With a new year on the horizon, it’s a time when many people’s attention turns to their health and fitness – as well as blowing out the cobwebs of all the festive indulgence.
So what better way to enjoy an invigorating boost than with a wild swim at one of Devon’s many beautiful outdoor spots.
Whether you’re a newbie novice looking to overcome the bleary-eyed indulgence of a heavy night or a seasoned swimmer, there’s something for everyone in Devon and here we take a look at 11 of the best spots.
Devonandcornwallwildswimming.co.uk have created a handy map of wild swimming spots in Devon that you can see below:
From serious sea swimming and exploring cave systems to family-friendly paddle and plunge pools, wild swimming spots in Devon include:
Teign Gorge Circular
From the car park at Castle Drogo, the path winds down into the Teign Gorge and along to Drogo Weir, which was built in 1928 to serve the castle’s hydroelectric plant just downstream. The 75 metre pool makes a perfect wild swimming spot, shaded by woodland and with a handy metal jetty to enter the water.
Look out for dragonflies and rare water beetles. The weir serves a double purpose and also helps stock the river with salmon, and castle owner Julius Drewe built three impressive cascading pools at the lower end of the weir to allow the upward migration of the spawning salmon.
Once you are suitably refreshed, continue the walk downstream along the rocky undulating path, with beautiful views of the river as it winds its way past mossy islands and dipping pools on its route to Teignmouth.
See if you can spot the rocking Logan Stone in the riverbed, thought to belong to the druids. The path continues alongside oaks once managed by the monks from Buckfast Abbey. A little further along the river and through a hunting gate, you’ll reach Fingle Weir and a second chance for a dip.
The Fingle Bridge Inn started life as a tea shelter founded in 1897 to offer refreshments to fishermen, early tourists and people bringing grain to the mill.
You might need some refreshment yourself, before the walk continues up a very steep hill to the top of the valley and back to where you started, via Piddledown Common – a name that children and those of us in our second childhoods still find hilarious.
A fun way to start this picturesque mini-adventure is by jumping on board the restored steam train at Littlehempston station in Totnes and chugging your way up to Staverton station, around the Dartington Estate.
Stepping off the train, you feel like you have walked into a gentle Sunday evening television drama, and indeed the station has been used as a location in everything from the Hound of the Baskervilles to Five Go Mad in Dorset.
It’s a delightful riverside walk through the trees until you reach the weir and cross the leat. You then enter what feels like a wooded island from an adventure story, with gnarly roots underfoot and the slow flow of the rust coloured river glimpsed through gaps in the lush green jungle. Carry on further over a bridge made from two old railway sleepers and onto a bench near a tree in the middle of the path.
Here you can drop down onto the earthy beach and swim at the aptly named Still Pool. This naturally dammed playground, straight out of a Mark Twain story, has everything you need – a deep channel to swim through, a pebbly beach on the far shore to conquer and jumping rocks and a rope swing for the adventurous.
The walk continues into the village of Staverton, where you’ll pass St Paul de Leon Church and The Court Room, before enjoying a well-deserved refreshment stop at the Sea Trout Inn.
The stroll back to the station takes you through a lush nature reserve, past charming B&Bs and an antiques shop. You can then wait for the train on to Buckfastleigh, fulfilling all those Railway Children fantasies. Please note, part of the route is closed on Sundays.
Start Point Circular
The car park at Start Point must be a contender for one of the best views of any car park in the UK, with spectacular views across to Beesands and the ruined village at Hallsands.
The walk down to the lighthouse is like walking over the spiny tail of some gargantuan prehistoric beast, and indeed the name ‘start’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon term ‘steort’ meaning ‘tail’.
Continuing over the dragons back, the path takes a dramatic turn as it winds its way around the vertiginous contours of the coast, dropping right down to exposed cliff edges with sharp drops to rocky bays and gullies below.
As the path drops down closer to the sea at Peartree Point, you can reach a secret shingle beach surrounded by several rocky islands. It’s a delightful spot for a dip, although stay close to the coast, as there are some strong currents out near the islands.
A natural channel between sea cliffs and the rocky islands guides you out into the azure waters of a lagoon, with the lighthouse standing as a guardian in the distance.
You get a great views over Great Mattiscombe Beach as you walk around the headland. Set up base on the sands and prepare for some delicious swimming in these sparkling waters.
It’s a much shorter walk back up to the car park through some beautiful fields. We like to make a weekend of it, camping at East Prawle and enjoying an ale or three at the legendary Pig’s Nose Inn.
Here’s a selection of other amazing places to go wild swimming across Devon:
Sharrah Pool is situated roughly a two-mile walk through Holne woods, which are full of spectacular ancient trees.
The trees open out to form a fairy-like glen, and this is where you will find Sharrah pool. The pool is roughly a 100m stretch, where the river opens up and pools out. There is a small waterfall located further upstream.
The pool is surrounded by large granite boulders which make the perfect sunbathing beds to while away the summer days on.
While the river is usually slow where the pool opens up, the flow can become fast and dangerous with heavy rainfall, so do take extra care.
The Hindu Caves
The Hindu Caves are located between Torquay and Paignton by the Livermead Cliff Hotel. The cave formation was well known in Victorian times.
The caves gained their nickname from Charles Kingsley, author of ‘The Water Babies’ who described the caves as: “A labyrinth of double and triple caves like a Hindu temple.”
The caves are made up of red rock and have an exotic appeal, worth a look to any capable swimmer who enjoys an added adventure.
The sea is usually relatively calm but be aware, if the waves pick up they can push swimmers against the rocks at the back of the cave.
Anstey’s Cove demonstrates the crystal clear waters Torbay is famous for.
The cove is well protected and calm and provides fantastic swimming conditions, especially for those who are new to wild swimming. The crystal clear water also means the cove is brilliant for getting on the goggles and having a snorkel.
There is always plenty of wild life in the cove, whether it’s the underwater plants and sea weed, small shoals of fish or even the odd seal.
For those who are nervous about the prospects of wild swimming, Anstey’s Cove also provide coasteering experiences so that you can get to grips with an instructor.
Legend has it Crazywell pool — located in the middle of Dartmoor — is a bottomless, haunted pool.
It is actually an old shallow-cast mine, which is fed by a natural spring. The pool is high up on the moors, so expect to be exposed to the elements, and be prepared for the water to be cold.
The area enjoys uninterrupted views across the moors, making it the perfect place to get back to nature, floating in the breeze, listening to the birds.
Salmon Leaps is a long river pool situated in the woods beneath Castle Drogo. The water is shallow, roughly 1.5m deep at its deepest. The Teign then flows into three square, stone, Venetian plunge pools.
The leaps are surrounded by trees and woodlands which dapple the light on the water and the grass bank alongside. The grass bank also provides the perfect picnic pitch alongside the shallow leaps making it the perfect place for a wild family swim.
Although the area is relatively safe, the ‘slide’ exiting the bottom pool is fast flowing, and can direct you towards a large hidden rock. Families should consider placing an adult at the bottom of the leaps to catch any young children and avoid cuts and scrapes. T
here are also a couple of old wooden posts hidden under the water just off the river bank, like any wild swimming area, it’s advisable to take extra care and make sure an adult scouts the area for any hidden dangers, before children go diving in. London Bridge is a sea swim around the coast for advanced swimmers.
A good starting point is Peaked Tor Cove, a small quiet beach with a concrete, railed Victorian platform. If you swim out from the beach and around towards Meadfoot following the coastline, you will come to a rock arch formation known as London Bridge, with a look similar to a smaller version of Dorset’s Durdle Door.
Further along from the bridge is a large flat rock ledge which juts out into the sea, which makes a good resting point before heading back.
From the village of Staverton, follow the path down to the River Dart.
There you will find a gentle, and usually relatively warm stretch of the river. The area is deep and very slow flowing. Following the river downstream brings more seclusion with high surrounding trees and little beaches along the river side.
Because of the shade from the trees, the water can often look dark. But it’s deep and warm and is a beautiful spot, with a nearby village to stop for lunch on the way back.
There is a hidden rock at this location, and as the water can be dark be sure to take extra care.
Watersmeet is a well-known area of gorgeous woodland and river walks which is part of the National Trust. There are National Trust tea rooms at the start of the river with some small plunge pools.
If you follow the river downstream a long ravine opens out — Long Pool. The ravine is surrounded by overgrown ferns and oaks and even has its very own waterfall.
Though this is a stretch of the river, it does open out to more of a pool and therefore is usually very still, and relatively safe.
Be sure to watch out for the plentiful wildlife, although the shade can make the water look dark, there are many varieties of fish to keep your eyes open for. Out of the water, it is the perfect place for bird watching and spotting a dragonfly or two.
The River Otter
Not far from the picturesque village of Ottery St Mary, there is easy access to the River Otter.
Close to the weir on the river, is a pretty, calm expanse of water which comes complete with its own flume section which forms almost a natural jacuzzi, and a rope swing. The pool is surrounded by ancient willow trees.
Above the river is a wide sunny field, perfect for sunbathing, drying off and a quick after swim picnic.