You’re burned out — but can’t turn to the usual pick-me-ups to get you through. Massages are off the cards until further notice and you can’t book a last-minute yoga retreat on the White Isle to quell jangling nerves. The answer? Take a wild dip. Swimming has plenty of fitness and meditative benefits but with pools still closed for now, the water babies among us have been left deprived.
Open-water swimming in lakes, rivers and the sea, has been allowed since May 13, and wild swimming spots are seeing a surge in popularity since reopening with social-distancing measures in place. (Current guidance is that you should be experienced, though). It’s easy to see why. There’s something about connecting with nature by swimming outdoors that soothes both the body and mind. “The mental health benefits of open-water swimming are massive,” says marathon-distance swimmer and Open Swim UK coach Jane McCormick. “It’s the escapism of just diving in and getting away from everything.
“When we submerge ourselves in cold water, the body adjusts by releasing the stress hormone cortisol, and the longer you’re submerged, the more your body becomes accustomed to dealing with other stress,” she says. “It will boost your circulation and metabolism and do wonders for your complexion, too.”
A reopening date for the much-loved Hampstead Heath Ponds is yet to be confirmed, and The Serpentine Lido will reopen to club members only this week, so where to go? Get your float on at one of these lesser-known spots in and around London.
West Reservoir Centre, Hackney
The vast West Reservoir is a hidden gem in Hackney. With 23 acres of water, there are two courses — a 400m loop and a 100m warm-up lane — which have re-opened for experienced swimmers only. Book 50-minute slots for £10 via the Better UK app and be sure to turn up ready to swim as changing facilities are not in use.
Divers Cove, Surrey
Divers Cove is a beautiful 7.3-acre reservoir in the village of Godstone, known for its turquoise water. It’s currently open to experienced swimmers and members only. Sessions are limited to an hour and must be booked via the website. Membership costs £20 for the season and each swim is £5.
Royal Docks, east London
Set against the backdrop of Docklands, with Emirates Air cable cars overhead, this is a prime spot for stressed City slickers. The water is tested fortnightly and results suggest it’s as clean as blue-flag beaches. Book 60-minute swims for £8 via the ACTIO App, arrive early and change on the bank.
Redricks Open Water Swimming Lake, Herts
You can just turn up to the picturesque Redricks lake and small beach in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire. The 750m swimming circuit is open to everyone from newbies to pros, though anyone looking to perfect their wild stroke can opt for an induction and/or sessions with coaches Phil Heath and Ross Clewlow. Swims cost £5 for members and £7.50 for non-members, who will have to sign a waiver form in advance. Search for their Facebook group page.
Frensham Ponds, Surrey
The stunning Frensham Ponds are surrounded by heathland, wildlife and walking trails and make for an ideal summer day trip from London. There are two ponds: the Great Pond, which is more popular, with its large sandy beach, and the Little Pond, which arguably has more charm and plenty of its own picnic spots. Be warned, this place gets packed when it’s hot, and the car park fills up fast. The No 19 bus from Farnham station stops opposite the ponds. Find out more in the leisure and culture section of Waverley council’s website.
Merchant Taylors’ Lake, Middlesex
The lake at Merchant Taylors’ School in Northwood, Middlesex welcomes about 1,600 swimmers each week, with some recent temperatures reaching a not-so-chilly 23C in the water. One-hour swims are available on a pre-booked basis and cost £8. There is a 750m circuit and shorter 400m one, and people can now also take lessons with coach Rav from Aloha Tri. Moor Park Tube station (Zones 6 and 7) on the Metropolitan line is a 10-minute walk from the school.