Wild Swimming in the Yorkshire Dales

Discover more about Wild Swimming and try some of the best spots in England with Lizzie Carr.

In Yorkshire, a valley is a dale and every dale has a stream or a river. What does that mean? Countless wild swimming opportunities that will keep even the keenest water lover amused for years, if not a lifetime.

Here’s a short list of some of the places I’ve swum; some popular honeypots and some a bit quieter and off the beaten track. Everyone will have their own favourites – these are some of mine and I would love to know some of yours too.

Stainforth Force

Stainforth Force. Image: Daniel Start // WildSwimming.co.uk

Stainforth Force. Image: Daniel Start // WildSwimming.co.uk

The little village of Stainforth lies just outside Settle on the River Ribble. Dropping down the hillside from the centre of the village brings you to the river. Crossing an old stone bridge and then a stile into the field, you walk down to the bank. Here the Ribble goes over a series of small waterfalls before the last drop into a deep pool. Rock ledges provide great launching pads for the brave to jump or dive into the water. This is a popular swimming spot with families and picnickers and as such can get quite busy on a nice summer’s day. However, the camaraderie of the jumpers and swimmers makes for a fun day out.

Stainforth Force.  Image: Daniel Start // WildSwimming.co.uk

Stainforth Force. Image: Daniel Start // WildSwimming.co.uk

Bolton Abbey

The Bolton Priory stands on the banks of the River Wharfe and has been a ruin since the monastic disillusions of Henry VIII in the sixteenth century. The river is spanned below the abbey by a bridge and some stepping stones, and just upstream a deep, wide pool forms which is ideal for swimming. As the abbey is a popular spot with tourists, the riverbank can get busy but on a quiet evening, a swim past the majestic ruins can be an intensely atmospheric experience. A couple of miles upstream from the abbey, the Wharfe narrows to only a few feet across and becomes The Strid. The full force of the river flows through this rocky channel of indeterminate depth and the undercurrents and hidden ledges are notorious. Swimming here really isn’t recommended! It’s a much better idea to heed William Wordsworth and “…hie, To Bolton’s mouldering Priory.”

Bolton Abbey. Image: Daniel Start // WildSwimming.co.uk

Bolton Abbey. Image: Daniel Start // WildSwimming.co.uk

Catrigg Force

A little less well known, but no less atmospheric is Catrigg Force. Only a couple of miles from Stainforth village (seemingly the centre of Dales swimming!), Catrigg Beck flows down from the side of Fountains Fell. A force (or waterfall, from the Old Norse word fors) is formed between steep rock walls and the pool below is a magical spot surrounded by woodland. Idyllic on a warms summers day, Catrigg Force is just the place to cool off from a walk on the surrounding hills.

Malham Tarn

Malham Tarn. Image: Daniel Start // WildSwimming.co.uk

Malham Tarn. Image: Daniel Start // WildSwimming.co.uk

Sitting on the moor above the village of Malham and its famous limestone Cove, Malham Tarn is one of the highest lakes in the Dales. With this comes correspondingly cooler water temperatures so be warned! When the sun warms the shallows (the average depth is only 2.4 metres) to a more amenable temperature, the tarn is a truly wonderful place to swim. The views of the open moorland surrounding the tarn give a sense of wildness and combining a swim with a walk round the Cove and the unique limestone landscape around Malham is always a memorable adventure.

Important update: Since this was published we have been advised by the National Trust that it is their policy not to permit swimming in the Tarn. Malham Tarn is part of an internationally important national nature reserve, with SSSI and RAMSAR designations, and is home to a number of nationally and internationally rare species and there are concerns swimmers may damage the fragile environment. In addition the water weed beds can be particularly dense and pose a significant hazard for weaker swimmers and the Tarn does also suffer from poisonous algal blooms at certain times of the year, which poses a significant health risk.


So, get out there yourself, find some more and have fun. Just don’t forget your towel!

Read more on Lizzie Carr's blog.



Discover more great hidden places to go in the Yorkshire Dales with The Wild Guide to the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales by Daniel Start. This brand new book contains over 800 wild and hidden places to explore.

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Or discover other wild swimming spots in north England with Daniel Start from Wild Swimming's article on the Lake District.

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