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Ten of the best wild swims

Kate Rew
02 October 2015

From secluded Icelandic pools to underground swimming holes in Mexico, Kate Rew, director of the Outdoor Swimming Society, picks her ultimate spots for wild swimming

1. Seljavallalaug Pool, Iceland
Iceland is full of hot springs and pools that make use of the island’s geothermal energy. Skip the Blue Lagoon (and its crowds) and instead head for this 82-foot pool hidden in the Seljavellir valley. Filled with hot spring water from Eyjafjallajökull and originally constructed in 1923 to teach Icelanders how to swim, it’s quite possibly the most stunning location of any swimming pool on this planet.
British Airways flies to Reyjkavik from London Heathrow from 25 October 2015

2. Cenotes, Mexico
There are almost no rivers on the Yucatán — the soft limestone ground swallows them whole. So on a hot day, it’s a much welcomed relief to take a cooling dip in one of the many cenotes (natural swimming holes) that drain the peninsula. These subterranean, mineral-rich waters are impossibly clear, and are often framed with giant tropical trees and hanging vines. It’s a magical experience (despite the mosquitoes).
British Airways flies to Cancun from London Gatwick

3. Bosphorus, Turkey

Every July, this major shipping channel — which can reach 26˚C at that time of year — is shut to commercial ships for the annual Bosphorus Cross Continental Swim Challenge. Over 1,500 competitors take the plunge to swim the 6.5km race, which starts on the Asian side of Istanbul and finishes on the European side.
British Airways flies to Istanbul from London Heathrow

4. Corryvreckan, Scotland
Swimming in the Scottish Inner Hebrides is about as wild as wild swimming gets. The Gulf of Corryvreckan — the third largest whirlpool in the world — only calms down for an hour at slack tide, making it an exciting challenge. You can even camp on the dramatic uninhabited islands and swim with seals.
British Airways flies to Glasgow from London Gatwick, Heathrow and City airports

5. Kaikoura, New Zealand
With hundreds of lakes, thousands of rivers and 15,000km of coastline, swimming is an integral part of life in New Zealand. From polar streams and azure river pools to big coastal open water swims, there is plenty on offer. New Zealand was way ahead of most other nations in creating marine reserves, which aim to maintain and restore biodiversity, and is committed to not bothering the creatures you swim with (boat operators are strictly limited, and feeding the dolphins and seals is banned). Try it at Kaikoura, where you’re may see offshore whales and get a chance to swim with dolphins.

6. Scheveningen New Year’s Dive, Netherlands
I haven’t done it, but out of all the cold New Year’s Day swims, this is at the top of my list. Every year on 1 January, around 10,000 brave swimmers descend upon the icy waters of North Sea on this seaside town near The Hague — the idea is that it’s the best way to start the year fresh. The tradition dates back to 1960, and is followed by a much-needed a sweet hot chocolate or warming Dutch pea soup after.
British Airways flies to Rotterdam from London City airport

7. The fjords, Norway
There’s nothing better than swimming in the midnight sun around the Norwegian fjords — in summer, the water temperature is more tolerable (plus the air temperature is a comparatively balmy 16˚C versus -3˚C in the height of winter), but you still have that incredibly dramatic landscape of craggy cliffs, snow-capped mountains, and steely blue waters surrounding you. The water is particularly clear around Helleneset and Gamle Bergen, but even Bergen’s city centre offers excellent water visibility.
British Airways flies to Oslo from London Heathrow

8. The Bantham Swoosh, Devon
The Bantham Swoosh takes place on a shallow, crystal clear estuary in Southwest England — as you approach the end of the 6km estuary, an increasingly fast moving body of water carries you towards the sea. It can run at 8 knots, which is four times faster than your normal speed. You can do it yourself at any spring tide of the year or join the Outdoor Swimming Society for its annual event (the next is on 2 July 2016).

9.  Gippsland Lakes, Australia
Swimmers who take a nighttime dip in this networks of lakes in Victoria appear to glow blue (remember that scene in Life of Pi?), thanks to a chemical reaction called bioluminescence. It happens when a naturally occurring micro-organism in the water is disturbed. Don’t forget a waterproof camera (or case).
British Airways flies to Melbourne from London Heathrow, via Sydney, Singapore or Hong Kong

10.  Badeschiff Pool, Berlin
This large pool floats on a post-industrial stretch of the Spree River in front of Arena Berlin, in the German capital. The fresh water swimming pool is a converted 30m-wide cargo container, and is the perfect spot for a refreshing dip on a hot summer’s day — the floating wooden deck is even kitted out with a bar, sun chairs and hammocks. Look out for something similar soon in London — the Thames Baths project.
British Airways flies to Berlin from London Heathrow


Kate Rew is the director of the Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS) and the author of Wild Swim (Guardian Books)

For more information about swimming at these and many more locations across the globe, use the OSS map at wildswim.com