If your teeth are chattering just reading this while wearing 18 thermal vests, the idea of stripping off and jumping into a freezing pool might not sound like your idea of a good time. But according to hardcore swimmer Nell Frizzell, you’re seriously missing out….
Have you ever swum in water so cold your eyeballs shiver? It’s quite a feeling – the world around you starts to shake, rattle and roll like a washing machine in full spin. This ocular spectacular usually kicks in just a couple of seconds after you’ve dunked your unsuspecting head under the surface. Next comes a heart beat so thumping you could be forgiven for thinking a crow is trapped behind your ribs and trying to get out, via your bikini. Once that subsides, along with the rushing sound of waves crashing in your ears and the nettle-like slap of your blood vessels snapping shut like shutters in a tornado, comes the clack of your teeth chattering like a jackhammer. Finally, you may notice that your fingers and toes have turned a waxen yellowish white, while your thighs and arms are now Stabilo highlighter pink and strung with alarmingly purple veins. This is the time to get out. Quickly. You’re a hero.
Like salted porridge, black coffee, kiwi fruit skins and cycling in the snow, outdoor winter swimming is an acquired taste. But, a dip in a semi-frozen pond, lido, river or stream will, without doubt, make you feel like some kind of all-conquering, bombastic, come-on-world-I’m-ready-for-you Viking warrior. You’ll scream with energy. Glow with a ruddy satisfaction. So, whether you’re hungover, an urban thrill-seeker or have just always wondered how it feels to be a cormorant, here are some of the best places to have an al-fresco winter swim….
Tooting Bec Lido
Hosting this year’s UK Cold Water Championships today (Jan 26), Tooting Bec Lido is a south London swimming institution. At nearly 100m long it is also one of the biggest lidos in Europe. Places are all gone for the teeth-breaking 450-metre challenge but head down another time soon to take a dip. And afterwards sprint into the sauna to try and thaw out your bones.
There is no greater pleasure than bobbing along a crackingly-cold surface, only to be overtaken by a couple of crazy coots, or a mandarin duck. With men’s, women’s and mixed ponds, Hampstead Heath is a winter swimmers’ paradise, complete with hot showers, glorious views and – in the case of the women’s pond – a fountain to stop the whole thing freezing over.
While the swimming club’s Christmas Day race is the stuff of London legend, a Hyde Park dip is for life, not just for festive flailing. A favourite for triathlon training, The Serpentine is replete with a café, ducks and – once you’ve dried off, of course – the gallery nearby.
London Fields Lido
The sad but unavoidable truth about winter swimming is that, even if you get togged up in enough wet suit, gloves, hats, boots and thermals to roast a turkey, you simply cannot stay in as long as you could in a heated pool. Which is where London Fields Lido comes in. Open all year round (including last week’s snowing season) Hackney’s favourite outdoor pool is lovely and warm, whatever the weather. It is also 50 metres long, giving you plenty of room to stretch your fins.
Are you crazy? Unless you happen to be a fat Slovenian, beer-drinking Amazon-swimming veteran or David Walliams, then it’s probably best to steer well clear. Nell Frizzell