Wild swimming spots in Sussex and beyond
Fancy a dip? Now the weather is warming up it's way it's time to don your wetsuit and try nature's swimming pools. We've picked some of the loveliest spots in Sussex. Flowery swim caps on let's dive in!
Wild swimming has exploded in popularity of late – just one glance at Instagram will show you more tranquil riverside or breathtaking lake dips than you can shake a tow float at. Those who have tried it know it’s an experience unlike any other. The peace and tranquility, the connection with nature, the slimy mud underneath your feet – OK, but there’s ways around that.
Here in Sussex we have the coast, an obvious start for any would-be wild swimmer, but you can also experience the joys of a river dip across the county, and rivers tend to be far less crowded than a heaving beach.
Barcombe Mills, River Ouse
The worst-kept wild swimming secret in Sussex, and with good reason. This 5km stretch is deep, clear and has no current. Banks are steep, so approach with care. Nearby Pells Pool is also worth a visit although it has a limited open season, so keep an eye on their site.
Cuckmere Meanders, Seaford
Warm (well, in summer, anyway), shallow and wide, the perfect spot for beginners or the less confident. Locals divulge that there are weeds aplenty, so be warned! You can also combine this with a walk to the sea at Cuckmere Haven for a saltwater dip too, or enjoy the nearby Cuckmere Valley.
Sandy Bay, Midhurst
A relatively shallow part of the River Rother, with easy sloping banks and a gentle current. Get to it 200m from Cowdray Castle. Popular with families.
Greatham Bridge, River Arun
Steep banks lead to a deep part of the Arun, the second-fastest river in England. The river is tidal and can have strong currents so take care. If you want to explore this part of the Arun without getting your feet wet, hire a kayak or canoe from Fluid Adventures in Pulborough and row, row, row to your heart’s content.
Houghton Bridge, Amberley
Another access point for the Arun. If swimming feels too bold, hire boats from Amberley and take a river trip.
Waller’s Haven, Hailsham
Deep, slow-flowing and remote, this one is for confident swimmers only but a truly wild experience.
Divers Cove, Godstone
Ok, so this isn’t Sussex, but it’s only 20 minutes from East Grinstead on the Eastbourne Rd and well worth the trip! A beautiful 7.3 acre reservoir formerly used for sand extraction it’s natural biodiversity and sandy bottom mean the water quality is exceptional and glows a beautiful turquoise green in the summer or winter sun. Members only, open from April – October.
How to get started
New to all this wild swimming stuff? Fear not! We’ve rounded up wild swimming expert Debbie Burton, who counts feats such as the Henley Swim Thames Marathon among her watery conquests, to talk you through the basics.
How do I build confidence in open water?
Take it slowly! Ideally visit the water you want to swim in first with others that are going in, and don’t get in if you don’t fancy it, just watch and learn the water. Go slowly if you do get in, and make sure you know where you can get out. Oh, and never jump into water if you don’t know what’s underneath – everybody remembers that from school, don’t they?
What about all the grim slimy stuff on the bottom?
It does feel weird – so wear swim socks. You don’t need full-on neoprene ones, you can get cute stretch footsies from Amazon for about three quid. Not actually feeling the slime underfoot helps a lot.
What other kit do I need?
Nothing special, just a costume will do – or not even that, depending on where you’re going to swim. As the air temperature gets cooler though, have warm layers for when you get out.
Other kit you might want to consider are goggles, neoprene gloves and socks to keep your extremities warm, and a wetsuit. There’s no medal for being able to tolerate the cold, and if you want to swim any sort of distance, you’ll need one. Ear plugs, because cold water on the eardrums can affect your balance. A brightly coloured swim hat will help you be seen, and stave off ice-cream head if it gets cold. The ones with bubbles all over, like your nan used to wear, are the best and fabulously retro. Tow floats help with visibility and some come with waterproof pockets, good for phones, snacks and inhalers.
How can I acclimatise to cold water?
The best way is to start in summer, and just keep going as it gets colder. Everybody has their own method for getting in, there’s no medal for doing it quickly and if you dread it you won’t do it. My way is to go in slowly up to the waist, then quick with the shoulders.