5 of the very best spots for sea swimming closest to London

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This text is a part of a guide to London from FT Globetrotter

It’s humorous to see severe swimmers bobbing within the sea. They appear like colored buoys sporting goggles.

However from the swimmer’s eye, the whole lot is magnified and looms bigger than when on land. The cliffs and ferries at Dover tower over you. You are feeling at one with the sailors, oyster beds and groynes at Whitstable, whereas the sky and sweep of the shoreline at Dunwich can really feel overwhelming.

Sea swimming exhilarates, excites and conjures up. The saltwater helps you’re feeling buoyant and light-weight, susceptible but highly effective. Swimmers virtually all the time emerge grinning.

I swim all 12 months spherical in England’s seas in only a swimsuit, cap and goggles. The water can burn and prick your pores and skin like needles, nevertheless it additionally refreshes and tingles to make you’re feeling one million {dollars}. On calm days, you’re feeling as if you’re slicing by way of silk, whereas in tough seas you consider beating the waves and limiting your saltwater consumption. That’s when your stroke and respiratory exit the window. Not that you just care a jot — the ocean’s bounce and cadence make you think about what a dolphin seems like using the waves.

A swimmer in the English Channel, with the White Cliffs of Dover behind them
A cross-Channel swimmer setting off from Dover © Caroline Cortizo/Alamy

Whenever you emerge from the water, the whole lot, particularly your extremities, will really feel chilly and could also be numb, so focus first on dressing warmly and rapidly. I put on ear plugs towards surfer’s ear, a situation that arises from publicity to chilly water and might result in listening to loss.

Hours immersed in salt deliver out spots on my tongue, which additionally usually will get swollen. Plus you uncover the place you chafe most. It’s totally different for everybody.

Many really feel unnerved when out of their depth, their creativeness working wild with what lurks beneath — I typically get a slight lurch in my abdomen, however it’s all in my head. Other than the occasional seal or porpoise, arguably the scariest factor in English coastal waters can be jellyfish.

At all times test with locals for any “bloom” or jelly sightings earlier than you get into the water. It’s uncommon, nonetheless, for a swimmer to be notably affected by them. Because the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation (CSPF) says: “It’s extra of a psychological fear, moderately than an actual threat.” It’s best to keep away from the trailing tentacles of all jellyfish, a few of which might prolong to 3 metres. Vinegar helps soothe any ache if stung. Left untreated, a jellyfish sting could cause blisters, cramp or nausea, or on the most excessive a coronary heart assault, in response to the CSPF.

Portuguese men-of-war (or, because the Portuguese name them, caravelas) are lethal however hardly ever seem within the English Channel. Typically seals come up near you as you’re swimming, extra out of curiosity than anything. Deal with them with respect. They don’t seem to be pets.

The ocean too calls for respect, because the medieval inhabitants of Dunwich found when a number of storms battered the Suffolk shoreline and the water swallowed what was as soon as one in every of England’s greatest cities and a thriving port. Right this moment the seaside is remoted and arduous to succeed in by public transport, however that provides to its attraction. It’s squeezed between the North Sea and a nature reserve buzzing with wildlife and flora, and even on the peak of summer time I’m virtually alone within the water.

Final month, as a part of a six-member relay workforce, skilled and organised by the spinal-injury charity Aspire, I tackled one of the vital iconic ocean swims. We crossed the Channel to France in 12 hours 33 minutes. The water at both finish of the Channel was a bit “lumpy”, a swimmers’ time period for swell, however within the center, it was as calm as a millpond. We got here throughout solely a handful of small jellyfish and noticed some porpoises, whereas the water was a good 18C.

The tides meant we set off from Samphire Hoe at 2am and have been one in every of 10 swimming boats out within the “Ditch” that day. We every felt a way of camaraderie and closeness, particularly once we have been circled by cargo and container ships and ferries.

My months of coaching took me to a number of locations on the English coast which are inside an hour or so of London and lots of are doable in a day. Most of them are good for all ranges of swimmers. However nonetheless robust you’re within the water, by no means swim alone and all the time inform anyone the place you’re going.

Listed below are my high 5.

Dover Harbour and Swimmers’ Seaside

  • Good for: Lengthy-distance coaching and powerful swimmers. The water is clear however “soiled clear”, usually leaving your swimsuit with a brown movie inside. A glimpse of the Channel and look at of the cliffs. Channel-swim coaching and chatter.

  • Not so good for: Weaker swimmers, and it has no official lifeguard service. The way in which in is steep, the harbour deep, and the water can increase fairly a chop. For these with much less confidence within the water, it’s advisable to swim nearer to the shoreline. You sometimes get jellyfish within the harbour.

  • FYI: The practice from London St Pancras to Dover Priory takes about an hour. Then it’s a 20-minute stroll to Marine Parade. Sliders are the popular footwear for the seaside, which slopes down in direction of the water’s edge. Common swimmers say they’ve had no sewage issues, however some constructing works have churned up the water lately. Native media preserve them knowledgeable.

  • Directions

For Channel swimmers, Dover is house base. Our non secular house. Nerves tingle as you gaze on the Channel, also known as the “Ditch”, and in direction of France.

An aerial view of Dover Harbour
Dover Harbour has a 2km coaching circuit marked out through the summer time season © Johanna Cuomo/Alamy

A swimmer on the shore at Dover Harbour –behind her are the port and the white cliffs
The harbour gives swimming within the shadow of Dover’s white cliffs © Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Photos

There’s something so particular about swimming within the harbour beside the Strait of Dover and within the shadow of the fort, the white cliffs, the esplanade that shows the very best and worst of structure, and ferries to and from France. Dover merely appears higher from the ocean.

Swimmers’ Seaside near the city centre usually teems with unbridled swimsuit pleasure regardless of the climate. The coaching season in Dover begins on the primary Saturday in Could and runs till the top of the season in September. The harbour has a coaching circuit for the summer time season of simply over 2km marked out with buoys that run between the pier and near the wall of the cargo terminal.

Two Dover-based organisations, the Channel Swimming & Piloting Federation and Channel Swimming Association, adjudicate and accredit crossings whereas quite a few registered boat “pilots” escort swimmers throughout the Channel. The swimmer units the pace, the boat units the course.

In June, as the primary boats of the season set out — normally from close by Samphire Hoe or Shakespeare’s Seaside — to information swimmers throughout the “Ditch”, the city dialog provides strategy to information of relays and solos.

On dry land, The White Horse and Les Fleurs pubs a couple of minutes’ stroll from the seaside have change into shrines for Channel swimmers, with many having scribbled their names and dates on the partitions.


  • Good for: Sunsets, households, crusing and different water actions, buying, coastal walks, London connections

  • Not so good for: Publish-rain sewage outflows, pebbles, low-tide swimming, late nights

  • FYI: London trains run from St Pancras, Cannon Road, London Bridge and Victoria, and the station is about quarter-hour’ stroll to the seaside. Word the tide modifications on the seaside about half an hour earlier than revealed instances. Verify present circumstances here

  • Directions

Bathers entering the sea at low tide at Whitstable
Low tide at Whitstable — not ideally suited for a very good swim © Richard Baker/In Photos/Getty Photos

Whitstable on the Kent coast dealing with the Isle of Sheppey is a favorite place of mine to swim. You might have loads of firm within the water with common crusing regattas on the go and enthusiastic paddle boarders whereas on land there may be a lot to see and do. I take pleasure in wandering over to go to its working harbour.

Your day in Whitstable shall be dictated by the tides, which can sweep you alongside the coast moderately than out to sea. You get good swimming for a few hours both aspect of excessive tide. Hit low tide and your knuckles will scrape the seabed and you’ll be skirting oyster beds. If the wind picks up from the west or south, sidestep Whitstable and stroll 10 minutes not far away to Tankerton.

Controversies round clear water and an absence of infrastructure funding have riled locals over the previous few years. Southern Water, which serves almost 5mn individuals in Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, was final 12 months fined a report £90mn after pleading responsible to hundreds of air pollution discharges within the 5 years to 2015.

Laws permit the native utility to launch untreated sewage to the seashores by way of mixed sewage overflows, which maintain waste together with extra rainwater and launch the combination into the surroundings. Finest to test the water high quality, particularly after heavy rain, on Southern Water’s web site and the app by the marine conservation campaigners Surfers Against Sewage.

“That is the epicentre of numerous the outcry within the south coast area,” says Hugo Tagholm, Surfers Towards Sewage’s chief govt. “This 12 months we’ve tracked about 50 ‘air pollution occasions’ within the sea off the Whitstable/Tankerton space.”

“Folks ought to undoubtedly bear in mind and inform themselves,” Tagholm provides. “They need to be real-time knowledge. Take into consideration climate circumstances: has it rained lately? What does the water appear like? On our app, you get sewage alerts and pollution-risk forecasts.”

Bathers walking along the tidal pool at Walpole Bay
The tidal pool at Walpole Bay © Gavin Rodgers/Alamy

Alongside the coast and nearer to Margate, Walpole Bay, which has the UK’s largest tidal pool, is on my listing to go to. You should have about three hours to swim both aspect of low tide. Entry it — barefoot and with care as it’s thick with algae — from the ocean partitions and steps moderately than from the seaside. It has no amenities.

In Whitstable, ideas for post-swim sustenance embrace the marginally dear but effectively located Harbour Garden for cocktails, Pearson’s Arms or Samphire for a very good meal, whereas Wheelers, a famend seafood restaurant and takeaway, serves native produce corresponding to oysters, prawns and crab tarts. Reserving is advisable.


  • Good for: Coaching, strolling, fish and chips, isolation, free daytime parking, amenities, entry to the seaside, wildlife

  • Not so good for: Easy accessibility by way of public transport, bustle, nightlife. No lifeguards 

  • FYI: Trains run from London Liverpool Road to Ipswich, then change to a neighborhood service to Darsham, about 5 miles from Dunwich. Verify taxi availability earlier than you journey; a neighborhood service operates

  • Directions

Dunwich is sophisticated to get to on public transport however that’s a part of its attraction. Its shingle seaside stretches on either side from a regionally run free automotive park, tucked in between an RSPB reserve and the North Sea. Donations are welcome. It’s a steep pebbly slope into the ocean, so keep in mind your sliders. The water will get deep in a short time. To the south, the white dome of the Sizewell nuclear energy plant peeps above the low cliffs.

A long stretch of shingly beach and sea at Dunwich
Suffolk’s reply to Atlantis is alleged to lie beneath the ocean off Dunwich © Michael Brooks/Alamy

I really like swimming right here for the sweep of the shoreline, which supplies a very good stretch for coaching. Even on the peak of summer time, there have been few different swimmers within the water with me. Walkers benefit from the nature reserve, whereas unkempt picket seaside huts are dotted round and supply some shelter or, on the very least, a seat to admire the view. A café by the automotive park gives good fish and chips. Canine are welcome 12 months spherical.

The ocean has been calm after I’ve been, nevertheless it conceals its power so calls for respect. Beneath the waves, the story goes, lies Suffolk’s misplaced Atlantis. Some say the world is haunted. The native museum traces the story.

Regulate the tides and select to swim on an incoming one. Seals and porpoises typically seem, in addition to jellyfish. The seaside isn’t monitored and there aren’t any lifeguards. A Nationwide Belief seaside lies between Dunwich and Sizewell.


  • Good for: Huge seaside at low tide, working, video games, sandcastles, households, canine strolling from October to April

  • Not so good for: Excessive tide covers the seaside. No cafés, amusement arcades or piers

  • FYI: Practice companies from London Liverpool Road will take you to Thorpe-le-Soken. Change for an eight-minute journey to Frinton-on-Sea station. Then it’s a 15-minute stroll to the seaside

  • Directions

Frinton’s characterful stilted beach huts
Frinton’s characterful stilted seaside huts © MJM/Alamy

People on the beach and in the sea at Frinton
Catch it whilst you can: Frinton’s seaside is swallowed by the ocean at excessive tide © Greg Balfour Evans/Alamy

My mom and her brother usually went to Frinton with their grandparents within the prewar years, and there’s a photograph in our household album with the tiny tots on a donkey. I’m going to utilize its huge sandy seaside to catch the dawn moderately than a donkey. The seaside, nonetheless, disappears at excessive tide. Seals usually come shut as you swim.

I discover it extra fascinating to swim right here than at neighbouring Clacton, the place I took half one 12 months in a triathlon. It’s glorious for swimming or dipping, with a delicate shelf into the water. Timber groynes divide the seaside up.

There aren’t any cafés shut by, so deliver your personal espresso, cake and picnic and arrange camp beneath one in every of its old style, vibrant seaside huts on stilts. It hardly ever will get crowded. You’ll be able to park free of charge alongside the Esplanade and it’s a fast stroll down by way of a grassy space, the Greensward, to the seaside. Or you can also make use of its concrete walkway that runs parallel to the ocean.

Surfers Towards Sewage says Frinton has a good-quality score however urges individuals to learn. “These real-time alerts are so necessary,” says Tagholm.


  • Good for: Free parking above the seaside, households, harbour life with loads of waterfront cafés and bars, small-business buying, historic structure, sandy seaside, coastal walks, water actions, connections to London, seaside wheelchairs can be found. Good water high quality. Lifeguard service from a minimum of Could to September

  • Not so good for: Tides, currents, uneven waters, vacation crowds. Nightlife is restricted to eateries. One predominant street in that may get busy. The closest massive buying space is Westwood Cross just a few miles away.

  • FYI: Trains run regularly from London St Pancras, Victoria and Charing Cross. It’s about 20 minutes’ stroll from Ramsgate station to the Primary Sands.

  • Directions

People sitting on a wide swath of beach at Ramsgate, with the town behind it
Nonetheless waters . . .  however the sea off Ramsgate can show surprisingly tough © Bernard Philpot/Alamy

Ramsgate is without doubt one of the Isle of Thanet’s sandy seashores. It gently cabinets into the ocean to supply a very good swimming size from the East Pier wall, which embraces the Royal Harbour and marina (one of many largest on England’s south coast), to a different jutting out on the different finish of the seaside. Pebbles and stones scattered the place the water breaks could make it arduous to get out of the ocean along with your dignity intact.

The city faces the Channel and is topic to the results of its tides and currents, so concentrate on circumstances earlier than setting out. It might get fairly tough, as we found when a few of our relay groups did their qualifying swim for the Channel there. One swimmer was sick after being tossed about like a cork within the water. The seaside through the summer time season has some lifeguard safety.

Locals have up to now organised swims to Broadstairs, about three miles away. However this can’t be performed with out skilled assist because it calls for data of the circumstances, tides and climate.

If driving, head in direction of East Cliff and park above the seaside. Take the Augusta Steps down. The doorway to the community of second world war tunnels is on the backside. Coasters bar and café is subsequent to the seaside.

Ramsgate Primary Sands is the principle seaside on the town; look out for the purple and yellow flags that demarcate the official bathing and lifeguard zone.

The necessities


  • Excessive-vis tow floats to make sure you are simply seen; some are waterproof and sufficiently big to retailer keys, telephones and different valuables as you swim

  • Sliders are preferable to Crocs, particularly in shingle or pebbles, whereas flip-flops are hopeless with chilly fumbling palms

  • Ear plugs

  • A swimming cap helps preserve you streamlined and goes in direction of protecting your head heat

  • Goggles

  • Heat garments: a merino vest that you would be able to step into works effectively as a base layer and helps protect your modesty. Keep away from cotton

  • Robes or one other easy-to-put-on outer layer



Water high quality

Don’t neglect . . .

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