Hampstead Heath Swimming Ponds
Since as early as 1860, and probably before, many hardy London folk have taken a dip before work in one of three wooded ponds on Hampstead Heath. It's a century-old tradition that becomes wonderfully welcome when things hot up in the summer months. However swimming was not the original intention for the ponds; the much-loved tarns of water began as a string of reservoirs which were originally established to supply London with water. (1) The Highgate Men's Pond enjoys a secluded sylvan spot (Highgate, London NW3, access is via Millfield Lane, N6; Tel: 0207 485 4491). In the fenced enclosure nudity is de rigeur amongst the regulars - the serious swimmers, chess players, weight-lifters, readers and sunbathers for whom this is a sort of club. Out on the springboards and in the water, costumes are required. In the 1930s the Highgate Diving Club used to practice dives from the ten-metre board and their Aquatic Carnivals attracted crowds of 10,000. There are no longer any high boards - a sign of these cautious times. No children under eight and those 8-15 only with an accompanying adult. (2) The Kenwood Ladies' Pond c/o Parliament Hill Park Office, Staff Yard, Highgate Road, London, NW5 1QR, Phone: 020-7485 4491 As the Ladies Pond is highest up the hill and benefits from being nearest to the natural springs in Kenwood it has by far the cleanest water. Its hidden by an expanse of sprawling foliage to hide the ladies modesty. (3) The Hampstead Mixed Pond is a heap of fun in the summer if a little on the busy side on really warm days. It's not often you can enjoy the freedom offered by the open fields in London but this really is a fertile pocket of uncultivated land, dotted with the odd hay bail, leafy avenues and shaded woods. This rolling rural park is undoubtedly one of the loveliest areas of London. The Heath's bathing ponds, shrouded underneath sweeping willow trees and lush undergrowth, are a delightful summer surprise making this a lovely spot for a slightly murky swim.
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