Swimming the River Tweed

As most wild swimmers will testify, the world’s best swimming spots are often the least known about and talked about. There’s something special about swimming in a beautiful spot which is raw and peaceful without a cast of thousands around you. That’s what the River Tweed is for me. It’s well known as a wonderful spot to fish for salmon, a beautiful river to stroll next to and listen to, and a picturesque backdrop for lunch at a local pub, but it’s less well known as a wild swimming spot. There’s a reason for that which I’ll come to, but it’s worthy of your attention if you’re a wild swimmer who enjoys adventuring far from the madding crowd into beautiful waters. It’s a hidden gem.

A main attraction

 The Scottish Borders are known to many as one of the most beautiful parts of the UK. It’s the combination of the beautiful rolling green countryside, the lovely little cosy villages dotted all around, and the slow-moving feel in the air which attracts locals and visitors alike. And the River Tweed is a main attraction. It’s a reasonably large river which carves a windy pathway across the Borders through beautiful towns such as Peebles, Innerleithen, Galashiels, Kelso, and Coldstream, all the way to the North Sea at Berwick-Upon-Tweed. The Tweed creates a stunning old worldly backdrop for all of these villages featuring beautiful bridges and river vantage spots. It’s the beating heart to their charm and beauty.

Where to jump in for a swim

So where’s the best spot to jump into the river for a swim?

The good news is there are many access points to the River Tweed for walkers, fishermen, and swimmers alike. The many pathways alongside the river allow people to traverse long distances beside the river’s soothing gushing sounds. Hikers and dog walkers love it. And these many pathways provide multiple options for swimmers to access the river.

Having tried most Tweed access points, here are my recommendations for the best points to jump in:

§  Kelso – The pathway lining the Tweed next to Kelso’s town centre provides some of the easiest and best access to the river. As you look at the river flowing from right to left, there are some small but rocky rapids upstream on the right hand side. The amount of water flowing here can vary significantly depending on the amount of rainfall. For wild swimming beginners, I’d recommend jumping in downstream below the rapids. More confident swimmers may want to ride the rapids, but be careful of your head and your arse, your two most vulnerable spots in any white water. I’ve taken more than a few hits in the coccyx area, and let’s just say you’ll be feeling it the next day. Kelso is best for: easy river access. 

§  Gattonside – This is a small but stunning village alongside the Tweed. The best river access point is next to the Gattonside Suspension Bridge which provides walkers with a dry route across the river. This is an easy access point for swimmers, and provides access to some wonderfully free-flowing river sections downstream. You can access the river anywhere near the car park. I generally jump in to the right of the Suspension Bridge as there are some small rocky beach areas there. Once you’re in, this section of river is usually pretty relaxing without many rocky sections. Gattonside is best for: free-flowing water.

§  Dryburgh – Dryburgh Suspension Bridge is my other favourite access point, and can be found by turning off the A68 at the sign for the Donkey Sanctuary and driving down the track to the river. This is a slightly harder access point given it’s along a dirt track in a quieter area. The great thing about this access point is you can choose either side of the river and they both provide access to wonderful free flowing sections of river. Sometimes I cross the bridge and walk upstream a while before I jump in, and other times I jump in at the bridge. Dryburgh is best for: peace and quiet.


A few logistical considerations

As most wild swimmers know, there are also a few logistical considerations to bear in mind before you leap into the river’s beautiful waters:

1.     Getting back – The Tweed is a reasonably fast flowing river so you’re likely to travel at a couple of miles an hour even if you’re mainly going with the river’s flow without too much swimming effort. That means you are likely to find yourself a fair way downstream by the time you get out. The good news is the Tweed’s wonderful riverside pathways can be followed back upstream when you are ready to return. Just remember to budget enough time and energy for the return journey!

2.     Cold conditions – The Tweed can be fine to swim in summer without a wetsuit, but you’ll need one most other times of year. Winter in particular can be very cold in the water, so be prepared for it with a decent wetsuit. Don’t let that stop you, just make sure you listen to your body and think about your safety.

3.     White water rapids – There are a number of white water rapid sections along the river. To be honest, these are generally my favourite sections as they enhance the wild swimming experience for me. However, safety should always be paramount in your mind, and some swimmers may prefer to bring helmets for these sections.

4.     Salmon – The salmon in the Tweed are famously beautiful, and famously big! Sometimes they’ll jump out of the water near to where you are swimming, and reveal their splendour to you. This may lead to you involuntarily warming your wetsuit, but remember they won’t hurt you.


And a word of warning

And there’s one noteworthy challenge to look out for. In a word: fishermen.

Many fishermen regularly travel from far afield to spend time fishing the Tweed’s pristine waters with or without gillies to help them on their quest. Bearing in mind many of these fishermen spend hundreds of pounds to fish the Tweed, it’s also understandable why some of them (not all!) are less than thrilled to discover swimmers in the river alongside the famed salmon they are trying to catch.

I always found the best fishermen mitigation strategy was to exit the river and respectfully walk around the fishermen and their gillies rather than swimming past them. It usually only takes a few minutes, but it saves a potential confrontation on what should be a special day for everyone. And the good news is the fishermen generally spread out so you’re unlikely to come across too many of them in your swim. Also remember, the river is for everyone to enjoy. There’s no rule saying fishermen have precedence over river swimmers, or the other way around. It’s all about respectfully co-existing in the river’s magical world.  

Enjoy the Tweed!

So that’s my guide to enjoying swimming the Tweed. It won’t be for everyone, but for those who love their wild swimming pristine and well, epic, the River Tweed is worth a try. It’s beautiful inside and out. I explore the Tweed’s world in more colour, depth, and humour in my recently published fictional novel, Secrets of a River Swimmer.