schelly, a freshwater herring left over from the last ice age. This is the highest substantial body of water in the England and is prone to quite violent changes in weather so don’t go under prepared. The brave will be rewarded with an unforgettable swim and sometimes heckles from walkers ascending the Striding and Swirral Edges which flank the tarn.

You can walk to it from a number of directions, but the easiest and most direct is via the footpath that follows Glenridding Beck and then skirts under Catstyecam. There are good pubs waiting for you in Glenridding after your swim or perhaps another dip in Ullswater for the keen amongst you.

Swim the Lakes run this as a guided trip with a few secret swimming spots included on our Helvellyn Double Dipper Swim.

Blea Water Tarn swimming

#3 Swimming in Blea Water

This has got to be one of the most impressive examples of a cirque tarn in the country. At 61m deep it is the deepest tarn in the Lakes and is as deep as most of our larger lakes; all this in a tarn barely 400m across.

The walk in is fairly straight forward from Martindale Head car park at the southernmost tip of Haweswater Reservoir, it’s the drive there that is the challenge!

There is a little dam at the outflow of Blea Water Beck which is a nice place to get changed and the situation of the tarn is amazing. The fell drops in a sheer line from High Street and the encircling crags, right to the water’s edge and beyond. Don’t forget your goggles as the underwater views of the steep fell sides continuing straight down into the clear waters of the abyss are just as impressive as those above water. This has to be a contender for my favourite tarn.

Tarn guide books

A good tarn guide book is a useful source of information too and provides lists of tarns and their character as well as whether they are deep enough to swim in or situated on private land. Our favourite books on tarns are “Exploring Lakeland Tarns: A Complete Guide by Don Blair” and the ultimate tarn book “The Tarns of Lakeland by W. Heaton Cooper”, rare and expensive but worth every penny.

More information on tarn swimming

Watch out for more articles and blog posts about tarn swimming with Swim the Lakes. If you want to join us on a guided tarn swimming trip take a look at the following swimming trips: Ease into Easedale, The Stickle Tarn Mountain Swim and  The Beautiful South Swimming Adventure .

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