Although colds have kept me out of the water for the last ten days, I didn’t want the year to slip away without thinking about my top swimming moments of the year. Last year I somehow managed to record all the different swimming venues I visited, but I wouldn’t trust my memory this year. Still, although I didn’t swim in as many new cities as I did in 2009 (Madrid, Montpellier, Helsinki, Stockholm, Granada) I did have some new experiences. The most memorable hotel pool has to be the Deansgate Hilton in Manchester, even if it was a bit small, closely followed by my all-too-short rooftop dip at the Holiday Inn, Midtown, New York. Unless you count the Serpentine, my only new wild swim was my (wonderful) windy dip in Runswick Bay, although I had some memorable return experiences at Castelnau le Lez, Hickling and especially Hampstead Heath. And this was the year that I said farewell to Usual Pool and entered the world of Swim London. The newly refurbished Kentish Town Baths (where I intend to go today) and the Clissold Pool will have to fight it out (can I suggest, the changing rooms of the first, with the pool of the second?) as my favourites. London Fields Lido was probably the most memorable new experience out of London pools, even if my toes nearly did drop off the other day. The Porchester, Queen Mother’s Pool and Oasis all offered their municipal glories, and I managed to avoid Swiss Cottage. And this year did mark my first visit to the Highbury Pool.
I made surprisingly few visits to Gospel Oak Lido, even though it’s 2 minutes from my new front door. But that’s for a good reason really. Which is that I am well and truly dizzily converted to the year-round joys of Kenwood Ladies Bathing pond. Suddenly the hill doesn’t seem so steep nor the water so cold, just for the joys of a tingly 5 minute dip or leisurely 20 minute wallow. I even joined the club, even though a brief visit on a Saturday morning will be all I can manage in the near future. So thank you ponds (and ladies) for some wonderful wet experiences.
2011 should hold some fun. I’m aiming to get to the Marshall street baths. I’m going to Budapest and, while my boyfriend doesn’t know this, that means at least one different pool a day. I’m also going to Istanbul, which doesn’t have a swimming culture, but there have to be some opportunities for a dip. I still haven’t made it to either Hathersage or Petersfield Lidos. I won’t have much time for weekends away next year, but I really do want to get there. And who knows what other opportunities are out there? Happy swimming everyone…
On Saturday I puffed up the hill in the snow and was most disappointed to find the ladies’ pond was closed. The men’s appeared to be open, although I couldn’t actually see anyone in the water (they are a lot less secluded than we are). Of course, by the time I’d found this out, it was well past the lido’s closing time, so I had to resign myself to no swimming. Not that the walk through the heath in the snow wasn’t a) plenty strenuous and b) beautiful.
I was for once not walking on Sunday as my boyfriend and I had people over for lunch. By virtue of much veg prepping on Saturday night, and a promise that I would return with crackers, I was given leave of absence to rush – or rather crunch – down to London Fields Lido. I was reminded again what a great pool this is – such a good size and temperature and nice wide lanes (thank goodness, the whole fast / medium / slow division was in much disarray). I was somewhat under-equipped as, although the water is heated, it was impossible to walk between the changing rooms, the lockers (which are all outdoors) and the pool without stepping on ice and I had no flip flops. This meant I scrunched out in swimming costume and walking boots, which I then whipped off between sticking in my 20p and closing the locker. Brrrr!
There are notices up in the rather small changing rooms requesting that we store our belongings in the lockers and it was indeed not easy to change with piles of coats and carrier bags hung up everywhere. However, I think this is inevitable with outdoor lockers. First of all, you don’t really want to leave your towel anywhere so cold. Secondly, it’s not easy to spend time by the poolside (especially if, as I did, you have showered) with 20p pieces and handbags without faffing with multiple bags, clothes and coats. Most of my fellow-ladies didn’t use the lockers at all, but then I think they probably left the house with nothing but their keys, whereas I had crackers to buy.
One of the reasons people give me most often for not going swimming (usually prefaced by ‘I love swimming, but…’) is the ‘bother of taking off my clothes and getting all cold’. I do know exactly what they mean, although for a long time, when I was going through a bit of a self-punishing phase lasting about 25 years, I had no patience with them and tended to think smugly ‘we all hate it, yet some of us do it’. Nowadays I really do appreciate the pleasures of moving weightlessly through the water and the sense of euphoria that goes with 20 minutes of uninterrupted exercise, but those few seconds of underdressed exposure remain off-putting. At the Oasis, the chilly instant comes between leaving the changing room (itself always too cold) running up the stairs and outside into the pool. At this time of year it takes a superhuman effort and I have to admit that I don’t always shower (cold water on the body becomes very cold indeed outside). Once I’m in the pool, it’s fine, a bit hot almost. At Kentish Town, the changing room and poolside are beautifully heated, but gosh the water’s cold when you first get in. It’s fine after the first length and positively pleasurable after 5 minutes (whereas the Oasis can be unpleasant if you’re really working hard).
So really, the thing which makes us dread going swimming and choose a nice warm pub/bed/tube home instead is a matter of a few scary minutes of ‘brrr’ in the context of half an hour of perfectly manageable swimming. Not so bad when you put it like that, is it? And not really so very commendable for those of us who do it, but don’t tell anyone.
Although I’m always reminding myself that cold water swimming is about the exhiliaration and not an excuse for boasting about how cold you can go, I can’t help feeling proud at going into the pond on Saturday. Two degrees is the lowest I’ve done so far and was apparently the temperature for weeks last winter. There was so much ice on the ground that I couldn’t run up there (at least, not in my running shoes – some people seemed to be managing) but I was wearing so many clothes that I was pretty warm by the time I arrived. Wearing my new gloves and socks, getting into the water really wasn’t that hard and it was only the amount I was tingling and my fear of not warming up again that made me get out after about 4 minutes. Needless to say, getting dressed again took about twice that long… but the euphoria lasted all day!
On Thursday morning, I woke up full of my plans to stop by the lido before a heavy day at a trade show. Yet somehow, I opted to stay in bed instead (although I was very much in need of the therapeutic properties of cold water following a pretty heavy evening). I thought that at least I’d go the Oasis for a heated outdoor swim in the evening and I was very disappointed to find that the outdoor pool was shut. Except that I was also extremely relieved. It would have been lovely once I was in the water, but the 5 seconds running from the door to the steps down to the pool are terrifying enough to put me off the whole experience. Anyway, I am now the owner of gloves as well as socks and am planning to put them into action tomorrow morning, even though running to and from the pond might be a bit tricky. Incidentally, this is what the Oasis looked like on the February 2009 Snowday.