Outdoor swimming in Surrey
Outdoor swimming in Surrey
Authors of Outdoor Swimming London, John Weller and Lola Culsán, pick their fave places within easy reach of the capital
Buckland Park Lake, Reigate (pictured top)
This superb, spring-fed lagoon is fringed with silver birch, yellow evening primrose and foxgloves, making it a fantastic place to re-engage with nature. The Surrey Hills Adventure Company (SHAC) runs open-water swimming and paddle-board sessions at Buckland Park Lake, a unique venue flanked by steep, white cliffs on two sides. The 400m loop is ideal for experienced open-water swimmers and novices alike. Entry to the water is by a gently sloping sandy beach. The lake is open all year round, albeit with scaled-back sessions during the winter (check website for details). Wetsuits are available to hire on the day. Accessible changing and toilets. You’ll also find nature trails and a children’s playground alongside a small picnic area. If you’re feeling peckish after your swim, check out El Rocinante, the lagoon-side mobile van selling the usual favourites, including vegan options. For a sit-down meal, visit The Reverie, which has panoramic views of the lake. The moonscapes for the film 2001: A Space Odyssey used sand quarried from Buckland Park.
Grandiose and gorgeous. A classic example of 1930s lido architecture. The magnificent six-lane 50m heated pool is set in landscaped grounds surrounded by weeping willows and pine trees. There’s plenty of grass to stretch out on. The clear blue water sparkles in the Surrey sunshine. This is outdoor swimming at its absolute finest. The pool is deep in the middle and shallow at either end. There are steps with handrails and a hoist available for swimmers with disabilities. There is level access to the pool and there are accessible changing rooms and toilets. We enjoyed slow lengths in the wide lanes. A toddler pool has activity installations to keep the smaller people entertained; big, twisting water slides will keep the bigger kids hooked for hours. Expect a relaxed local atmosphere with friendly and helpful staff. Wooden poolside lockers, changing rooms and showers add to the vintage charm. A small kiosk serves hot and cold drinks and snacks and a larger outlet selling Mexican food is open on busy days. Guildford Lido launched winter swimming at the end of the 2021 summer season (check website for details). At nearby Dapdune Wharf, we visited the riverside tea rooms, bookshop and canal museum.
Shalford Park Footbridge, River Wey, Guildford
Shalford Park Footbridge provides a popular spot for jumping into the River Wey, despite a sign saying, ‘Danger: do not jump or dive off this bridge.’ Use your common sense and check the depth and that there are no objects in the water first. Young people gather in hot weather on the steep, sandy banks – a natural amphitheatre created by tree roots. Among the greens and browns of the fen on the opposite side of the river, you’ll find colourful wild angelica, water forget-me-not and yellow iris. Enjoy a lovely towpath walk further upstream, flanked with pink thistle, buttercups and cow parsley. We ate ripe blackberries by the handful. Cross St Catherine’s Lock and turn right. Walk along the towpath until you come to a muddy bank near two trees – another swimming spot. Watch out for narrowboats and kayaks.
Pictured: Thorpe Park, Shalford Park Footbridge
Shepperton Open Water Swim
Long-established and popular year-round open-water swimming venue in a former gravel pit alongside the Thames. Smooth, silky water caressed our skin as we glided effortlessly round the buoys. The lake is dyed to keep down the pondweed. Expect to see a huge amount of waterfowl. This is a well-organised operation where safety is paramount: swimmers check in and check out with numbered wristbands and lifeguards are present on the lake as well as on the banks. Entry into the water is via a gently sloping, sandy slipway. Your choice of 400m or 750m swim loop. Exit points are all around the lake, where bulrushes, purple loosestrife and forget-me-nots flourish in the meadow. Mother and daughter team Hannah and Emma create a cheerful, clubby atmosphere, with an even mix of wetsuited personal-best chasers and fun swimmers. An on-site café sells hot drinks and snacks – cash only. Plonk yourself down at the lakeside picnic tables to watch the comings and goings.
Thorpe Lakes, Chertsey
The vast Thorpe Park covers 150 acres of water and parkland. This is a serious commercial venue that boasts 225m, 400m, 800m and 1.3km loops on a standalone lake dedicated to open-water swimming. All swimmers must wear a swim hat. Under 16s must use a tow float, unless otherwise agreed before entering the water. Wetsuits are not compulsory. A 3km lakeside track is also available for a run. Other facilities at Thorpe Park include an aquapark, wakeboarding, waterskiing, wakesurfing and cable park, in a variety of pools. One of the memorable things about our visit to this lake was hearing the joyful shrieks from Thorpe Park Resort next door as you swim. The site is accessible, but for easy access please call in advance. Open from April to September.
Before heading into the water, do read the safety tips here.
Outdoor Swimming London is out in April via Wildthingspublishing.com
READ MORE: Our favourite lidos in London and Surrey