The UK and Ireland's Best Wild Swimming Spots

There’s nothing quite like swimming in the wild, and the UK and Ireland are home to an abundance of natural beauty spots that offer cool, clear and clean water to dip your toes in.

With still over a month left of good weather, we wanted to find out the best wild swimming locations.

To do this, we scraped the latest year of water samples from over 800 waterways across the UK, sourced from “bathing water quality” governmental sites. We looked at the average water quality across each corresponding year, including the E.coli and intestinal Enterococci count, to determine how safe it is to swim. 

We then cross-referenced each location's Google ratings and reviews to rank the best places for wild swimming based on visitor experience. Any location with less than 100 reviews was removed from our final ranking

At Ocean Bottle, we’re all about protecting the ocean and keeping our beautiful waters and rivers clean, and can proudly say we’ve funded the collection of 6 million kgs of ocean-bound plastic to date, preventing it from entering our ocean. But there’s much more to keeping our rivers, lakes and ocean free from plastic, we have to protect them from disease and pollutants too.  

So, let’s dive right in and find out where the best wild swimming locations in the UK are.

Key highlights:

  • Keem Beach in Achill Island, Ireland is the number one wild swimming spot in the UK.
  • Blackpool Beach in Lancashire, England is deemed the most unsafe spot for wild swimming.
  • Aillebrack/Silverhill Beach in Galway, Ireland is the best hidden gem spot for wild swimming.

The UK's Top 20 Wild Swimming Locations

Taking the top spot for the best place to enjoy swimming in the wild is Keem Beach, Achill Island in Ireland, with a water cleanliness score of 20, this is based on the count of E.coli and Enterococci per 100ml. Both counts must be at safe levels, (a count under 130 per 100ml for E.coli and a count under 104 per 100ml for  Enterococci) for the water to be deemed safe to swim in. 

Keem beach also had an average rating of 4.9 over 1683 reviews. Boasting clean, plastic-free white sands and clear turquoise water, Keem Beach has been awarded the Blue Flag for its ultra-clean waters and is a beautiful rural and picturesque spot to enjoy a swim.

Barafundle Bay in Pembrokeshire, Wales and Mwnt Beach in Ceredigion, Wales take second and third place, respectively, with both having cleanliness scores of 20 and average ratings of 4.9, but with fewer overall reviews.

The UK's 20 Least Safe-to-Swim Wild Swimming Locations

We also wanted to find out where the least safe to swim spots in the UK and Ireland were. These locations tested too high for E.coli and Enterococci to be deemed safe places to swim. 

Eyemouth Beach in Berwick, Scotland, came in at number one for the least safe spot to swim with a huge E.coli score of 1180 per 100ml and an Enterococci score of 1137.8 per 100ml, both of which are too high to deem safe for swimming in.

Fell Foot, Windermere in Cumbria, England, had an E.coli score of 130 and an Enterococci score of 1212.5, and Eastbourne Beach in East Sussex had an E.coli score of 482.5 and an Enterococci score of 436.8, making up the top 3 spots for the least safe locations to swims. 

Interestingly, within the top 20 least safe swimming locations, 14 of those were in England, while 4 were in Scotland and 2 were in Wales. While England is home to some beautiful swimming spots, it goes to show that a lot more work needs to be done to clean up our beaches, oceans and waterways to provide safer swimming waters.

The UK's Top 20 Least Visited Clean Wild Swimming Locations

If you want somewhere a little quieter where you can swim in peace without the fear of coming across a lot of people, we also found where the top 20 least visited clean wild swimming locations were. These hidden gems all scored a 20 on the water cleanliness score and at least a 4 star rating from its visitors.

The best hidden gem spot was Aillebrack/Silverhill Beach in Galway, Ireland, earning itself 5 star rating thanks to its unspoilt white sandy beach and impeccably clean waters, which was awarded a Blue Flag. Just 5 km west of the Ballyconneely village, this beach can be accessed by a local road and is well hidden so you can enjoy a truly tranquil swim.

Other spots that achieved a rating of 5 from visitors include Pembrey Beach in Carmarthenshire, Wales, Golden Strand in Achill Island, Ireland and Elly Bay in Co. Mayo, Ireland. In England, the best hidden gem spot for swimming is Polstreath beach in Cornwall with a rating of 4 stars.

Will Pearson, Co-Founder at Ocean Bottle comments, “Our work involves the rivers and waterways further afield where plastic pollution is worst but it’s our belief that everyone deserves the right to a clean planet. Being a British company we’re passionate about providing the UK with this data, wild swimming is not only great for exercise and mental health, it helps us to connect with the planet, something we all need to do as much as we can!”

Methodology:

  • We scraped the latest year of water samples from ‘bathing water quality data sources’ (official governing bodies). This was 2022 data for all, except Wales which was from 2021. 
  • This totalled 817 swimming spots across the UK. 176 of those were removed through data cleaning, due to duplicates (one beach having several samples taken), or the spot not being clearly defined on Google Maps, e.g. Windermere, Lakeside YMCA, is a camp, and so it wasn’t clear what water was sampled.
  • England data was sourced from the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs. Scotland from SEPA. Wales from Natural Resources and Ireland from EPA
  • The average water quality across each corresponding year was then used to determine each location’s overall water quality.
  • Safe to swim: The lower the count of ‘bacteria’, the cleaner the water.
  • Any count over 104 per 100ml is deemed too high for intestinal Enterococci. Any count over 130 per 100ml is deemed too high for Escherichia Coli.
  • The lowest count England goes to is 10, however, the other countries went lower. So we rounded these up to 10 to match England for consistency. 
  • After finding out the water quality, due to ties between locations, we then cross-referenced their Google rating and the number of reviews to rank the ‘best’ places to wild swim based on visitor/guest experience. Any location with less than 100 reviews was removed from our final ranking.

 At Ocean Bottle, we’ve created a reusable bottle that actually helps to save the ocean. For every bottle bought, we fund the collection of 1000 ocean-bound plastic bottles before they end up in the ocean. Shop our reusable water bottles.

If you want to enjoy our ocean's creatures without causing them any harm, take a look at these top 5 spots to visit marine life.

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