Wild swimming in the New Forest is mainly coastal. The Hampshire seaside accessible and beaches are pebbly and sandy.
So this is for you lot: the dippers, the swimmers, serious-distance ones, we love you all and respect your commitment to the British water temperatures.
Whilst we aren’t the definitive guide, (please go to WildSwimming.co.uk for that), we do know our local beaches. We spoke to Sian Toms, who swims with the local ‘Mums on the Splash’ group, and Angus McChesney, an experienced wild swimmer, who runs the Iconic Swims blog locally and teaches wild swimming.
General safety for wild swimming
As ever, we strongly suggest you follow the wild swim code of safety.
– tell someone where you are going and when you expect to get back
– wear a bright hat and if worried, take a tow-float with you
– always check the tides and do your research
– follow winter swim guidelines on temperature.
Information in this blog
The information given here is intended to signpost you to more detailed information that you can then use to make decisions for your own safety. We write this as a ‘heads up’ for you, and not a definitive guide. Given there are no lifeguards in any of these areas, you really must be careful. If in doubt, please contact local swimming groups and experts who will help you.
Local champion No 1…
Sian Toms is one of our local inspiring ladies. She has a hugely diverse CV and is mum to a 13, 17 and a 19 year old. In December 2020, needing a lockdown boost she started wild swimming and quickly became addicted.
“I love to swim with the local ‘Mums on the Splash’ group. A friend and I got into it and are now doing the West Wight Charity swim in May. It’s a 1.3mile swim, in 90 minutes max, from Hurst Point to Colwell Bay. We have to get on with it because of the wild tides in that part of the Solent. They provide safety support and I’m so excited about it”.
Wild swimming gives me a feeling of euphoria. I’m addicted. It makes me feel invincible. I’m not a good swimmer, I never had the lessons my kids did. I swim with a local group and just love it.
Sian, epic mum.
Local champion No 2…
- Angus McChesney is one of the grizzled sorts of blokes who likes nothing better than a chilly ‘2 miler’, lives locally and spends a lot of time in the water. Angus runs the Iconic Swims blog and here’s our favourite post of his: Iconic Swim no 1, the Isle of Wight Needles. He runs courses, short courses and taster sessions for those wanting to get going. Read more on his website here.
Here he gives us the low-down on the local safety situation.
“The tricky thing about this area is that there are no lifeguards on our coast. You do have to be careful about where you go. The whole coast here has a sideways current, it’s not dangerous, but it will pull you along and can be unnerving.
If you want somewhere for an easy swim, try Hordle Cliff beach when the water is warm and the sea calm. The seafloor shelves off quite quickly and there is a natural gully that runs parallel to the coast line, between the sandbank (seen at low tide) and the coast.
- You need to make sure you get the tides right. It’s best to swim at about an hour before low tide. If you go at low tide you’ll be hitting your hands on the sand.
I like to get dropped off at Barton on Sea and swim back to Hordle Cliff. The tide will push you along and you can bob along and watch the beach huts. It’s about 2 miles. Lovely!
Angus, Iconic Swims blog.
Where to go…
Milford on Sea beach, Hordle Cliff beach and Barton on Sea beach – easy swims when it’s not windy
This is a lovely part of the coast. Beaches are easy to access, rarely busy and parking is good, tho’ you’ll need to pay in most places. For the quietest parts of this coastline, as ever, park the car and walk. The stretch between Hordle Cliff and Barton on Sea beach tends to be the quietest area.
- You can swim along the coastline here easily but only when it’s not windy. The waves here in storms are big and it’s really not a place to swim unless you are very confident and have safety kit with you. Even then it’s questionable. The seafloor dips away from the coast quite steeply when you get 5m out, so you can swim parallel to the coast. There are boats that use the area, but not close to the coast. We suggest this beach for families, because it’s sandy at mid-low tide. At very low tides there is a sand bar that comes up and makes a wonderful shallow lagoon. It is perfect for small children to paddle safely.
- For those staying in Milford this is a must, but will mean you have to arrange your day around the tides. If you’re staying at Cliff House, you can walk here in about 3 mins.
- For everyone else – park on the cliff and walk down. Dogs welcome all year. Cafes and facilities are limited. Swim here – there are no lifeguards tho’.
Tanners Lane – easy swims
- Just east of Lymington is a footpath that takes you across Tanners Lane coastline area and toward the footpath that heads up to Lyle Court. This area is sandy, pebbly, silty, it doesn’t really have a ‘beach’ because there is a salt marsh that protects this part of the coast and you need to get past the salt-marsh to swim. The best place to do this is from the end of the lane at Tanners. This is the least disruptive to the bird reserve.
The water here is usually calm because it’s opposite the Isle of Wight and the salt marshes give protection from the waves. If you can’t swim anywhere else because of the weather, then this is your spot. Swimming only works here at high tide. Low tides are too generally too muddy and you’ll have to wade out a long way. When it’s windy you may get kite surfers and foil boarders here. They come for the calm water and high winds.
- Wandering dogs are really not allowed off leads here, curlew, Brent geese, dunlin, grey and golden plover and black-tailed godwit all call this place home.There is a gentle incline into the water but you will need water shoes . It’s great for wild walks, quiet picnics, tree climbing and den making.
There are no facilities here at all.
Park at the top of the lane (1km away), or come by bike, Parking gets busy here now, out of peak times it’s much better.
Hurst Castle Spit – easy-medium swim
- This is the next door beach here to Milford on Sea. At mid to low tide the pebbles end and it gets lovely and sandy. The tidal waters at the end of the Spit, are very dangerous. Boats often get into trouble here. However on the shallow and protected side of the spit in the lagoon, it’s gentle and lovely. Take the boat taxi out to the end of the Spit and then swim from there in the lagoon.
- Some people swim from the wooden ‘crabbing’ bridge out along by the moored boats, but nobody should swim out in the Keyhaven River away from safety of the spit unless they know what they are doing and have arranged some safety back-up. It is not wise to swim from the quay in Keyhaven – it is very busy with boat traffic. The River Warden won’t like anyone going into the water outside the Keyhaven Yacht Club!
The castle is on a long pebble spit that juts out into the Solent. It’s run by English Heritage and managed locally. You can also come by boat (every 20 mins from March to Oct). It’s a 2 mile walk out there.
You can also paddle board here with The New Forest Paddle Sport Boarding Company.
Park at the Keyhaven. You can also go crabbing off the little bridge at the base of the Spit.
Beaulieu River area – this area is prohibited for swimmers, lots of boat traffic.