The Handbook
The Handbook

Does the chlorine get in your eyes? Do people get in your lane? Do you miss the sensation of eels slithering past your near-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.

We all love a pool, even better one of London’s many lidos, but they simply can’t compete with the back-to-nature nature of wild swimming. The exhilaration of being at one with the ducks, fish and shopping trolleys that call London’s wild swimming spots home is second-to-none. Here are some of our favourites, natural spots in and around London where you can swim wild in relatively safety…

Stoke Newington West Reservoir Centre, Hackney

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 ideal for all manner of water-borne activities, from sailing to canoeing to open swimming.

Simply take an online induction and head down at the right time to experience outdoor open swimming in East London.

WHERE: WEST RESERVOIR WATER SPORTS CENTRE, GREEN LANES, HACKNEY, N4 2HA
WEBSITE: WWW.BETTER.ORG.UK

The Serpentine Lido

Central London’s answer to the Mediterranean (in that it’s wet), the extraordinary thing about The Serpentine Lido isn’t that it’s a popular spot for ice skaters and swimmers, it’s that they happen at the same time.

The lake, London’s favourite swimming spot since it was created in 1730, is 100 metres long, making it the longest stretch of water in the capital  for swimming and it also boasts Britain’s oldest swimming club.

WHERE: THE SERPENTINE LIDO, HYDE PARK, W2 2UH
WEBSITE: WWW.SERPENTINELIDO.COM

Frensham Great Pond, Surrey

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.

Although warning: apparently it can sometimes get a little bit naked…

Hampstead Heath Ponds

Pondlife abounds on Hampstead Heath, thanks in part to the open-air swimming ponds.

There are ponds set aside for swimmers, one for men swimmers, one for women swimmers and another for men and women who don’t crave segregation.

Perfect for picnicking and pondering life, locals claim that the ponds were the inspiration for C.S. Lewis’ Narnia.

WHERE: HAMPSTEAD HEATH, HAMPSTEAD, NW5 1QR
WEBSITE: WWW.CITYOFLONDON.GOV.UK

Credit: Walpole Bay Swimmers (Facebook)

Walpole Bay Tidal Pool, Margate

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, but it also has the largest tidal pool in the country, opened in 1937. There are no changing facilities or lifeguard, so the definition ‘wild’ really is earned.

Beckenham Place Park Swimming Lake

After a flurry of activity in the early 20th century, London stopped adding new outdoor swimming pools, so the 2019 addition of one more, down in Beckenham, is a real Brucey-bonus.

Lewisham Council has gone halvesies with the Heritage Lottery Fund on the £4.9m refurb of Beckenham Place Park, and a new addition to the public space is 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 is open all year round (though only life-guarded in summer).

River Wey, Surrey

No way you can swim in a river near Guildford? Yes Wey! The river, a tributary of the Thames (hello GCSE Geography), moves at a slow pace and offers shallow waters and relatively safe open swimming.

The most popular spots are around Guildford, with a sandy beach well suited to swimmers. Upstream some deeper waters are marked with lifebouys.

Where: Various locations

Of course, if the idea of risking frost bite and getting a tetanus jab each time you get caught in a Safeway trolley doesn’t appeal, here are some of London’s best lidos, or maybe you’re more keen on beingbeing-pampered-in-a-spa, in which case we’ve got you covered. Similarly, if all this mixing with the general public malarky makes you start shivering in social anxiety, then check out these posh rooftop pools.


Want to receive more great articles like this every day: sign up here