London W2 2UH
020 7706 3422
Added bonus: open every day up til Sept 12th, so get a shimmy on.
Points off for: having to walk through in your cozzie and feeling the shame of your children (may only apply to me). The café coffee is a bit ...meh.
If we get a nice day between now and Sept 12th, or even a less-shit one, or - and let’s face it this is the likely option - a totally shit day when you think you might kill something if you stay indoors another second - go here. If you don’t like it, I’ll give you your money back.* If you don’t go now, I’ll make you go on Christmas Day at 7am* and you won’t like that.
This is one of those places that inspires devotees and long tranches of historical history, and there are more posh people in the story of this lido than most others. (I can’t be bothered to recount it all here, but these people have.) It’s famous in swimmy circles, well used, right in the middle of a very busy park and millions of years old, so here’s a surprising thing: in the middle of August, at midday in reasonable warmth – I was the only person swimming. There’s something unnerving about that, something that makes a person feel a bit almost self-conscious, like you’re on show. An embarrassment of riches: all this, just for little old me? But within minutes the environs made me forget about being on display, focus right down on what's around in that moment and then, being on my own was an unexpected school holiday treat.
I walked up from Hyde Park corner, the lido is discreetly landscaped within the lake. You can spot it by the lengths of hard white pillow buoys marking the edge; it looks small from a distance. Along the way, there were warning notices about blue green algae, and as I couldn’t see any swimmers I assumed the pool was shut because of it. But no, there were simply no swimmers – only one other that day, according to the ticket boy. The small box changing rooms are right by the front door. Facilities are pretty minimal – no showers, for instance, except a cold dribbler by the water - perfectly bearable, but a bit of a surprise because the rest of the building suggests money bin spent. I changed (there are lockers but I had a child to guard my stuff so didn’t use then.) (I don’t mean I had a child JUST to guard my stuff, btw. That would have been a crazy thing to do. Hmm, how can I guard my stuff? I know, I’ll have a child, so in about ten years they can guard my stuff) then walked in my costume up the stairs, past the benches and box planters and smart sun umbrellas of the café, through the neatly done area where posh children called Octavia and Petit Filous played in a round kiddie pool and smart playground.
Then through a gate and across a little bridge over the path, above the heads of oxymoronic meandering tourists – it must be quite discombobulating to suddenly see someone scamper above in a bikini and swimming cap, gee honey, there’s a weirdos catwalk - and down to the water. It looks bigger from down here. There’s a platform across one end and steps, or a slope in. I chose the slope and edged down. The water felt warm – 20degrees, and thick, and as my feet slipped, I pretended I’d wanted to get in quickly. Lovely and warm, like dark mustard (whole grain).
I set out to the other end, practically 100 metres. I couldn’t keep a straight line for love nor chips, maybe because I didn’t have to. I was reluctant too, to tuck my head right in, the blue-green algae notice playing on my mind. The water felt … felty. It’s home-made apple juice, I’m convinced. There was a … gassy smell (duck farts, my daughter assured me when I told her after). In the filtered light under the surface, masses of sepia specks round my face gave the water dimension, like a strange 70s space movie. Every time I pulled my right hand through the water, the bubbles it made (this is a boring stroke bit you might want to skip: I know it shouldn’t make bubbles. I’m trying, and failing, to correct my stroke so it doesn’t make bubbles. It’s only on my right hand because I breathe to the left. I’ve tried to stretch that hand up and forward as long as possible, but it doesn’t work. Tips?) billowed out like massive ochre jellyfish coming up to get me.
Visibility below is non existent and I reverted to breast stroke after a few lengths because I was a little twitchy about this stuff getting in my mouth, and it’s a much better way to appreciate where you are. It does beg some appreciation. Here I am, I thought, a little chuckle, swimming in lovely warm chunky mead, the lake ahead and around, a few pleasure pedalos swanning across, a few swans pedaling like mad if we but knew it. A bridge ahead, a proper posh park stone bridge. It’s a polite place, mannered and tasteful, and so I swam in that way too. It seemed right. No raucous splashing, polite with queenly smile. Shame you missed that. Blueish sky. Right in the middle of London! I had a mad sense of privilege and good fortune. Then I got out.
I showered off a minute proportion of the appetizing duck crap/algae combo under the dribbling cold shower and greeted the next swimmer getting in –‘hello!” he said, as if he knew me, which he kind of does, and me likewise. ‘One out, one in|’ I clichéd back. I sauntered back over the bridge, and if some poor unsuspecting tourist thought that a bird had done a green shit on their head it was probably me, dripping a bit of algae as I went.