The Big Sink – Parliament Hill Lido

On Saturday I went to Parliament Hill Lido. This is a stunning pool and measuring 60 x 27m you have plenty of room to move.

I have swum here about 7 times now. Over the Summer it’s been a regular spot for a Monday post-work dip. This is a sure-fire way of getting rid of any dwindling hangovers from the weekend, or in this case Friday night.

The main point about this pool is it isn’t heated. Which means it is freezing! There is an evening swim that starts at 6:45pm and throughout Summer until September this time/temperature combo has been just about bearable.

Yesterday’s swim was not warm enough. However on the City of London website apparently the temperature was 19 degrees! The first time I went it took about 15 mins of hanging on to the ladder and trying to balance and lean on the side. We all know this just prolongs the pain, after falling gracefully in and getting your head under the water, it’s great as you want to swim as fast as you can to avoid hypothermia.

Before this trip I’d only been on a Monday evening. There is usually about 10 people across 2 lanes width in what is classed as the ‘Slow Lane’ but it’s a bit of a free for all. The more serious swimmers are just the other side of the lane rope in the open bit of the pool, but there is no system there. It can get quite frustrating if you want to go a bit faster, but you aren’t a wetsuit clad, regular triathlon competitor. The main reason for this is the problem that me and my friends face constantly; goggle steam-up. I don’t know how it doesn’t seem to affect other people anywhere near as much. The slightly more daunting affect of this is that when it is coupled with no system, head-on collisions are a worry/guarantee.

As soon as you can get your space sorted this pool is amazing, the pain of getting in and working out where to fit in is totally worth it. The sense of freedom is incredible, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of chlorine and the pool is very clean. It certainly feels like more of a workout than your regular 25m pond. People don’t linger around at the ends because it’s so cold, and you just want to keep swimming to stay warm. A great place to push yourself.

One of the best feelings is when a beam of sunshine hits the water. One of the best things about this pool is that it is lined with stainless steel. You are swimming in a big sink. This is great as you arrive up to the shallow end, the floor and walls of the pool light up and you can feel the heat. The shallow end takes up about a third of the pool. For the last 20m if you reach down you can touch the bottom with your hands, which is quite surreal. Going towards the deep end the experience is slightly different. As the floor slips away beneath you, you get a bit of a shiver and the end of the pool does seem quite far off. Then you can almost feel a current pulling you back. The edge arrives soon enough and (after stopping and wiping your goggles yet again) it’s great to look back and aim back towards the shallows.

After doing your best it’s a great feeling to hit the showers. There are lockers available but not during the evening session, and no one uses them and just takes their stuff onto the poolside. When you get into the showers (I am a girl, so I’ll only be talking about female showers/changing rooms throughout this entire blog) there is a wall of showers on the right which are warm, one shower on the left wall which is warm and the rest are COLD. I, myself had no idea and at first walked straight into a cold one, cursing that this was the coldest place I’d ever been, then someone told me which ones were hot and cold. Then next time I went someone else did the same, so I passed on the advice. Everyone who swims there is really kind.

One thing that I struggled with a lot the first few times I went here is the amount of nakedness. I have never thought of myself as gymnophobic, but I was certainly uncomfortable. There are only doors on about 3 changing rooms, and everyone is naked in the showers, chatting away. The changing rooms have concrete floors and it’s in no way luxurious, but the simplicity does take you away from reality and yes this will definitely be a relatively ‘hippy’ experience.

If you go to the evenign swim it’s only £2.50 entrance, and to be honest whenever you go, if your anything like me, you won’t want to be in there for over an hour. During the day it’s £5.50 to swim, which to be honest I think is a bit steep. But, I am saying this after swimming there during the day on 14th September, this was a cold day and in the height of Summer I would imagine it is stunning. There’s loads of outside space and a cafe too, but I’ve never been inside.

The Saturday swim was a lot quiter, there were only 4 people swimming in the laned-off area, 2 of them were me and my friend. It was a lot more relaxing (we went  at 3pm so I think all of the serious swimmers had been earlier in the day) but it really was cold. The worst thing is when you get out and the air is cold and you just can’t shake it. The hard work and battling the temperature give you the best dozy feeling, and you don’t get the same tight skin feeling that you get from pools with a lot of chlorine.

I can’t recommend this place enough, it really is where hard work reaps rewards (and there’s also a lovely pub round the corner which is great for an afternoon pint, and the overground from Gospel Oak heading east allows bikes on the weekend).


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