Monday, 10 September 2012

Hampstead Ponds - N6

Oh what a lovely weekend it was in London - as often seems to be the case these days, September is shaping up to be the best month of all weather wise and I am putting my money on the weekend of the 8th and 9th being the loveliest weekend of the year.  We managed to get the balance right this past weekend between lounging around in our own back garden and getting out and about - always a tricky decision when the sun comes out (mostly we err on the side of lounging in the garden all weekend - which is not necessarily a bad thing).  Addressing the getting out and about part, we met various friends on Hampstead Heath on Sunday and what better part of the Heath to appreciate a late summer Sunday than the Ponds?  I have a recent obsession (and a latent blog post that will get written one day) about the lost rivers of London and chief amongst them is the River Fleet, a major river flowing into the Thames in Roman times but pretty much an open sewer by the 18th century (also a dead dog dumping ground amongst other things).  By the 19th century most of the Fleet was covered over and unsurprisingly (given the name) a large part of it runs under the environs of Fleet St.  The Hampstead/Highgate bathing ponds came about as a result of the two headwater streams of the Fleet being dammed in the 18th century.  What has resulted are three freshwater swimming ponds - a mens' pond a womens' pond and a mixed bathing pond.  I have only swum in the mens' pond and I love it - there is something really liberating about swimming in open water (as opposed to a pool) but also slightly disconcerting, that feeling of not knowing exactly what is below you.  I also like the old school back to basics nature of the Ponds - concrete changing rooms, hooks to hang your towel, a single jetty sticking out into the pond and old guys who look like they come here every day of their lives, regardless of the weather.  In 2004 the City of London Corporation tried to close the Ponds but supporters challenged the decision in the High Court and won, which makes me incredibly happy (although there is some further issues around plans to rebuild the dams themselves - read about it here).  The Ponds are a gem and an integral part of not only Hampstead Heath but London, so if you are not squeamish about swimming as nature intended (I don't mean naked by the way - although if you do like getting your kit off there is a nude sunbathing area in the mens' changing rooms) and you want to spend a lovely, quintessentially London morning or afternoon, pay the Ponds a visit.


  1. And they even provided a setting for Gary Oldman's George Smiley to have a morning dip in last year's 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' re-make (obviously when you can't figure out who the mole in MI6 is you just head to the Heath for a swim!).

  2. True - I'd forgotten that! They crop up in "The Line of Beauty" as well.