I’ve put off going to Hampstead Heath ponds for as long as possible. Here and Hillingdon lido are the only London outdoor ones left, and Hillingdon was closed when I wanted to go. It was daft of me to avoid this place, it is incredibly beautiful and a lovely place to swim.
On a scorchio September Sunday morning I set off, very slowly, towards the Heath. As soon as I got off the main road I got off my bike, and walked towards the ladies pond, excruciatingly slowly, then decided that if I was going to bother at all, I might as well go to the mixed ponds so that fellas can also hopefully find this review useful. This allowed for further procrastination and another 20 min walk/bike ride (longest possible route) round to the South side of the Heath.
Outdoor swimming in a lido is definitely my idea of fun. I like the idea of swimming somewhere where I can see the bottom. Me and natural swimming are not especially good friends. The sea is fine as you can generally see at least an arms length in front of you. The experiences of The Serpentine and Stoke Newington Reservoir have not left me overly enthusiastic to swim anywhere other than a purpose-built and bird-free pit with a regularly cleaned tiled floor.
As I wandered over the bridge and saw the little jetty in full sun trap glory I started the feel a bit better, although seeing just one person in the water did worry me a bit. The entrance is easy enough to find and there are clear instructions about what you can and cannot take in (no boozy picnics here). Entrance is £2 for adults and £1 for children. The important thing here is that the entry payment is made on a matchine that only takes coins, no notes or cards. Please do take coins with you, it really pissed me off when I overheard a guy saying that he didn’t pay as he only had notes. The tiny payment goes towards the upkeep of the pond and it’s a pittance for the experience.
There is a toilet and some changing rooms in the changing area, all very basic which fits in with the natural sense of the whole place. Back out to the water, it was a busy day with (posh) people sunbathing all over the bank, so I just popped my stuff near the hedge. Initially, I left my goggles behind, before heading to the little pontoon where a couple of kids were jumping off. Then I went and got my goggles before following suit. This was my favourite bit, at no pint during this whole experience did I have to touch the bottom or any sides. This has revolutionised my outdoor swimming experiences! You can stand up in the shallower end if you like, but I’m not willing to do that to describe it for you. AMAZING.
It was about 18 degrees in the water, so actually quite pleasant although for some people it was a bit of a shock. It’s about 80m from the pontoon to the far end (just a lane rope), so the lifeguard said, and the life-rings positioned across it are good resting points if you need (and don’t want to put your feet on the floor). I started off with swimming breaststroke to take in the lovely views. the setting is gorgeous and unlike anywhere else I’ve been. The view of the Heath is stunning and you can swim up to the trees and see cute little ducks huddled underneath. One did come to join us swimmers for a minute, but paddled off once he got too close (couldn’t be further from the horrific Canada geese experience at The Serpentine). It’s peaceful and on a sunny day is a really relaxing place. A couple of serious people were crawling up and down, but mostly people taking it leisurely.
After getting swept away in the beauty of it all, I remembered I’m meant to be training for a 5k. I donned the goggles once more, and stuck my head under the water, so you don’t have to. It’s pretty murky in there. You can’t see your hands once your arms are outs techies, but once you have put your face in it isn’t half as bad as you think. As there are people swimming in every direction it is really important to keep looking up rather than speeding around like you might in a place with an organised system.
After a good invigorating swim I felt as though I was grubby enough and headed to 1 of the 2 cold open showers by the edge. As clean as I thought I was, when I got changed I was still pretty green.
Absolutely spectacular place, really nice atmosphere and surroundings. I would recommend to anyone who can abide the unbelievable posh and privileged and is happy to return home feeling like filthy pond scum.