It’s quiet on Hampstead Heath. It’s a sunny weekday morning in June and I’m here to try out wild swimming in one of the Heath’s famous bathing ponds.
I’ve been to the Heath countless times, but never to the bathing ponds. I’m starting to wonder if I’m going down the right grassy track, but I see a small wooden gate and head towards it.
I’m greeted by an extremely pretty entrance path, lined with wild flowers, which leads me up to a smart black wooden structure which houses surprisingly modern changing rooms and toilets. That’s a plus – I was expecting an old concrete block.
I’m nervous. I’m worried it will be completely freezing, but I’ve come prepared with wetsuit-type gloves to protect my numb-prone fingers.
There’s a couple of swimmers in the pond already and I spot the ladders going into the deep waters. There’s a lifeguard on duty; it will be too embarrassing to do the dip-in-and-out routine-whilst-squealing so I bravely step down the ladder and plunge right in.
It’s taken my breath away, but I start to swim to warm up. I take in the willow tree on my right, dipping its leaves into the water, providing shade to the moorhen chicks and their mum.
It takes me the length of the pond to warm up, so after that I focus on what I can see and hear. The pond is completely surrounded by trees, it feels entirely enclosed and private. As I’m contemplating how quiet it is, a dragonfly whizzes past me and a duck swims across my path.
I turn on my back to feel the sun on my face. I can only hear birdsong and the ripples of the water as I slowly move through. It’s so peaceful. A world away from the bus journey that brought me here.
After 20 minutes I suddenly feel very cold. Time to get out.
A mini swim, but I loved it, and I will be back.