Out & About

Wild swimming in Suffolk

Four magical spots to take a dip www.visitsuffolk.com

Wild swimming in Suffolk is one of summer’s greatest pleasures. It’s a feeling like no other: jumping into a cool river on a baking hot day, your clothes strewn on the grassy bank where later you’ll stretch yourself out to dry in the sun. If that sounds like heaven to you, make sure you plunge into one of these magical wild swimming spots this summer.

Outney Common on the River Waveney

To explain just how lovely wild swimming in the Waveney is, we must explain a little about the recent history of wild swimming.

Writer and environmentalist Roger Deakin was a pioneer of British wild swimming; in 1996 he travelled across the country swimming in different lakes, rivers and ponds, and recorded his adventure in the famous book, Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey Through Britain. And can you guess what his favourite river was? That’s right… the Waveney.

Wild swimming in Suffolk is at its most idyllic at this two-mile loop of the River Waveney around Outney Common, on the northern tip of Bungay. There are many beautiful spots to choose from, and the water is of a good quality. During the summer months you might find Suffolk families here, or groups of friends enjoying a cool dip and feeling free.

You don’t have to limit your wild swimming to just an afternoon, either. Perched on the riverside is Outney Common Caravan Park, where you could stay and go for a wild swim every morning, or there are plenty of places to stay in quirky Bungay. 

The Little Ouse at Santon Downham

Santon Downham is a tiny village in the middle of Thetford Forest, near Brandon. To the north of it runs the Little Ouse, a pretty river whose course marks the boundary between Suffolk and Norfolk. The Little Ouse offers wild swimming surrounded by a beautiful forest: a much more intimate experience than swimming through open land.

You can get in by the footbridge at St Helen’s picnic site in Santon Downham – an area that can get quite busy on hot days and school holidays. Once you swim away from the picnic area however, the river is extraordinarily tranquil; you can swim upstream and allow the river to carry you back down, or arrange for someone to pick you up and swim the 6km gently downstream to Brandon, spotting kingfishers, swans and plenty of fish on the way.

Little Ouse at Knettishall Heath

From Santon Downham the Little Ouse meanders southeast towards Knettishall Heath. This 430-acre country park in the Brecks is a patchwork of lush riverside meadows, heath and woodland, and is teeming with wildlife, much of which is nationally rare.

Where the river runs through the heath, there are pools to swim in, and shallows to paddle or go netting in. On summer days it’s an idyllic place to bring children and dogs to burn off some energy playing in the water, or to dip your feet and read a book.

Dedham & Flatford on The River Stour

The River Stour meanders through the south of Suffolk, creating around it the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the very same area that John Constable roamed as a young landscape painter. The river offers up not only extreme beauty but also several wild swimming spots, the majority of which are between Dedham and Flatford.

A good spot to start swimming in this historic vale is at Fen Bridge near Dedham, a quiet spot with fairly deep water. In Flatford you can float past the iconic Flatford Mill and Willy Lott’s Cottage, which featured in Constable’s most famous paintings, such as The Haywain, painted in 1821. And if you get too tired, you can always rent a boat at The Boathouse pub in Flatford, and spend the rest of the afternoon bobbing on top of the water.

A few things to remember about wild swimming in Suffolk

As well as these idyllic wild swimming spots on Suffolk’s rivers, Suffolk also has 50 miles of varied coastline to dive into. Please remember that wild swimming should only be undertaken by strong swimmers, and that any wild swimming you do is always at your own risk. Before you set out make sure you are aware of weather conditions, water levels, exit and entry points, and anything else that might affect your safety.

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