Hampstead Heath Bathing Ponds
Hampstead Heath London
Hampstead Heath’s three ‘bathing ponds’ – Men’s, Ladies’ and Mixed – have been popular with swimmers since Victorian times, and in summer, when the water temperature can hit 24ºC, they are entirely wonderful. The Men’s and Ladies’ Ponds, over on the east side of the Heath (known as ‘Highgate Ponds’), are delightfully big, so you can get your exercise just by swimming around, rather than up and down like in a municipal pool. The Mixed Pond, over to the west (amid the ‘Hampstead Ponds’), is a smaller area and tends to be a bit more crowded. For the best swim, go segregated, unless you have young kids – the Men’s and Ladies’ ponds are for over-eights only, and anyone under 15 has to be accompanied by an adult. Segregation also means that the pools have loyal and particular followers – the men’s pond draws in North London’s Hassidic population, and both pools have something of a gay reputation, with enclosures for nude sunbathing. But there’s nothing exclusive or intimidating about this.
The Men’s and Ladies’ Ponds are remarkable, too, in that they stay open year-round and a band of swimmers bathe daily, even in the depths of winter, and host a big group swim on Christmas Day. The winter rules stipulate that women are allowed to swim in the Men’s Pond if the Ladies’ Pond is frozen over. If you don’t fancy swimming in pond water (and there are occasional alarms about blooms of algae), it;s worth knowing that there is also a Lido on Hampstead Heath.