Open Water Swimming in the Lake District | All You Need to Know

Written by Shayle Follows

If you love open water swimming or want to start a new hobby and give it a try the Lake District is one of the best places in the world to give it a go. Here’s all you need to know about open water swimming in the Lake District.

Open water swimming in the Lake District has become more and more popular recently due to its physical and mental health benefits. The Lake District is an ideal place to give it a try. Whether you want to try open water swimming for a day or stay a little longer and enjoy a wild swimming break we have got you covered.

Open Water Swimming Lake District

What is open water swimming?

Open water swimming is quite simply what it says! It is swimming outdoor in open water such as rivers, lakes, oceans, and bays. It’s a completely different experience to swimming in a pool as the environment will be different everywhere you swim and the conditions will change each time. We love open water swimming because it just feels so much freer than swimming in a pool and you really feel at one with nature. The views around you are often spectacular and it has a really positive effect on our mental health not just our physical health.

Open Water Swimming

Where can I try open water swimming in the Lake District?

It’s important to stay safe when open water swimming in the Lake District.  You can swim in most of the lakes, tarns, and rivers in the local area. Smaller, quiet lakes are best for open water swimming as they have no motorboats but may have rowing boats, canoes, and kayaks.

  • Bassenthwaite (may have some motorboats and no diving allowed)
  • Buttermere
  • Crummock Water
  • Grasmere
  • Loweswater
  • Rydal Water
  • Wast Water

Busier lakes you can swim in the Lake District. These lakes all have motorboats, sailing boats, and other craft:

  • Windermere
  • Ullswater
  • Coniston Water
  • Derwentwater

In these busier lakes, it is recommended to pick a swim route along the shoreline, so you’re less likely to be in the path of boats and cruisers. It’s also important to make yourself as visible as possible. Wear a bright hat, have a tow float, and have a support craft like a kayak or paddleboard, to keep safe and enjoy your swimming.

Swimming is not allowed in Ennerdale Water, Haweswater resevoir, Thirlmere resevoir and Kentmere resevoir.

For this and more information visit They have an access to the lakes guide and maps of the lakes for water users which are extremely useful!

Lake District Open Water Swimming

Lake District open water swimming providers

  • Swim the lakes – Swim the lakes offer adventure swim breaks, adventure swim days, short wild swims, and open water swim courses. They have a fully loaded open water swimming shop for all your wetsuits and equipment and provide a wetsuit fitting service at their Ambleside store to ensure you get the right wetsuit. Find more information here.
  • Adventures with Emma – Open water swim sessions with a coach, and guided wild swims for individuals and groups. Find more information here.
  • Suzanna Swims – Offers guided outdoor and open water swimming for individuals as well as groups. Find more information here.
  • Great North Swim – An organised swim event with choice of 250 metres, 1/2 a mile, 1 mile, 2 miles, 5k or a 10k swim race. Find more information here.
  • Outdoor Swimming Society – Offers great advice for all open water swimmers and a UK wide swim map. Find more information here.

3 Simple tips for open water swimming in the Lake District

1. Keep as calm as you can.

We know that this is a lot easier said than done! If you’re new to open water swimming it’s quite a shock how much colder the water will be and depending on the conditions the waves can be choppy. It’s vital to stay as calm and focused as you can. Go slowly and steadily until you find yourself in a comfortable and regular rhythm. This change in water temperature will probably mean you will find yourself swimming more slowly than you would in a swimming pool. Trying to kick your legs faster to make up for it will waste your energy and oxygen so try to keep a steady rhythm suitable for you. Try to kick ‘or ‘flutter’ to keep your legs high in the water and reduce drag.

Open Water Swimming

It will take time to get used to open water swimming in a natural environment. Expect the water to change temperature as you move through it you might feel wildlife, long weeds, rocks, mud, or shingle under your feet and you may not be able to see the bottom. Focus on a fixed point such as a tree as this can reduce those pesky feeling of panic, breathe slowly and if you are worried about the wildlife,  you are the biggest predator.

2. Focus on one fixed point and swim in a straight line.

Swimming in a straight line towards a fixed point will take you less time and more importantly less energy. Pick a fixed object to swim towards such as a tree or buoy in a straight line. Lift your head after each stroke to keep sight of the fixed point. This can reduce feelings of disorientation and panic.

Open Water Swim

If you become tired remember that many people find turning onto your back disorientating, so try to avoid this if it makes you dizzy! A lot of open water swimmers find swimming calmly and slowly towards a fixed point the best way to avoid become disorientated.

3. Breathe

Most importantly, breathe! Practice breathing with different conditions so if the waves and wind are choppy on the left say, you can breathe on the right. Exhale underwater so as you turn your head you are ready to breathe in. Turn your head clear of the water before you start to inhale.

Lake District open water swimmer

Concentrating on breathing can help reduce feelings of panic.


Even on warm and sunny days the deep lakes and tarns in the Lake District can be very cold and exposure to cold water can rapidly lead to hypothermia. This can lead to early signs like struggling to move your hands, which can make swimming more difficult than normal.

It is important that you;

  • Wear a wetsuit that is well fitted and appropriate to keep you warmer and more buoyant.
  • Slowly enter the water to reduce shock and slowly get your body used to it. Avoid jumping in, you could get shocked by the cold, and you don’t know how deep it is.
  • Enter the water carefully to check the depth.
  • If you are a beginner or if you are not used to cold water don’t stay in too long.
  • Pick a route along the shoreline so you can get out easily if you need to.
  • Have lots of layers, a hat, and a warm drink ready for when you get out of the water, even in summer.
  • If you’re a beginner or not confident then choose one of the quieter lakes that do not allow boats.
  • Avoid mooring areas, marinas, and jetties used by boats, ferry routes, and boating channels.
  • Be aware boaters may be in any area of the lake at any time of day or night.
  • Only swim when weather conditions are suitable – remember they can change quickly.

Have you ever tried open water swimming in the Lake District? Let us know in the comments, we love to hear your experiences.

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