Top 10 island swims

Author and islandeer Lisa Drewe selects her top ten island swims in the UK

Llanddwyn Island, Anglesey, Wales

By their very nature islands make perfect destinations for wild swims. Surrounded by coastlines that vary vastly even on the same island, as well as having leeward and windward options to suit different conditions, these hidden gems are a treasure trove for outdoor swimmers of all abilities. Lisa Drewe’s latest book Island Bagging England and Wales: a guide to the adventures on the islands of England, Wales, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man includes nearly 300 islands and a host of swims to choose from. Here she shares a few favourites she has encountered on her travels.

Asparagus Island circumnavigation, Cornwall 

The beautiful golden sands of Kynance Cove and the jumble of translucent green serpentine rocks at the base of the island makes this swim one of our favourites. Start from the sandy tombolo between the mainland and island at the west end of Kynance Cove (note at high tide the beach and tombolo almost disappear, so check tide times for Lizard Point). Swim independently or guided by Sea Swim Cornwall. Finish with a coffee and pasty in the nearby Kynance Cove Beach Cafe.

Getting there: From the Kynance Cove National Trust car park descend the steep steps to the beach; head slightly west to find the tombolo on mid- to low tide.

Shipman’s Head, Bryher, Isles of Scilly

More an exhilarating dip than a swim in the ‘canyon’ between Bryher and Shipman Head. The west end of this channel is protected from the Atlantic swells by a jumble of rocks enabling you to explore the kelp forest or just float in peace. Safe conditions are low-tide, low swells and light westerlies.

Getting there: Walk to the north tip of Bryher and enter the water at the east end of the channel between the two islands.

Asparagus Island, Cornwall.

Harry’s Rocks from Studland Beach

The iconic chalk stacks of the Jurassic Coast, Old Harry’s Rocks are a 5 km swim from Knoll Beach, Studland (return) and everything about the trip makes the heart sing. Swim across the Bay or keep to the shallows closer to the cliffs. Once at the stacks, if the swell is low, explore tunnels and archways or land on the rocks at mid- to low tide. Watch out for jet skis in the Bay, rocks dislodged from careless walkers on the cliffs, and the rip current that flows around Harry’s Rocks when the tide starts to ebb. Check tide times for Knoll Beach

Getting there: Knoll Beach car park just off Ferry Road – the main road to Studland from Swanage and Sandbanks.

Scolt Head Island, Norfolk

A beautiful uninhabited island of sand dunes, warm tidal creeks and a 6 km-long beach along its north shore, the swimming opportunities here are endless. Two hours either side of low tide it is possible to walk to the island from Burnham-Overy-Staithe or explore the warm pools of Norton Creek along the island’s south coast (tides flood east and ebb west in the creeks). On a flooding tide it is possible to swim back from the island to Overy-Cockle-Strand or swim back along Overy Creek to Burnham-Overy-Staithe.

Getting there: Car park in Burnham-Overy-Staithe (floods on spring tides), cross Overy Creek at low tide (or swim) and walk through the marshes to Overy-Cockle-Strand.

Swimming at Harry's Rocks from Studland.

Ynys Giftan tidal pools

Salt marsh and vast tidal sands with deep, sun-warmed pools framed by majestic Snowdonian mountains and the fairytale turrets of Portmeirion, what more could you want in a swim. At the head of the long Dwyryd estuary, one of the most unspoilt places in Cardigan Bay, Ynys Gifftan is reached on a footpath from Talsarnau railway station across flower and wildlife-filled salt marsh before heading across the tidal sands to reach the island’s rocks at the southern tip of the island where for the warm, emerald-green pools can be found. 

Getting there: Cross the tidal channel two hours either side of high tide. Check BBC tide tables for Criccieth

Cei Ballast tidal pools, Porthmadog, Wales

This man-made island near Porthmadog was formed around 200 years ago and boasts salt marshes, samphire beds, and cockle-filled sands. The southern tip of the island has a superb tidal pool – an incredible place to swim at low tide when the sun on the surrounding sandbanks has warmed the water.

Getting there: From Porthmadog station, drop down off The Cobb at low tide, wade the tidal stream and head to the south tip of the island. Check BBC tide tables for Criccieth

Cei Ballast tidal pools, Porthmadog, Wales.

Porth Wen Brickworks, Anglesey, Wales

This remote and generally sheltered bay is fascinating to explore by both land and water. The Victorian brickworks, beehive kilns and ruined harbour can only be reached by steeply descending from the Anglesey Coast Path. Swim from the beach and get the best perspective of this stunning location and swim through the natural rock arch on higher tides.

Getting there: Park at layby off A5025 (Grid ref SH 40891 93551) between Bull Bay and Cemeas. Walk along lane to Porthwen Farmhouse and Castell. Turn west on coast path; descend to Porth Wen brickworks.

Llanddwyn Island, Anglesey, Wales

A stunning island in all seasons, this island off the south coast of Anglesey boasts a variety of swims in sheltered coves, dips in large pools, snorkelling and more coastal swims from the vast beaches of Newborough. On the island itself it is possible to explore the ruins of a 16th century church dedicated to St Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers, a historic lighthouse and some of the oldest volcanic rocks in Wales. 

Getting there: Off the A4080, one kilometre south of Newborough village, park in Newborough Forest car park (Grid ref SH 40596 63484) and walk west to the island either along the beach or through the forest trails

Porth Wen Brickworks, Anglesey, Wales.

Shell Bay, Herm, Guernsey

A glorious sand beach and shallow waters on the east coast of Herm, an idyllic island a short ferry trip off the coast of Guernsey. There’s plenty of leisurely swims and snorkelling parallel to the shoreline. For those looking for a challenge swim out to explore the nearby islets, or round the north tip of the island. An advanced 7km circumnavigation of the whole island is also possible in the right conditions. There are cafés on Shell Beach and nearby Belvoir Bay.

Getting there: Boat service from St Peter Port, Guernsey.    

Venus Pool, Lihou, Guernsey

Walk across the tidal causeway to this tiny island off the north coast of Guernsey to find the Venus Pool, a natural low-tide rockpool, deep enough to jump into and long enough for a swim. You’re very likely to have this wild place all to yourself. 

Getting there: walk the 800 metre tidal causeway from L’Eree, on the north coast of Guernsey, to Lihou Island on low spring tides only. Check accessibility on States of Guernsey website

Venus Pool, Lihou, Guernsey