To truly embrace the great outdoors in the UK, discover the delight of wild swimming in the Thames. We uncover 10 of our favourite spots to take a dip with information to plan a great day out in England.
There’s something so revitalising about swimming in the Thames.
Squishy mud squelching between your toes and foreign objects brushing against your legs. Dodging slippery rocks to experience the relief that comes from finding a nice flat gravel section that gives you time to plot your course into the water.
Then, with steely resolve, plucking up the courage to defy the numbing sensation in your limbs and dive into the bracing water. Both invigorating and fortifying, wild swimming is like a jolt to the senses. A reminder of the therapeutic powers of mother nature and the elation of a great adventure.
We’ve developed this list of swimming spots after years of cumulative research. Some are ideal for adventurous people looking for an alternative way to enjoy the isolation of the countryside, others are purpose-built for families with young kids. Some are perfectly located with easy access to public transport, others are out-of-the-way idylls – remote atmospheric pools where the setting takes you away from the every day.
Here are our favourite swimming spots in the Thames.
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IN THIS GUIDE
SCENIC PLACES TO GO WILD SWIMMING IN THE THAMES
IS IT SAFE TO SWIM IN THE THAMES?
The River Thames stretches for 215 miles and is the longest river entirely within England. It winds its way from the edge of the Cotswolds, through Oxford, Reading, Henley and Windsor before entering the North Sea just east of London. During its journey, it changes from an idyllic reed-fringed brook to a wide fast flowing tidal river.
It is not recommended to swim in the tidal section of the Thames (east of Putney Bridge to the North Sea). It is neither safe nor particularly nice. But as you head west the river gets cleaner, safer (less boat traffic) and more beautiful.
All these 10 wild swimming locations are west of London and easily accessible. Each of them are in beautiful locations with a genuinely rural feel. Follow all our tips at the end of this guide for staying safe while swimming in the Thames and enjoy a great day out in England.
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1 – HURLEY LOCK
Best wild swimming in the Thames with a large shelving beach and good facilities for young families.
Hurley Lock sits on an island in the middle of the Thames. Surrounded by large swathes of green grass, it’s the perfect spot for a picnic with the family. A shallow shelving beach with almost no current makes Hurley Lock suitable for kids of all ages and a great place to swim in the Thames safely.
However, head a little further out and the water gradually deepens allowing for an excellent wild swim.
The island has patches with both sun and shade, and a few picnic tables dotted about. Hurley Lock is only a 5-minute walk from the beautiful village of Hurley; parts of which date back to 1135. The village is well worth looking around.
FACILITIES AT HURLEY LOCK
There’s a tearoom and public toilets making it the perfect wild swimming spot on the Thames for anyone who likes to have facilities nearby.
HOW TO GET TO HURLEY LOCK
Hurley Village Car Park is a 5-minute walk to the lock and can get extremely busy on summer days. To get to Hurley Lock via public transport, take the train to Marlow then enjoy a lovely 1-hour walk along the Thames Footpath to the lock.
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2 – MEDMENHAM
Best wild swimming in the Thames for an evening picnic on a shady enclosed grassy patch
Medmenham is a mile upstream from Hurley Lock on the other side of the river. At the end of a lane of posh houses, a lovely patch of grass opens out in front of a particularly wide stretch of the Thames. It’s a perfect spot for a picnic with the surrounding trees giving it a lovely secluded feel. After a dip, enjoy a bottle of wine as the sun drifts behind the trees.
There are no gentle shelving beaches here, but it’s about a 1-foot step down off the bank into the water. While shallow at the edge, the river deepens quickly. This makes it an excellent spot for some energetic swimming in the Thames. There are two magnificent houses set on the riverbank which you can swim past and dream of what life could have been.
FACILITIES AT MEDMENHAM
There are no toilets at Mednemham (or any other facilities) however, it’s a 10-minute walk to The Dog & Badger pub.
HOW TO GET TO MEDMENHAM
Park where you can along Ferry Lane in Medmenham (location is marked on the map below), then walk down to the river and turn right. To get here via public transport, buses run to the Dog & Badger from High Wycombe, Marlow, Henley and Reading.
3 – SHIPLAKE
Best wild swimming in the Thames with easy access from London
Just south of Lower Shiplake, a long grassy bank lines the edges of the River Thames. There are plenty of spots to put down a picnic blanket and while away an afternoon. Although a long swim is possible here, it’s a popular part of the river, so you’ll often need to give way to boats making their way downstream in full party mode.
However, it’s a lovely spot to take a quick dip and sit on the banks while watching a very active part of the river. With such easy access from London, this is less of a rural idyll, so Shiplake is the type of wild swimming spot where you bring a group for a day of catching up in the sun.
FACILITIES AT SHIPLAKE
The Baskerville pub in Lower Shiplake is a 20-minute walk from the swimming area.
HOW TO GET TO SHIPLAKE
Park on Mill Lane in Lower Shiplake then walk to Sonning lock and take the Thames footpath west for a few minutes. Or take a one hour train from London Paddington station to Lower Shiplake station. From the station, it’s a 20-minute walk to the swimming spot.
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4 – MOULSFORD
Best wild swimming in the Thames with a late afternoon pint
Moulsford is a relaxed wild swimming spot set beside a lovely meadow whose banks come right up to the edge of the river. Several picnic spots have been marked out in the long grass from previous swimmers. The river is easily accessed via tracks through the grass that arrives at gentle shelving beaches.
A little upstream, a swing rope dangles from an old large tree which you can swim over to and join the queue of people hurling themselves into the water. The best spot for a boozy lunch or dinner is at The Beetle & Wedge Pub. Perched right on the river, it’s the ideal location to grab a bite or watch the sunset over an idyllic part of the Thames. Book ahead and have a great day out in England.
FACILITIES AT MOULSFORD
There are toilets at the Beetle & Wedge pub in Moulsford around 15 minutes from the swimming area.
HOW TO GET TO MOULSFORD
Park on the streets of Moulsford, turn right after the Beetle & Wedge Pub and walk for 15 minutes along the Thames. To travel via public transport, take the train to Goring & Streatley Station, walk over the bridge and turn right. Head upstream for about 25 minutes.
5 – SHILLINGFORD
Best wild swimming in the Thames for a quiet stretch of idyllic peacefulness
For peace and quiet on a beautiful shady stretch of the river, Shillingford is an under-visited location and a hidden gem on the Thames. Just a 15-minute walk north of Shillingford Hotel, seven secluded picnic spots are nestled into the banks of the river. Each one is set among the trees, so once you have picked your spot, you’d never know anyone else was around.
The reed lined river peacefully meanders at a slow pace and lilies drift aimlessly on the current. With barely a house to be seen it’s the best secret idyll we’ve found and a great spot for swimming on the Thames. You can swim for miles or simply take the odd dip. Whatever you choose it’s pure joy.
FACILITIES AT SHILLINGFORD
Shillingford Hotel has a bar and toilets which is just a 15-minute walk from the swimming locations.
HOW TO GET TO SHILLINGFORD
Park at Shillingford Hotel, then walk 15-minute along the western bank. Please note, the car park only takes cash. To travel on public transport, buses to Shillingford run from Oxford, Reading and Henley.
6 – CLIFTON HAMPDEN
Best wild swimming in the Thames for a quiet picnic by a charming village
Clifton Hampden is a charming village full of thatched houses, a lovely church, a quaint post office and a couple of pubs. Just south of the village, a public meadow caresses the banks of the river before dropping down to several gently shelving beaches.
Some of the entrances into the water are a bit muddy, but a quick stroll will reveal tiny gravel beaches providing comfortable access to this attractive rural part of the river. Trees line the far bank with the odd house of the village poking between them. There are few better places to spend the afternoon soaking up the rays, snacking on a picnic and cooling off in the river than Clifton Hampden.
FACILITIES AT CLIFTON HAMPDEN
The Barley Mow pub is a 10-minute walk from the swimming spot at Clifton Hampden.
HOW TO GET TO CLIFTON HAMPDEN
Park at Barley Mow pub, walk 5 minutes along the road towards the river. Turn right on the Thames footpath and walk another 5 minutes to find a spot to jump in. Unfortunately, it’s not easy getting to Clifton Hampden via public transport. Buses run from Didcot, but they’re infrequent.
7 – PORT MEADOW
Best wild swimming in the Thames on the edge of Oxford
It’s not often you can go for a swim in a river that passes through a city, but you can here. On the northwest edge of Oxford City centre, the River Thames flows through Port Meadow. The right for Freemen to graze their cattle on this meadow was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 and that right has been exercised ever since.
So today, cattle and horses continue to graze on the verdant riverbank meadow. This means you have to search for a spot without animal dung. Once you do, the edge of the gently moving river is great for a paddle. The centre is just deep enough for several ‘laps.’
The best spot for young families is on the east bank just next to the Godstow Car Park where there are shallow beaches. For older swimmers walk down the western bank for 15 to 20 minutes and find a spot on the bank in the shade of trees. Either the Perch or the Trout Inn are great places to enjoy a point and conclude an excellent day out in Oxford.
FACILITIES AT PORT MEADOW
The swimming locations at Port Meadow are between The Perch Inn at one end, and the Trout Inn at the other. Both are around a 30-minute walk from each other. There are toilets at the Godstow Car Park.
HOW TO GET TO PORT MEADOW
Parking at Port Meadow Godstow car park is free. Young families can swim right next to the car park, others should cross over the bridge at the Trout Inn, turn left down the footpath and walk for 15 minutes along the west bank. To travel via public transport to Port Meadow, take the train to Oxford Station. From Oxford, it’s a 30-minute walk along the Thames.
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8 – BUSCOT WEIR POOL
Best wild swimming in the Thames in a large, protected pool
The further upstream you head the smaller the River Thames gets, so finding spots to swim gets trickier. But Buscot has solved that problem by building a weir in the river which forms a large pool. Like a large outdoor swimming pool, there is very little current, shallow edges and a deep centre. The whole space is surrounded by lush trees and shrubs, giving it a lovely enclosed feel and making it a very safe place to swim in the Thames.
Next to the pool, a wide-open meadow providing lots of space to bask in the sun, laze under the shade of a tree or kick a football around. It’s a great spot for groups or families with a bit of extra space to run around.
FACILITIES AT BUSCOT WEIR POOL
Buscot weir pool is run by the National Trust which has a convenient car park, toilets and a tearoom, all located within 5 to 10 minutes’ walk of the pool.
HOW TO GET TO BUSCOT WEIR POOL
Buscot Village car park (National Trust) is a 5-minute walk to the weir pool. Unfortunately, public transport is not an easy option. Buses to Lechlade run from Cirencester and Swindon. From Lechlade, it’s a 3-mile walk.
9 – LECHLADE RIVER PARK
Best wild swimming in the Thames for fun and games by a lovely Cotswolds town
Just upstream from Buscot, Lechlade River Park is a great location for a day of fun and games on the Thames. The river curves around a large meadow with plenty of space to get away from everyone or bring the whole gang – whatever takes your fancy. It’s a great spot to relax in the sun and, with so much space, you could have a game of cricket, kick the football around, or practise your Tai Chi. The nearby Swindon Watersports has kayaks for hire.
After a spot of swimming in the Thames, head into the town of Lechlade – about 10 minutes from the river park. The Lynwood Café is the place to go for excellent coffee and fresh pastries. Sweet As Can Bee will keep the youngsters sugared-up while The Swan Inn has a great pub menu.
FACILITIES AT LECHLADE RIVER PARK
There are public toilets on Burford Street in Lechlade & plenty of cafes and pubs just a 10-minute stroll into town.
HOW TO GET TO LECHLADE RIVER PARK
Lechlade Riverside car park is a 5-minute walk to the river. Buses to Lechlade run from Cirencester and Swindon. It’s a 10-minute walk from Market Place stop.
10 – MINSTER LOVELL
Best wild swimming near the Thames with atmospheric, medieval ruins.
Strictly speaking, Minster Lovell is on the River Windrush, but it does flow into the Thames and it’s such a good spot that we had to include it. There’s no setting by a river in the English countryside, quite like this.
Minster Lovell is one of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds with a ruined 15th-century manor house set beside the river. It’s the perfect place for a picnic. The river around the ruins is waist-high, so it’s more of a paddle than a swim.
However, a few minutes’ walk downstream, a small weir forms a reed-fringed pool just beyond it. Here the water is deep and the current is strong. While you can’t go very far, by swimming into the flow you can keep the strokes going until you run out of energy. There are more picnic spots further downstream for a more rural, out of the way setting. It all makes for one of the finest days out in the Cotswolds.
FACILITIES AT MINSTER LOVELL
The Old Swan pub is a 10-minute walk from swimming spots.
HOW TO GET TO MINSTER LOVELL
Park either at Minster Lovell Church (5-minute walk to the swimming location) or at the village car park (a 10-minute walk). Buses to Minster Lovell run from Oxford (read our things to do in Oxford guide), Woodstock & Burford. The swimming is a 20-minute walk from the White Hart stop.
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MAP / SWIMMING IN THE THAMES
To help you find the best wild swimming spots on the Thames, we’ve marked each of the parking locations on the map. We’ve also indicated what we think are the best spots along the river to jump in. Many of the locations listed in this guide have multiple good entry points, so just head in the general direction of the swim location and find something that works for you.
TIPS FOR SWIMMING IN THE THAMES SAFELY
1 – Enter the water slowly. The temperature may be cold, especially so in deeper areas. If it’s your first time, stay close to the shore while you get used to the conditions.
2 – Never jump in unless your heart and body have already become acclimatised, you know what’s below the surface and have a plan on how to get out again.
3 – If you feel the current might be too strong for you, stay closer to the bank as the water is usually slower moving. Swim upstream first because you don’t want to leave the more tiring work till the end.
4 – Be aware of the cold as hypothermia comes on quickly. For longer swims in summer or any swims in winter wear a wetsuit and make sure you have warm clothes to change back into when you are finished.
5 – Avoid swimming after very heavy rain as the river can swell, become dangerous and it will also be less clean.
6 – If you plan on swimming across deep water then do not go on your own, it’s safer and more fun with others.
7 – If you are swimming on a section of the Thames with lots of boats, wear a colourful hat or take a visibility float.
8 – Avoid areas of blue-green algae, wading in muddy areas or swimming with an open cut.
9 – Have fun and take a picnic. It’s a great day out, but beware; being drunk and wild swimming isn’t a good mix.
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