June 26, 2023

Destination: Devon & Cornwall


Top 10 Places to Swim in the South West

Trying to decide which has the better swimming, Devon or Cornwall or Dorset, is a potentially controversial subject – a bit like whether the jam or cream comes first! We are going to play it with a very straight bat and suggest that all are as interesting and rewarding for the avid swimmer.

It’s probably safe to say that there is more swimming in Devon for those who want to swim longer distances (it’s home to some of the famous swims including the Dart 10k and Bantham Swoosh) and Cornwall possibly suits those who want to “dip” more in the many coves, hidden beaches and sea pools.

Dorset too has some iconic swims and hidden caves along its Jurassic coast! Our advice is to try them all and more, our top 10 is certainly not exhaustive or definitive – the swims we have chosen are the ones that make us feel alive! So grab your costume and trunks and head out to explore, just remember to treat our beaches and wild swimming places with respect, leaving no trace behind!

South West Top 10 Wild Swims

  1. Man O’War Beach, Lulworth
  2. Tunnels Beach, Ilfracombe
  3. Broadsands Beach, Combe Martin
  4. Sharrah Pool, Dartmoor
  5. Hope Cove & Thurlestone Arch
  6. Bantham and Burgh Island
  7. South Cornwall’s Lantic, Lantivet and Lansallos
  8. The Lizard Peninsula’s Cadwith, Coverack and Mullion Cove
  9. St Ives & Carbis Bay
  10. Harlyn Bay

1. Man O’War Beach

Not the Jellyfish, and not the Durdle Door side! The Portuguese jellyfish stings something awful and Durdle Door’s beach can become extremely busy! The Man O’War Beach is a protected and stunning cove that seems to remain calm throughout summer. Strong and experienced swimmers can potentially swim around to Durdle Door and with Lulworth Cove and Stair Hole a stone’s throw away (because, they are stunning too!) it makes for a great day trip or weekend away.

2. Tunnels Beach, Ilfracombe

You get to this beach in Ilfracombe via tunnels in the rock! Here you’ll find a stunning Victorian built sea pool accessible either side of low tide. The women’s pool is still fully intact but the adjacent men’s beach has long been lost to the sea.

3. Broadsands Beach, Combe Martin

Broadsands Beach at Combe Martin is known by our guides as James Bond Beach, as it looks like Khao Phing Kan in Thailand! With 124 steps down, it’s hidden and difficult to find. For the strong swimmer it’s accessible from Combe Martin, just head left off the beach and follow the shore around the bay.

4. Sharrah Pool, Dartmoor

This iconic and almost mythical pool sits at the top of the Dart River. The two mile walk each way (from the closest car access point) is worth every step. It’s starting to be discovered and therefore best to visit either in the morning or late afternoon.

5. Hope Cove & Thurlestone Arch

This secluded bay and wonderful sea arch creates a stunning setting on the South Coast of Devon. It’s possible to swim between the two locations but only when the tides and sea state allows.

6. Bantham and Burgh Island

You can do a brilliant round the island swim and a swim along the Estuary down from Aveton Gifford – at high tide only! Both swims are for the experienced swimmer, with a good knowledge of the local conditions. For those long-distance swimmers, check out the Bantham Swoosh, organised by the Outdoor Swimming Society, a 6k Estuary swim that is exciting, invigorating and just plain fun!

7. The Three L’s: Lantic Bay, Lantivet and Lansallos Beach

These three are the hidden beaches of South Cornwall. With a steep downhill walk to all of these beaches: Lantic Bay, Lantivet and Lansallos beach, swimmers are rewarded with the beaches to themselves and unrivalled clear water – bliss! To tie Lantivet and Lansallos together, the National Trust has mapped out a handy 4.5 mile looped walk between the beaches!

8. The Lizard Peninsula: Cadwith / Coverack / Mullion Cove

These three are all stunning beaches on the Lizard Peninsula with islands, blow holes and hidden beaches ripe for exploration. Each has its own flavour and is distinct and unique – we think they are truly unmissable! (Top Tip: during the height of summer avoid the beautiful Kynance Cove like the plague – far, far too many people!)

9. St Ives + Carbis Bay

There is stunning swimming at Atlantic blast at Porthmeor Beach, just watch for a few rocks in the middle of the beach, and swimming in the sheltered “Caribbeanesque” Carbis Bay. The best way to access these beaches is via the train from St Erth which stops at Carbis Bay and St Ives.

10. Harlyn Bay

This is an exquisite beach on the North Coast, best visited before high tide and normally protected from Atlantic swell. A popular surfing beach which can get busy in the afternoons.

Active England’s swimming holidays are the perfect balance of exploration and relaxation, immersing guests in some of the most iconic swims and walking trails throughout the South. Join one of our friendly groups, meet like-minded people and discover new and iconic swims – from the water up!

Our wild swimming holidays are for all types of swimmers with several different swims planned every day. On these tours, you will swim in deserted coves, inaccessible by car, walk to hidden beaches which look like the Caribbean, dip or dive in sea pools at low tide and visit some of the iconic swims which are fast becoming bucket list “must swims”.

Searching for more inspiration? Read: Top 10 Hidden Swimming Spots in the South West.

Experienced by


Founder and Chief Ideas Officer

Signature Tours

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