Challenge: Swim in the bathing ponds on Hampstead Heath on New Year’s Day
Details: The freshwater bathing ponds, shared with ducks and overhanging trees, are a little drop of nature in London’s urban jungle. The designated bathing ponds are open for swimming all year round and are a daily ritual for some hardy swimmers. Heed the advice of the lifeguards, as the waters can be icy cold in winter.
Transport? Cycle/ overground to Gospel Oak.
Where? There are three bathing ponds on Hampstead Heath. The men’s and ladies’ separate ponds are open to the general public every day of the year. The mixed pond is only open to the public during the summer months. Best to join the Hampstead Heath Winter Swimming Club if you’d like to use the mixed pond all year around.
Bring? Swimming costume, goggles, a towel, coins for the entry. A swimming cap helps keep you slightly warm.
Food and drink? No on-site cafés so bring your own water/ hot drink/ snacks. Coca-cola is meant to be a good killer of bacteria to sip at after open water swimming. There are some great pubs and cafés in the Hampstead Heath area if you fancy. The cosy Holly Bush pub in Hampstead is sure to warm you post swim.
When and cost? Details on opening times and charges can be found on the cityoflondon.gov.uk.
eXerK 52in52 story: Open water swimming turned out to be one of my favourite activities rediscovered through the eXerK challenges. At the time it was what it was – an icy cold swim limited by our novice status in winter swimming, and hence the health implications of immersing ourselves in 4°C water. As a New Year’s Day tradition, by 1pm, 132 ladies had taken the plunge (vs. 40 in the men’s pond).
Looking back at it now, it was special. As the 1st of the 52 sporting challenges in 52 weeks, the Hampstead Heath pond swim on 1st January 2015 was the beginning of a journey that will never end. The 52in52 will, but not the places the project will take me, having shaped me over the year.