5 wild swimming spots in Cheshire

The Farm Club at Pickmere Lake

The Farm Club at Pickmere Lake offers supervised swimming in glorious surroundings - Credit: The Farm Club

A beginner's guide to where to take the plunge in and around Cheshire and how to stay safe.

Millions of people swim outdoors in England, according to the 2018 Swim England census. This pastime has come to prominence, in part due to the growing sub-culture of outdoor swimmers using the power of social media to popularise their hobby and the benefits it brings in boosting the immune system, improving fitness, and relieving stress.  

Where to swim

In and around Cheshire there are great locations allowing both new and experienced outdoor swimmers the chance to prebook open-water swim sessions in a safe and controlled environment.

The Farm Club at Pickmere Lake

The Farm Club at Pickmere Lake where all levels can swim supervised - Credit: The Farm Club

Alderford Lake

South of Whitchurch, this popular site not only consists of a 14-acre lake but an extensive network of woodland walking trails, an events calendar including an artisan market and farm shop.

The spring-fed lake at the centre of the estate is open daily, year-round, for non-motorised watersport hire and aquapark fun alongside wild swimming sessions.

A pre-booked slot is required (at £5.50), and open-water swimming coaching sessions can be booked in advance but essentially children and adults of all ages and abilities can use Alderford Lake as a safe place to try open-water swimming for the first time. The Lakeside Kitchen and regular street food vendors are on hand to refuel after a swim.

Wild Shore, Delamere

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On the fringes of Delamere Forest, Wild Shore may be surrounded by ancient woodland but it is certainly the most modern of offerings.

This exciting adventure hub is packed with aquatic adventures from the world’s first aqua chimp course, an aquapark, wakeboarding, stand-up paddle, open-water swimming and wild swimming.

Open water swimming is available Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays and cost £6 per person per swim. This is a safe environment with supervision from staff. Wild swimming is for experienced swimmers only and is unsupervised. It costs £4 per person per swim and is available every day. Check the website for times for both.

Reflection on Manley Mere

Reflection on Manley Mere - Credit: Lisa Morton

Manley Mere 

Close to Frodsham, this impressive 40-acre lake has been offering regulated open water swimming since 2010. A hive for all kinds of aquatic and adventure trail activities including an aqua park, non-motorised watersport hire and swimming.

The lake is open for swimmers at weekends and Tuesday and Thursday evenings for NOWCA Members. Swimming on a Saturday/Sunday 9.30am to 11am and Tuesday/Thursday evenings 5.30-7.30pm. Individual swim sessions are £7, with 10-swim session bundles at £65.

Sign up for NOWCA can be completed on the website and from there open water swim slots can be booked individually or in swim bundles. Suitable for swimmers eight years and upwards, the lake has 250/500/750m swim loops in designated safe swim areas with a safety team in attendance.

The onsite Chameleon Café is open during swim times for hot drinks and cakes. 

Boundary Water Park

Just north of Holmes Chapel, USwim, one of the longest established open water providers in the UK, operates exclusively from Boundary Water Park alongside its sister site at Salford Quays. USwim membership allows you to prebook swim sessions for both adults and children, seven years and younger to be accompanied by an adult swimmer.

Weekly introduction to open-water swimming beginner’s sessions are available, including both land and water tuition. This shallow lake is a popular swim spot, but it is private, so booking onto a USwim course or session is the only way to enjoy it. 

The Farm Club at Pickmere Lake

The Farm Club at Pickmere Lake where all levels can swim supervised - Credit: The Farm Club

The Farm Club, Pickmere

Situated on private farmland bordering Pickmere Lake, this exciting family-run open water offering is geared to beginners and more experienced open-water swimmers keen to access the lake legally and safely.

With all pre-booked swim sessions operated by Total Tri Training, open-water swimmers can access the lake on Thursday evenings and weekends knowing that the 400m and 750m loops are staffed by a safety kayak/SUP and supervision from the shore. Introductory group and one-to-one swims can also be booked online alongside running, cycling and yoga sessions for all aspiring athletes.

The onsite café serves Kickback Coffee and provides a comfortable, welcome retreat after a swim or training session. 

If you want a simple paddle, Three Shires Head in the Peak District is a popular spot

Supervised outdoor swim spots in Cheshire 

If you are new to the world of outdoor swimming, visit a supervised swim spot to build up confidence in the water, ensuring a safety team is on hand to help before, during and after a swim.

By joining an outdoor swim school or private swim club novices can gain valuable experience of outdoor swimming with an instructor, as well as meeting like-minded individuals.  

Is it legal? Is it safe?

While it may feel tempting to dive into the nearest river or lake, huge consideration must be taken not least for the risks involved but also regarding the legality of the sport, the equipment required and the safety precautions.  

Outdoor swimming is simply not allowed everywhere. It is important to research swimming spots in advance, referring to the map on the Wild Swimming website for local swim sites considered safe and legal (wildswimming.co.uk).

Right to Roam is the ancient law that categorises most UK lakes and rivers as public rights of way but it is imperative to consider how to access these while avoiding crossing private land without permission and parking considerately.

The responsibility of any outdoor swimmer is to leave a swim site cleaner than they find it; this involves taking home any rubbish and respecting the Countryside Code. 

Preparing for open-water swimming

It is difficult to mitigate the risk completely with this extreme sport although sensible steps can be taken to keep as safe as possible, most importantly by being prepared.

Only swim where others have already done so, referring to the Outdoor Swimming Society website (outdoorswimmingsociety.com) for recommended safe swim sites as well as considering joining a group such as the Chester Frosties, a fellowship of like-minded open water swimmers across Cheshire, Merseyside, the Wirral, North Wales, and north Shropshire.

Begin open water swimming during the summer when the water temperature is more bearable, although it is important to always enter the water slowly and control breathing before beginning to swim – never dive or jump into water headfirst.

Regardless of experience, the biggest risk to open water swimmers continues to be a cold-water shock, which occurs when the body’s reaction to this sudden immersion can cause a gasp reflex and can immediately paralyse muscles thus increasing the risk of drowning.

Experienced open-water swimmers spend months, if not years building up their tolerance and acclimatisation to cold water, however, the risk of hypothermia remains, especially in water temperatures below 15c, and it is imperative swimmers listen to and respect their bodies.  

Caution must also be shown to the swim location and quality of the water: urban rivers can have high pollution levels, particularly after heavy rainfall so always consult the interactive map on the Surfers Against Sewage website (sas.org.uk) before choosing a coastal or river swim spot. Avoid bodies of water with blue-green algae.

This is iridescent and has dangerously high toxicity levels for humans and animals if digested. If swimming in tidal or fast-flowing rivers and open sea be aware of tide times, rip currents, jellyfish, and the depth of the water.

Always have a pre-prepared exit route as well as an escape plan if things go wrong, making sure to talk this through with a swim buddy before entering the water. Understand the body’s limits, trust your instincts and never push beyond these.

Finally, consider the environment and check for loose rocks, branches, or underwater weeds before entering the water. Do not swim with an open wound or cut even if covered because of the risk of serious infection.

Beginner’s outdoor swim kit

The equipment required can feel like a minefield to any novice open water swimmer, with the skins versus wetsuit debate a consideration early on.

It is just as important to have the accompanying kit – a brightly coloured swim hat that is spotted easily, gloves, and boots or swim socks – all Neoprene to keep the body warmer for longer and increasing the overall swim time.

A thermometer is also essential for wild swimming, however, all regulated swim venues will monitor and report their water temperature prior to each swim session. 

A tow float is required, particularly when swimming in deeper or busier swim spots, including those where powerboats are present. This can double as a rescue float (depending on the type) and is a way of others spotting you from the shoreline.

Finally, getting warm and dry quickly after an open water swim is the key to enjoying the sport, so invest in a thick change robe, have loose layers and a warm hat handy as well as a hot drink and high-sugar snack close by to refuel.