Expert guide: wild swimming in Devon

It’s wet, it’s wild – and it’s brilliant. It’s wild swimming, and Devon has some of the best spots in the country. Expert wild swimmer Kari Furres from Totnes told Official Devon why it’s becoming so popular, how to do it safely, and where to find her favourite wild swimming spots.

Official Devon Advice: Read the Outdoor Swimming Society’s safe wild swimming tips before setting out.  We cannot be responsible for wild swimming locations and these are only suggestions.

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Tell us what wild swimming is, Kari …
When people ask me that question I sometimes flippantly reply that it used to be called ‘going for a swim’ – but I guess it is more than that! All outdoor swimming can be included, from dipping in the local river, to training for a channel swim. But the main feature is the wild bit, which really means landscape and nature, not dangerous and hard! It’s inclusive, all ages can take part, and it’s not seen as a competitive sport, more as a way of life.

What’s the huge attraction?
Immersion in the landscape. The endorphin rush from cold water – you always feel euphoric after a cold swim. Everything you get from walking, with extras: a sense of exploration and discovery. The joy of outdoor swimming is that the same spot changes every time you swim; the temperature, the landscape, the amount of water and the weather conditions.

Why’s Devon known as such a great place for wild swimming?
There’s such varied swimming available – it’s a brilliant swim destination. There’s a good selection of outdoor pools, rivers, sandy beaches surrounded by rocks and cliffs, and the estuarys are fantastic: the Avon, Erme and Dart to name just a few. Even commercial places like Torquay have the most amazing wild swimming, practically in town!

Which are your favourite Devon wild swimming spots?
The Avon: my favourite spot for a ‘journey swim’ because of the fantastic whoosh as the river flows into Bantham. The sandy bed makes for very clear water so wildlife is very visible, and the oyster beds at the start show how clean the water is here.

Wild swimming in Devon

Sharrah Pool: it takes a forty minute walk through ancient woodland to reach this remote Dartmoor pool (pictured above), and once you reach it there’s a very beautiful 50m channel of crystal clear water flanked on either side by large smooth sunbathing rocks.

Wild swimming in Devon Thurlestone Rock by Aquatic Ape

Thurlestone Rock in Thurlestone Bay: this scenic swim (pictured above) over a beautiful reef feels like flying when the water is clear.

Two others to try:
Fluxton Weir near Ottery St Mary: easily accessible water that slopes gently behind the weir to a pool with a rope swing hanging from an overhead branch. The river winds upstream through banks and willow trees, and the weir itself has a flume section and natural jacuzzi. The field above the river is an ideal place to picnic and sunbathe.

Long Pool (pictured below) at Watersmeet: fairly deep, and as the name suggests, long – with a beautiful waterfall at one end. Dense woodland means it feels very secluded considering it’s not far from the footpath.

Wild swimming Devon Long Pool Watersmeet J Daley

How do people new to wild swimming get started?
Whether you’re visiting Devon or live here, there are websites you can visit: The Outdoor Swimming Society is one which helps you link up with fellow wild swimmers and find good spots all over the country, with Devon having the most marked. There are also groups on Facebook, such as Devon and Cornwall Wild Swimming. Just find a social swim and just turn up. They’re not competitions, more a dip, a chat and cake in the countryside.
Official Devon Tip: there are larger, sometimes competitive, wild swimming events in Devon too. Try the Dart 10k on September 14 (now sold out but great to watch) , the Ecover Blue Mile in Plymouth over September 14-15, and the Agatha Christie One Mile Sea Swim from Paignton on September 15

What kit do you need?
A cheap wetsuit is a good idea – you can get a second hand one for about £50; it’ll protect you from rocks, the cold and sunburn. Also, a pair of water shoes (Crocs are good), some goggles and a towel!

What safety precautions should wild swimmers take?
The advice is never swim alone, research your swim, and don’t swim unless you feel confident. Use a tide table if you’re sea swimming, and tidal stream atlas info is very good for informing yourself about coastal currents. There’s more safety advice on the Outdoor Swimming Society website, which wild swimmers should read first.
There is a risk, as there is in horse riding, or mountain climbing – but for me, that’s part of the attraction: feeling a part of the world and not just an observer.

Kari Furre runs Swim Clinic in Ashburton: email her on info.swimclinic@gmail.com

Find out more about wild swimming
The Outdoor Swimming Society
Devon and Cornwall Wild Swimming
North Devon and Exmoor Wild Swimming
Team East Devon Wild Swimming
Books Wild Swim by Kate Rew: perhaps the most popular guide to wild swimming around the UK. Beyond the Beach by Sophie Pierce and Matt Newbury: a new wild swimming book about Torbay.

Find out more