DEREK ROBERTSON, AUGUST 2017
I know what you’re thinking: swimming outdoors anywhere in the UK, even at the height of summer, is the preserve of the brave or foolhardy, never mind taking to the rivers or canals for a spot of aquatic rest and relaxation. But a new generation of Londoners have discovered the joys of an alfresco dip and the opportunities afforded by the spruced up waterways that are now so common. The capital has an array of opportunities for those who get their kicks from being on, in, or just around water, some that can even be enjoyed all year round. With significant amounts of money and time being spent on developing the ways in which citizens can use long-forgotten water features – or building brand new ones – there’s never been a better time to dig out that swimsuit, swot up on sailing, and take the plunge.
Tooting Bec LidoIt might not be the most central, but it’s one of the original and best loved lidos in the capital. Welcoming hardy souls since 1906, at 90m long it’s the largest fresh water pool in the country, and open all year round (though to swim in the winter, you do need to be a member of the South London Swimming Club), attracting some of the most loyal swimmers you’re likely to meet. It’s also famous for its classic, Pantone-coloured changing huts, relics of a bygone era but spruced up for the new millennium. Other lidos may be newer, cooler, or warmer – no heating here unfortunately – but to enjoy a slice of iconic history, few pools can beat Tooting Bec. There’s also a café, a kid paddling pool, and lockers for valuables.
Hamspstead Heath Swimming PondsIf a swimming pool is too civilized and you’d prefer to get back to nature, head north to Hamsptead Heath. These ponds – which were originally damned-off clay pits – are open all year round for those who prefer their dips to be a little more rugged. There is a men’s, women’s, and mixed pool, with the latter being open to children over eight and staffed by lifeguards. For some, the golden brown hue of the water may be off-putting, but it’s perfectly clean – and as you glide among the local birds and tree branches dipping into the water, you’ll experience a sense of calm that’s rare in the capital; few spots bring you this close to nature. Beware though; even in summer, the water is pretty chilly, and many wear wetsuits to prolong their enjoyment.
Boating On The SerpentineHyde Park’s Serpentine is a glorious spot. Complete with abundant wildlife and fauna, and with stunning views , there are fewer better spots to hire a pedalo or row boat and simply glide around on the water, soaking in the calm and tranquility. There’s also the UK’s first Solarshuttle, a solar powered vessel that can hold up to 40 passengers and glides form one end of the lake to the next. Add in the proximity to Kensington Palace and its gardens, the Diana Memorial, the Royal Albert Hall, and speakers corner, and you could tick a lot off your London list in little more than half a day.
Speedboating On The Thames If all of the above sound a little sedate and you’d rather get the adrenaline flowing, then book one of the many speedboat tours on the Thames. Strapped into a RIB (rigid inflatable boat), these exhilarating rides fly past some of the capitals most iconic landmarks, including the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament, and Tate Modern. Ranging from a 20-minute sprint to a 75-minute journey out to the Thames Barrier and back, and travelling at up to 45 miles per hour, there are few more fun things to do on the river right in the heart of London – just make sure you bring a towel and a change of clothes for after!
Houseboats Of Regents CanalOK, so strictly speaking this isn’t something that involves being in or on the water – although, if the fancy takes you, you can rent a canal boat or kayak and spend an afternoon sailing up and down the 8 mile stretch – but its such a wonderful little part of the capital that it would be remiss not to include it. The section from Little Venice to Limehouse is now home to a community of artists and entrepreneurs, and after several years of investment, provides some the best walking and cycling paths in the centre. The regeneration has spread to the banks, where numerous cafes, bars and restaurants – often of a co-operative, organic, or community nature – have sprung up, particularly around Hoxton and Angel. On a sunny afternoon, there are few better places to sit than a terrace next to the water and watch the world float by.