Gills, becks and rivers link all of the different types of wild swimming covered in this series of articles, river swimming in the Lake District is really good fun and is the best way to pass a lazy summers day on holiday. Many of the rivers here are spate rivers and can be a bit on the rocky and on the shallow side, but if you know where to look you can find some lovely pools and slow moving glides that make for perfect river swimming.

Blue Lining

Hunting out new places for river swimming can be a great way to spend the day too. Just pack your swimming cozzie and a towel and explore. Blue lining is one of our favourite things to do: Get out your map and look for the blue lines (rivers), that’s where the adventure begins and all you need to do is find the best places to swim. Here are our top 3 river swimming spots to get you started (remember check out our Do’s & Don’ts below)

Swallows and Amazons River Swimming

Our Top 3 River Swimming Locations

#1 River Swimming in the River Brathay

The river Brathay is very dear to our hearts as it is right on our doorstep here in Ambleside. When the river level is optimal in the spring and early autumn you can swim from Skelwith Bridge all the way down into, although you must portage the sections of rapids leading up to Brathay.

The most pleasant section to swim is from the confluence of the Brathay with the Rothay, down to where the Brathay flows into the North Basin of Windermere. There is a footpath all along the river here and it is deep enough at any time of year. The Brathay flows gently at this point and the lack of hazards make for a very relaxing swim. One of our regular training sessions is to swim from Borran’s Park at Waterhead up into the river against the flow, turning at the confluence for an easy ride home.

Swim the Lakes run a great guided swim here: Down the River Without a Paddle is our most popular river swimming trip.

Upper Esk River Swimming

#2 River Swimming in the River Esk

The Esk valley is a wonderful place to be if you love the fells and the mountain environment. The Upper Esk has some of the most delightful pools in Lakeland which are set against the impressive backdrop of the Scafell Pike range. The pools here are linked with impressive waterfalls and big, water-shaped boulders; the flora and fauna are abundant too, and in season the verdant green banks are studded with dog violets.

Park anywhere you can in the laybys along the road in Eskdale near Jubilee Bridge and take a walk up or down the valley. Whichever direction you go the swimming is good. If you are heading to the upper Esk pause before you jump into those crystalline pools – some of them are very tricky to get out of.

Enjoying Summer River Swimming

#3 River Swimming in the River Duddon

The Duddon Valley is a fair length and contains some lovely pools and glides and even a cracking bridge jump at Ulpha. There is a lot to explore here but the most accessible part of the river, with the deepest pools, lies between Duddon Bridge and Ulpha and you can often park really close to the river in the many laybys there.
It can get a bit busy during the holidays, but the atmosphere is always fun and the river is full of like-minded people getting together to enjoy the water. If you are going there via Broughton in Furness, stock up on picnic food at the excellent bakery and café there, it is well worth the visit.

Enjoy your river swimming adventures – we’ll hope to meet you in the water this season. Keep it safe, and have fun.
The Swim the Lakes Team.

River Swimming lilies

River Swimming Do’s & Don’ts

• Check if there is access to the river you intend to swim – look for rights of way on an Ordinance Survey map or ask local swimming groups.
• Wear a wetsuit if you get cold easily – it is safer and will keep you warm and buoyant and will allow you to have fun for longer.
• Check if you can get out easily! Some banks are very steep and some river pools end in waterfalls. I always walk the length of a new river before I swim it to assess the hazards.
• Jump into to unknown or coloured water without checking it out first.
• Swim in flooded rivers or where there is a strong flow. Drowning is not fun.
• Swim near weirs or waterworks.

Related Links:

Where to swim in the Lake District
Lake Swimming in the Lake District
Wild Swimming in the Dubs, Pots and Pools of the Lake District
Tarn Swimming in the Lake District
Guided Wild Swimming in the Lake District