Does the chlorine get in your eyes? Do people get in your lane? Do you miss the sensation of eels slithering past your nearly naked body? If the answer to all these is yes, and you have more blubber than a sea lion to withstand the freezing temperatures, then this one is for you. Welcome to wild swimming. Here are the spots in and around London where you can swim wild relatively safely…
Lewisham Council has just gone halvesies with the Heritage Lottery Fund on the £4.9m refurb of Beckenham Place Park, and excitingly the space now boasts a swimming lake! Measuring 283 metres long by 45 metres wide and 3.5 metres deep at its deepest, the lake is on the site of an original Georgian water feature and will be open all year round (though only life-guarded in summer).
Apparently set over 23 acres of water (presumably an acre of water is how much an ox can plough before it drowns?), Stoke Newington Reservoir is great for all manner of water-borne activity, from sailing to canoeing to open swimming. There’s an online induction, and Stoke Newington West Reservoir Centre only operates certain hours (including summer evenings), but it’s a great way to experience outdoor open swimming in East London.
It’s London’s default wild swimming spot for a reason, Hampstead Ponds is a great place to experience wild swimming, while feeling safe in the knowledge that not only are the main ponds protected by lifeguards, but also half of North London has shown up too. And while it can be a little over-sociable, the wisdom of crowds certainly applies. Although Hampstead Heath has over 30 individual ponds, there are three main swimming ponds, a mixed one, a men’s one and ladies one. The latter is particularly popular. There’s also plenty of space for sunbathing, and it’s one of the few places ladies can whip your tops off in London and not raise an eyebrow (in the ladies’ pond, not the mixed one).
Central London can sometimes feel so genteel, taking afternoon tea in posh hotels and shopping in Mayfair boutiques. But how about freezing your unmentionables off in a lake? Because it’s got that too thanks to The Serpentine Lido. Operating all year round (yes, including when others are ice skating on the same lake), the lido is a legend among lidos, and as close to wild swimming as Hyde Park can allow.
Steady on, Frensham, we’ll decide if it’s great or not! Frensham Great Pond is a little out of London, but worth the train ride out of Waterloo. With a proper sandy beach the swimming areas are buoyed off and there’s a maximum depth of 1.4 metres, making it relatively safe and (relatively) warm place to swim outdoors. Apparently it can sometimes get a bit naked, though…
What could be wilder than the sea? Think of the North Sea and you’re imagining Nicola Sturgeon clinging to an oil rig or Nigel Farage bobbing in a fishing trawler, but you can swim in it too, and a very short train trip out of London too. Margate is all the rage right now, a hit with the artists and cool crowd, and it also has the largest tidal pool in the country, opened in 1937. Which means you don’t have to venture into the sea proper, though there are no changing facilities or lifeguard, so the definition of ‘wild’.