Guide to Wild Swimming in Devon

With its stunning beaches Devon offers some attractive options for a salt-water wild swim. There are also plenty of rivers, pools and lakes if you prefer your swimming a bit calmer and quieter. Dartmoor National Park is bursting with delightful spots to take a dip in the wild under the sky.

With a wealth of super swimming spots available it’s not surprising that Devon (and neighbouring Cornwall) has a very strong contingent of wild swim supporters and devotees – in fact the Devon Wild Swimming Facebook group has 12.1 members and is growing apace.

There is also a useful website run by a network of wild swimmers that it is worth exploring if you plan to go wild swimming in Devon. You’ll find important information such as safe swimming advice and links to find tide times for sea swims and water bathing quality in various popular swim spots.

We’ve put together a guide to the best places to take the plunge in delightful Devon, so gather up your swim togs and towel and head for the highway ….

Sensational Sea Swims in Devon

As mysterious as it sounds, this wild swimming spot is somewhat of a secret. Named by Victorian author and naturalist, Charles Kingsley – who lived near the site for some years – these red sandstone caves were also visited by Charles Darwin. In the modern era they’ve been somewhat forgotten, but a few intrepid wild swimmers still enjoy a high tide swim in the caves where bright blue pools are lit up by shafts of light spilling in.

You can find the caves on the sea front road between Paignton and Torquay, under Corbyn Head, near the Livermead House Hotel. Park behind Institute Beach and at low tide you can walk around the headland which takes you to the caves. Swimming is possible when the tide is high.

If you explore a section of the South West Coast Path which runs from Broadsands Beach near Churston you’ll come across some small pebbled beaches that can be reached down steep paths. Tucked away, these coves are ideal for a secluded wild swim – perhaps in the company of the resident seal.

For a peaceful, refreshing swim in the crystal clear waters of Torbay it’s hard to beat Anstey’s Cove, on the South West Coastal Path between Torquay and Babbacombe. It’s not strictly a wild swim, since there is a café (ipen in summer) and toilet facilities on the way down to the Cove from the carpark. The Cove is well protected, with a shingle beach backed by a concrete promenade, accessed after a walk down a steep wooded hill.

It’s a great place for snorkelling, with plenty to see down below, and there’s some interesting rock formations in the cliffs.

Recommended for novices, you can stroke out boldly at high tide from South Milton Sands in crystal clear water for a truly wild swim to Thurlestone Rock, then under the iconic rock archway and back to the sands of South Milton.

If you’re around at low tide you can explore the rock pools teeming with a diverse array of seaweed and marine life. Even better, make sure you take a snorkel to explore the underwater world while you enjoy your swim.

South Milton Sands is four miles from Kingsbridge, down the A381 towards Salcombe. At the South Milton village the beach is signposted. It is under the care of the National Trust, which runs a carpark with a charge for non-members.

Fancy an adventurous wild sea swim from a secret shingle beach? Then head for Start Point, where the carpark has stupendous views – just a taste of what you’ll see as you set out for the lighthouse and onwards to the beach.

To reach the carpark from the A379 linking Dartmouth to Kingsbridge, look out for the brown information signs for Start Point that can be found at the mini roundabout in Stokenham.

From the car park walk down to the lighthouse, and then follow the path on round the coast on the cliff edges, above rocky coves. When the path descends nearer the sea at Peartree Point you’ll find a shingly beach enclosed by rocky islands. A channel between the rocks will guide you into an enticing swimmable lagoon. Take care though – there are strong currents so you shouldn’t do this alone or unless you’re a strong, experienced swimmer.

Freshwater Wild Swims in Devon

A large grassy area along a bend in the River Dart gives on a rocky shoreline with deep pools of clean moorland water. There are natural granite steps leading down. It’s a favourite and well-known wild swimming and picnic location so can get rather crowded on a sunny day. Follow the A38 to the southern end of Ashburton and take the B3352 past the River Dart Country Park towards New Bridge, which spans the river, and you’ll see the main car park ahead of you. From there, follow the north bank of the river under the bridge to the Spitchwick grassy area. There are two smaller car parks to be found if you drive past the main car park as the road curves towards the Tavistock Inn.

Not far from Spitchwick Common, where the River Dart passes through the Dart Gorge, you’ll find a lovely wild spot where the river tumbles over granite rocks, forming pools of water, one of which is the calm Sharrah Pool – perfect for wild swimmers. You can reach this locale from the New Bridge car park (as described for Spitchwick Common in the entry above). From the car park you need to follow the forestry track along the southern bank of the River Dart through the National Trust’s Holne Woods, then cross a waterfall and descend into an Oakland glade beside the river, where there’s a fence and stile. This is beside Sharrah Pool, which has some sandy areas in amongst granite rocks where you can gain access to the water.

Tucked away on Blackaton Brook, not far from the town of Okehampton and the A30 in West Devon, Shilley Pool is a favourite spot for locals in the area for a dip and a sunbathe on the flat rocks beside the small but deep pool. Finding Shilley Pool is not too difficult if you locate the road between the villages of South Zeal and Throwleigh. At the point where the road over the moorland divides with one branch heading to Throwleigh you’ll see a gravel parking area. After parking walk back in the direction of South Zeal and just before a cattle grid you’ll see a path along the south bank of Blackaton Brook, which takes you to Shilley Pool. Ordinance Survey Explorer OL28 map of Dartmoor is helpful.

It’s as still as a millpond, this inviting pool nestling beneath the scenic Haytor Rocks where historically high quality granite was quarried. This remnant of Dartmoor’s industrial history has been reclaimed by nature, the small lake sheltered by the high rock faces around it. The water is deep enough for a good swim, but the depth varies and there are uneven surfaces below, so take care. The Haytor National Park Visitor Centre and car park are nearby. To get there follow the B3387 road off of the A382 from Bovey Tracey (about three miles) to the lower Haytor car park.

There’s nothing like wading into the River Teign as it flows through the spectacular and heavily wooded gorge beneath the National Trust’s Castle Drogo – the last castle to be built in England, during the 1930s, by renowned architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. There are several pools ripe for a dip along the river in the gorge, the best spot being a long pool of water between the Iron Bridge and Castle Drogo Weir. A word of warning – avoid the weirs themselves because the cascades can be dangerous, especially when the river is in spate.

Castle Drogo is reached from A30, onto the A382 Whiddon Down to Moretonhampstead road, then follow the signs. From the National Trust car park (for which non-members have to pay) you can take scenic footpaths into the gorge, down to the river.

There’s probably no more idyllic or delightful place for a wild swim than the deep, clean weir pool on the River Dart at Staverton in south Devon. Shaded by trees and furnished with convenient rocks, this lovely clear pool is known as Still Pool. An obliging swimmer by the name of N. Cooke has posted his experience of swimming in Still Pool on YouTube – why not take a look and be inspired? Even more inspirational is the fact that a great way to reach Staverton’s Still Pool is to take the South Devon Heritage Railway from Buckfastleigh or Totnes. Alight at the charming Staverton Station (often used as a film location) and take a pleasant walk along the river to the pool. By road you’ll find Staverton off of the A384.

This large pond on the western side of Dartmoor is, quite literally, a legendary place. There are several superstitions and stories associated with the pool. It was once believed to be bottomless (though in fact it is about 5 metres at its deepest point). Locals also have it that the water level rises and falls in time with the tides at sea, and at midnight on midsummer’s eve the faces of the next parishioner destined to die can be seen on the surface of the water. It’s also said to be haunted by a witch. If you’re brave enough to take the plunge, Crazywell Pool is a very cold swim – its an old shallow-cast mine fed by a natural spring.

To find the pool head for the Norsworthy Bridge Car park at Burrator Reservoir (off of the B3212), and follow the track over the moor to Crazywell Pool.

You might expect to come across a Hobbit when you enter the forested glen at Watersmeet, high on Exmoor, where the River Lyn joins Hoar Oak Water. The wooded ravine is lined with ancient oaks and green ferns, and the water rushes over smooth rocks leaving clouds of smoky spray. At the start near the National Trust tea room there are some small plunge pools, but if you walk downstream the ravine broadens into the stretch known as Long Pool, where you can enjoy a peaceful swim along about 50 metres of dark water with fern covered granite sides. You can reach Watersmeet from the A39, following signs for Lynmouth. There are National Trust pay and display car parks at Combe Park and Countisbury, from where you can walk to the ravine. Long Pool is 1.5km up from Watersmeet tea shop itself, before Rockford, on the western side of the footbridge.

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