Hampstead Heath Ponds

The weather has been positively Mediterranean since we got back to London, so this afternoon we headed to the ponds on Hampstead Heath.

There are three ponds: the women’s, the men’s, and the mixed.  Apparently the women’s is the best.  I say apparently, because but for obvious reasons I’ve never been.   There is little contest between the men’s and the mixed.  The mixed is dingy and shallow, with feeble showers.  The men’s is bigger, cleaner, and chock-full of wildlife – including (if you pick your moment) swans, kingfishers and turtles.

There are some hardy souls who swim there every season.  In previous years I have gone on the grey mornings in May and chilly September starts and you see the same faces.  Some are triathletes training in cold water.  Some are slightly older local gents, who have been regulars for most of their life.

Hot weather attracts more cosmpolitan crowds.  In summer the ponds are popular with chaps from the Orthodox Jewish communities and with gay men.   It’s odd to see tzitzits and ringlets alongside speedos and six-packs, but everyone muddles together, and the atmosphere is friendly.

Last year I did my first outdoor swim at the end of April.  The water then was 12 degrees celsius.  That’s really rather cold.  Much below, and your chance of coming a cropper with what they call “sudden immersion syndrome” rises significantly.

Today, it was a balmy 15 degrees.  But it was still a shock getting in.  At first it stings.  You get a big burst of adrenaline and who knows what other hormones telling you to get out of there.  It takes willpower to breathe evenly and keep going forward.  After 30 seconds it’s not so bad, because your fingers and toes start to go numb.  After two minutes, the swimming has got the circulation going, and it feels much more comfortable.  But still I only did one lap before calling it a day.  And when you get out, it feels like you’ve been slapped round the legs.

250 metres swum in the ponds this afternoon, 2.25 kms in Swiss Cottage this morning, and 3kms in Swiss Cottage yesterday.

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