“London is a city built on water” states the publicity bumf for writer and blogger Jenny Landreth’s exhaustive guide to the best places to swim in the capital. Our city gets its fair share of watery weather too, so there is a certain logic to the fact it boasts such a wealth of places to do the breaststroke.
Landreth is an entertaining and witty writer who does not merely dive into her subject but takes a running jump along the diving board and deftly somersaults as she plunges into it. It might seem like there is little to be said on the subject of swimming pools, but many have incredible histories, and the newer ones often have a controversial past (Hackney’s Clissold Leisure Centre is a case in point).
This book also allows readers to discover sumptuous and unusual pools within easy reach of the East End such as Virgin Active Repton Park – a swimming pool in a church (yes, really) and King’s Oak Lido on the cusp of Epping Forest. Closer to home, the pool at Shoreditch House and Walthamstow Forest College Pool are also included.
Then there is open water swimming and so-called wild swimming, both increasingly popular activities. At the risk of rhapsodising on the subject, the experience of propelling oneself through the water in a lake or reservoir surrounded by fish and diving water birds is an amazing way to connect with nature, and thank goodness this experience is available at places like the Hampstead Heath swimming ponds and the Stoke Newington West Reservoir, albeit that you have to pay and wear a wetsuit to swim in the latter.
No true wild swimming opportunities exist in London, unless of course you count the Thames, which Landreth does. Though swimming is banned in the busiest stretch through central London, this book details how and where to plunge into London’s mother-river.
Which begs the question: what about the River Lea? Sure, this notoriously polluted waterway is no doubt dangerous to swim in, and there may well be bylaws banning swimming here. Still, some foolhardy adventurer should try it anyway, if only for the sake of novelty.
Swimming London: The 50 Best Pools, Lidos, Lakes and Rivers from Around the Capital is published by Aurum Press. RRP: £12.99. ISBN: 9781781310960