I apologise to everyone who left a comment which seemed to disappear. They didn't disappear, it's just that I haven't been at my computer much to click the button which posts them to the blog. Life's been a bit strange because a close family member has had an accident, and it's been a bit like wearing a groove between us and the hospital. But things are looking brighter, fingers crossed.
After the cold, wet and grey summer, we have an Indian summer, sunny, bright, clear skies and unseasonably warm. Today I didn't have to go to the hospital so I decided to cycle up to the Ladies' Pond on Hampstead Heath in NW London, and take a swim..
The pond is in the middle of a patch of woodland, reached down a dusty lane, once a farm track, and through a gate on which is a notice banning men from entering. (The men do have their own pond, though, which women can't enter).
Inside the surrounding belt of trees is a meadow (ideal for sunbathing) a little garden, informally cultivated, and (I noticed today) a ping pong table. There's a deck from which you can enter the pond, which you share with various types of ducks (and, in season, their ducklings). The pond is fringed with large trees, shrubs and bulrushes, and it's been left pretty wild. Right now, the water lilies have died, but a laurel was in flower and some of the leaves and berries are turning pretty colours.
I'm afraid I didn't take any pictures of the women themselves. (Who knows, maybe a man will see them, :-) haha!) I suspect it is not allowed.
Anyway, did I say the pond was cold? I mean, COLD. Because of the awful weather, it hasn't had the chance to warm up this year, and for the first ten minutes my arms felt as if they were being rubbed with a grater. But it was worth it. The experience of swimming outdoors in natural surroundings is rare enough. The ponds are rigorously tested for safety - the water comes from underground springs - and many women go regularly with their friends, so it is a social, friendly place.
Originally, the Ladies' Pond and a couple of other ponds nearby, were 17th and 18th century reservoirs for drinking water. I don't know when they were converted into swimming ponds, but my guess is somewhere in the 1920s or 1930s. Early enough for them to segregate the sexes, late enough for them to countenance the idea of women swimming at all.
That 1920s image looks too glamorous actually, because the atmosphere of the man-made buildings is very 1930-ish, health-and-efficiency style, with cold showers, open air changing rooms and a little wooden lifeguard's hut where the lifeguards can cook themselves lunch.
The users' association for the pond is very lively and active. Some members are tough enough to swim every day, including Christmas. If you look here you can see some more photos and images of the Association's postcards and Christmas cards - one or two bracing winter scenes.
The swimmers are mentally tough, too. Eight years ago, the City of London Corporation, which manages the Heath, wanted to close the ponds because they said they couldn't afford to keep them open (poor things - we all know how hard-up these bankers are). The swimmers challenged this and won their case in the High Court. The City of London then put in ticket machines. I use them, but I have to say nobody seems that bothered if you don't.
There is a Men's Pond and a Mixed Pond. I've never used the Mixed Pond, because I love the quirky charm of the Ladies' Pond. Long may it continue. And, by the way, I loved my swim and felt loads better for it!