A swimming hole is a place in a river, stream, creek, spring, or similar natural body of water, which is large enough and deep enough for a person to swim in. Common usage usually refers to fresh, moving water and thus not to oceans or lakes.
In the UK swimming at natural swimming holes has a long history and has recently become known as "wild swimming"., especially since the publication of bestselling books on the subject by Kate Rew and Daniel Start.
Nude swimming is a well-established tradition at some more remote swimming holes and is an attraction to many natural swimming fans.
There are still countless natural swimming places that meet this definition and many are still used. Efforts in recent years to clean up such bodies of water have actually resulted in cleaner water in many rivers and creeks and healthier natural places to swim.
In Europe, as the nineteenth century dawned, a new era of contemporary artists were rediscovering the appeal of the swimming hole. The waterfall, surrounded by trees and mountains, was now regarded as the quintessence of beauty. William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Thomas de Quincey spent much time bathing in the mountain pools of the Lake District. The study and search for the ‘picturesque’ and ‘sublime’ – an almost scientific measure of loveliness and proportion in the landscape – had reached epidemic proportions. The fashionable tours of Provence or Tuscany were replaced by trips to the valleys of Wales, and the dales of the UK's Cumbria and Yorkshire, as Turner and Constable painted a prodigious flow of falls, tarns and ponds.
Safety is a paramount concern with swimming in natural settings. These are usually informal (unofficial) swimming places and usually there are no lifeguards. Currents can be swift and, in larger rivers, are often hidden beneath the surface. Being unregulated places, there may be alcohol consumption and rowdiness which lead to careless behavior. Diving in such places is especially dangerous as the depth may be insufficient or there may be hidden rocks below the surface resulting in broken necks or backs and paralysis or death. Broken glass is sometimes present and can cut feet if old sneakers or other footwear is not used.
- see for instance Waterlog by Roger Deakin (1997)
- SwimmingHoles.info:, on-line guide to swimming holes and hot springs - directions and details on 1000 beautiful, natural places for a cool swim or a hot soak.
- Day Trips with a Splash: Hiking guides to swimming holes in California, Southwest, New England, Adirondacks and Appalachians. Hundreds of trips with photos, maps and GPS.