Guide to Wild Swimming in Hampshire

Across Hampshire more and more people of all ages are discovering the freedom and health benefits of wild swimming. With plenty of outdoor bodies of water to choose from in the county, both on the coast and inland on rivers and lakes, it’s easy to take the plunge.

Favourite spots for Hampshire swimmers are along the River Itchen, the cold and deep Andark Lake and the tidal River Hamble and among the most popular challenges is a swim across the Solent to the Isle of Wight, covering a distance of around 1.5 miles. The 220 square kms of woodland and grassland that makes up the New Forest contains some first class wild swimming havens.

You can join swimming societies like Hampshire Open Water Swimmers or the Shack Sharks, or do your own thing. If you’re a “newbie” don’t forget you should never swim on your own, make sure you have an easy way into the water and out again, and check for any hazards above and below the water before you get in.

Let’s take a look at some of Hampshire’s best spots for open water swimming (note, when it comes to sea swimming we’ve picked only the out-of-the-way spots you may not have considered before):

Wild but wonderful, this small pebbly New Forest beach is three miles east of Lymington. You can park on the edge of the beach, but judge the tides right because sometimes the car park is left awash. Best for swimming at mid-tide. In the woods behind the beach there is a large lake, rather choked with weed. It’s not unusual to meet up with some New Forest ponies on the way to the beach. Some other brilliant coastal swim spots in the vicinity – all with shingle beaches – are Calshot Beach (SO45 1BS), Milford-on-Sea, and Highcliffe Beach (BH23 5DG, on the border with Dorset).

If you like to swim in the sea with plenty of facilities at hand, this nature reserve with views across the Solent is the perfect place. Besides swimming the site offers some interesting wartime heritage attractions, a sensory garden, birdhide, childrens’ nature trail, adventure playground, great walks, barbecue sites to hire, and a restaurant, all on the edge of the New Forest. The park is free to enter but there’s a charge for parking. For opening times, directions and parking fees visit the Lepe Country Park website.

The Ellingham Water Ski & Wakeboard Club provides open water swimming sessions – under the auspices of the National Open Water Coaching Association (NOWCA) – in the beautiful, clean clear waters of Ellingham Lake near Ringwood in the New Forest. There are distance loop courses laid out for 400 metres, 750 metres and 1200 metres for those who are in to serious training. If you’re just a casual dipper you’re more than welcome too. Swim sessions are run during mornings and evenings on certain days of the week (check the Ellingham Club Facebook page for the latest opening times) and cost £7.00 per session. You must pre-book which requires registering with NOWCA and downloading the ACTIO app, which you can do via the NOWCA Ellingham webpage.

Twenty-two acres of lakes, surrounded by woodland, is a tranquil place for a peaceful swim just a short distance from the bustle of urban life. Open water swimming sessions at the park are run by Howl Multisports whith sessions open for pre-booked swims on Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings. To sign up for membership and find out more about coaching if you want it visit the Howl Multisports website.

On the River Itchen, not far from Marwell Zoo, there is a lovely deep pool at Compton Lock which is so popular with swimmers that the Parish council have built a set of steps to help people climb in and out. This great swimming spot is on the doorstep of Shawford Railway Station, directly down the line from London Waterloo, with trains operated by South Western Railway.

If you like to dive down deep at a swimming venue then Andark Lake – purpose-built for scuba diver training programmes – is the place for you.

If you’re not really into donning a wetsuit and submerging, then the lake is also open for open water swimming and triathlon training at certain times.

The lake is the size of an Olympic swimming pool with beach type entry.

There are great onsite facilities including changing rooms with showers, WiFi, a Café and shop.

Booking is essential. For more information about schedules and prices, and to book online, see the Andark Lake website.

A great spot for a family dip in the River Avon, deep enough for a swim and splash-about with grassy areas to dry off on. The setting is picturesque, and there’s a children’s playpark alongside.

Great for picnics and paddling, this spot on the River Lymington in the New Forest is easily accessible from the road with parking nearby. There’s a neat grassy beach area, and if you head in the direction of the bridge you’ll find some deeper pools where you can take the plunge.

Just one of the many wonderful beaches on the coast of Hampshire, Calshot offers panoramic views of the Solent, Southampton and the Isle of Wight to spice up your sea swim. It’s a mile-long shingle, dog friendly beach not far from Lymington, and there’s an activities centre offering windsurfing, kitesurfing and sailing. No lifeguard service, so take care!

Just a short ferry ride from Southampton lies the Isle of Wight – just 25 miles long and 14 miles wide – surrounded by some stunning beaches just calling for you to take the plunge.

For superb swimming we’d recommend Ryde, Totland Bay, Priory Bay at Seaview, Yaverland Beach at Sandown and Ventnor Beach. The more daring may enjoy Blackgang Naturist Beach.

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Email with details of your favourite Hampshire open water or wild swimming spot! Thank you.