Kenwood Ladies' Pond | Hampstead
Swimming in one of the ponds on Hampstead Heath is one of the most special things London has to offer on a hot summer’s day, but is something few Londoners have actually done.
There are three swimming ponds in total - men’s, women’s and mixed - as well as a host of other ponds for dog swimming and sailing model boats amongst other things. The ponds were created in the 19th century from the River Fleet for use as reservoirs to provide water to London’s rapidly expanding population. Because the river runs through the swimming ponds, they are perfectly clean and safe to swim in and although you may emerge smelling slightly of pond water (not an entirely unpleasant smell), it’s still far better than the smell of chlorine and your skin will thank you for the lack of harsh chemicals. The ponds are crazy busy on a hot day at the weekend but in the week it’s a different story - just you and a handful of other bathers enjoying the sunshine and water.
Our favourite pond is the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond which is situation at the end of a charming, shady lane far up Highgate West Hill, almost at Highgate itself. It’s a bit of a trek by public transport but you can park there for free after 10am. The women’s pond is entirely hidden from view by trees and bushes. Once you pass the stern ‘women only’ sign you will reach the wooden deck complete with women lifeguards and changing rooms with newly installed hot showers. There are no lockers, you just hang your clothes on a peg, but this adds to the old-world charm.
You enter the water by climbing down the ladder and if it is a busy day you will have a queue behind you and just have to get on with it. Once in the water it takes a few strokes to acclimatise to the temperature but then you will be fine. The water is fresh and invigorating. Even on a really busy day, once you are in the water it will feel really quiet an empty with just a few ducks, moorhen or Canadian geese bobbing about your head for company. The last time we were there we had teeny-tiny ducklings bumping up to our noses.
Because the pond is, as far as you are concerned, bottomless and because you are not allowed to venture to the sides, you just have to keep swimming, pausing for breaks by clinging on to the buoys if you need to. It’s a sociable activity, go with a friend and chit-chat your way through the lengths. After about half an hour you will want to get out as you will start to feel quite cold and then it’s time for a hot shower and to dry-off by the sun in the secluded women-only meadow next door.