There are two swimming seasons in the media. One is around Christmas/New Year ('Look at all these fools jumping in cold water!') and the other is summer ('It's hot! Jump in cold water!'). We're just starting with the annual crop of 'here's the best places to swim in London', but they're often written by people who haven't swum in many, so it all becomes a bit of a 'lucky dip'. Yeah. I did say that.
I, however, DO know about the best places to swim, because I've swum in them all. The best ones are in my book, Swimming London. Buy it, shove it in your backpack, and get out there. (There's lots of indoor pools in it too, it's a really great book.)
So instead of relying on half-baked lists that don't really know what they're talking about, here's my top five, and then the rest. You don't need another list, you just need this one, it's got the lot. And then get my book for full info. You'll be truly Swimming London.
And by the way, the book also has loads of brilliant photos, taken by the very talented Luisa Martelo. She did NOT take the pics on this blog, I did with my phone. I am a bad photographer, but even I can't ruin Tooting Lido.
MY TOP FIVE:
TOOTING LIDO Unheated 90m, glorious, biggest and best. The sunny pic above is Tooting Lido. Open to the public from May - that means NOW.
BROCKWELL LIDO: 50m unheated pool, near Brixton. Open all year. Two lidos in South London! We are spoiled. (They may be at no.2 in this list BUT their cafe is nicer than the Tooting Cafe.) (You can go to the Brockwell cafe without visiting the pool, but why would you?)
CHARLTON LIDO Also 50m, heated but not madly. This pool has been done up recently. It's a great swim, now FIRMLY in my top five. FIRMLY. The pic at the bottom is Charlton.
LONDON FIELDS LIDO Again, 50m of urban heated pool bliss. Have a very nice coffee in Broadway Market afterwards. It gets busy with trendy people. Men wearing knitted trunks. *tries not to look*
and sneaking in the top five by dint of having a lovely stainless steel bottom:
PARLIAMENT HILL LIDO 60m, cold, open all year. Right by Hampstead Heath.
LONDON DOCKLANDS a new addition. A GREAT addition. Three courses (400, 750m and 1.5k) with cable cars racing overhead, planes taking off over you from City airport, the Dome practically next door. GO.
HAMPSTEAD PONDS which has a ladies, a men's and a mixed bathing pond.
HILLINGDON Leisure Centre In Uxbridge. Lovely big pool, never very busy. Unheated.
RICHMOND POOLS ON THE PARK One indoor heated pool and one small cold outdoor one with weird steps.
THE SERPENTINE Right in Hyde Park. I once had a funny swim here with my friend Becky. Remind me to tell you when we meet.
HAMPTON Very heated. Very bacon baguettes.
OASIS Packed. Covent Garden One indoor, one tiny outdoor pool.
PARK ROAD LEISURE CENTRE. Beyond Crouch End, even. This one has apparently been done up since I visited. But the pool remains the same.
and last but honestly not least, and really worth a visit, our newest addition: KINGS CROSS POND. You have to book in advance. IT IS WORTH IT. It's more the kind of place you dandle around in, than train for a 10k. That first link goes to my review, but this one goes to the ticket shop. TICKET LINK.
(There is also Finchley Lido. I've tried about ten times to go there, but it never seems to be open so I can't recommend it. Let me know if it's worth a visit.)
Now, be warned. These places aren't 'swimming spots'. They are 'open water swimming spots'. I hope you know the subtle difference; if not you can ask me and I'll try not to be sarcastic in response. You'll meet loads of triathletes, wetsuits may be compulsory, and the opening hours are limited. BUT, so nice to get a decent lake swim in, eh?
WEST RESERVOIR - Stoke Newington. Rather a brilliant building attached.
THORPE LAKE - right out on the M25, west. You can see Thorpe Park rides above the trees.
HERON LAKE - Near Thorpe Lake.
FERRIS MEADOWS- Shepperton.
HAM LAKE - Not actually a ham lake. IN Ham, not OF ham.
DENHAM LAKE - a bit like being on holiday.
LEYBOURNE LAKE. I started swimming there last year. It's not v crowded, there's very basic facilities but it's a lovely swim. See you there.
and finally, DAY TRIPS
If you feel like getting out of the city but have limited travel time, try either GUILDFORD LIDO and last but DEFINITELY not least, as it's the oldest public freshwater pool in the UK and is really rather splendid and special, PELLS POOL, LEWES.