7 Wild Swimming Spots on Dartmoor

Taking the Plunge in the Wilds of Dartmoor

From the babbling clear waters of Spitchwick Common to the millpond calm of Haytor Quarry, Toad Hall Cottages has picked out seven wild swimming settings on Dartmoor that are guaranteed to sooth your soul and invigorate your senses.

Spitchwick Common, near Ashburton

The cool and revitalising waters of Spitchwick Common (also known as Deeper Marsh) remain one of Dartmoor’s most cherished wild swimming locations. It’s here, downstream of the stunning Dart Gorge, that you can feel the natural energy of the River Dart as it eddies and flows down through the woody uplands in search of the sparkling South Devon coast. Here, the lush grassy banks lead down to a smooth rocky shoreline and deep tranquil pools beneath the shade of silver birch. In other corners the ancient granite has been weathered and cut to form natural steps down to the clear water. This idyllic spot is also a very popular picnic setting, so if you’re looking to enjoy some peace and quiet, you’re best advised to catch the early morning birdsong to be certain of securing a spot at one of the handful of car parks found in the surrounding area. Close by are the open gardens of Spitchwick Manor, the historic grounds of Buckfast Abbey, and the ancient stannary town of Ashburton, ‘gateway to the moor’.


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Sharrah Pool, near Poundsgate

Also nestled into the tree-lined wends of the River Dart is a lesser-known pool that forms part of a hundred-yard stretch of plentiful crystal clear water. Follow the woody trail, described as a hearty riverbank stroll, from New Bridge car park to the secluded and pebbled shores of Sharrah which lie just past an ancient oakland glade. Upstream are boulder-strewn narrows where the waters froth and babble before descending into the quieter, deeper riverbed. Wild swimmers have exchanged exciting accounts of their adventures here, describing it as one of Dartmoor’s ‘hidden gems’ and enjoying rich sunsets and blissful afternoons basking in the fresh mountain spring.


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Shilley Pool, near Okehampton

Shilley Pool is another of Dartmoor’s best-kept secrets, a beautiful natural tarn found sheltered below the roaming and heather-bound heathlands of North Dartmoor. The pool is fed from flat rock rapids and is located in the valley of Blackaton Brook. For years, this magical place is where villagers from neighbouring South Zeal and Throwleigh came to bath and learn to swim. It also features in Roger Deakin’s enchanting and timeless book Waterlog, which receives ‘cult status’ amongst the wild swimming community. This local’s haunt is a little way off the beaten track so beware of nearby bogs, particularly the area known as Raybarrow Pool which carries the infamous reputation as one of Dartmoor’s most dangerous mires. For that reason, please plan your route meticulously and stick to firm ground. Shilley Pool is a ‘balmy’ summertime spot and continues to delight all the wild swimmers who venture down to its rocky banks to take the plunge.


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Cowsic Waterfall Pool, Two Bridges

Hidden in a leafy valley on the outskirts of Wistman’s Wood lies one of Dartmoor’s freshest natural pools. Set forth upon the Beardown Farm footpath and follow the babbling Cowsic River upstream until you discover this secluded wild swimming spot in the roaming heart of Dartmoor. Here, the streams and riverways descend the long grassy hills beneath lofty tors, flashing past rocky boulders and dancing down falls. You might find yourselves scrambling down to the water’s edge, and for that reason the pool isn’t suitable for younger children.

Cullever Steps Pool, Belstone

Cullever Steps might be one of Dartmoor’s smaller wild swimming pools but it still provides enough deep water for an invigorating bask. The remoteness of its location is what draws in all those seeking solitude and reviving Dartmoor waters. The pool is a more tranquil wend of the East Okement River and is only a little way downstream from a crossing point known as the Cullever Steps which are set in a particularly peaceful and secluded sweep of the valley. It’s a lovely setting for a picnic and is surrounded by boundless tracks and trails. A word of caution, the northern fringes of the moor can be wilder than the southern climes so make sure you stick to the paths while enjoying the magnificent views and keep an eye on the weather forecast. Not far from the pool is the charming village of Belstone where you’ll find the Tors Inn and a friendly welcome for wayfarers.


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Salmon Leaps, near Chagford

If you’re looking for a natural spa then head for the River Teign’s Salmon Leaps, an ample freshwater pool within the foothills of the impressive Castle Drogo. Easy to find, this succession of cascading square stone plunge pools (one metre deep) offer exhilarating wild swimming and what’s been described as a ‘pummelling massage’. A little hint: experienced wild swimmers who’ve visited the pools recommend wearing wetsuits to minimise any scrapes or bumps as you ride on the more rapid corridors. A grassy bank overlooking the pools makes for a lovely picnic spot.

Haytor Quarry Pools, near Bovey Tracey

Surely one of Dartmoor’s most idyllic natural pools, Haytor Quarry finds itself surrounded by sweeping heathlands and ancient trails. The lofty rocks that part-encompass these inviting waters provide some natural shelter and the millpond stillness makes the ponds a good place for competent beginners to embark on their first wild swim, however, be wary of sudden changes in depth and uneven surfaces, always respect the water and avoid swimming alone.


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Wild swimming is one of the most exhilarating escapes the great outdoors has to offer, but always remember to put both yours and your loved ones’ safety first. This Wild Swimming safety guide is essential reading for all those looking to take the freshwater plunge for the very first time.

Discover the rugged and beautiful wilds of Dartmoor, one of the UK’s most cherished open landscapes, when you book a stay with Toad Hall Cottages.