London: Bathing Ponds at Hampstead Heath
Get There: Hampstead Heath, London NW5 1QR
Open: From about 7 till dusk all year round.
Even the vaguest glimmer of sunlight sees Londoners strip down to their underwear in an attempt to tan their ghostly bodies to the palest shade of beige. On days like this, there is no better place to be than the century-old freshwater bathing ponds at Hampstead Heath – an area so beautiful you’ll feel like you’re diving into an oil painting. The tranquil park boasts 30 different open-air pools, with three available for swimming: the Highgate Men’s Pond, Kenwood Ladies’ Pond and Hampstead Mixed Pond. Naturally the mixed pool is always the most packed, but the girls-only one is by far the prettiest, and is surrounded by lush green foliage to preserve your modesty from any roaming perverts.
Signs boast that the pools are cleaned daily with straw, and although this is a water purification method I am unfamiliar with, the litre or so I inhaled out of shock when I bellyflopped into the ladies’ pond’s icy depths tasted fine. There are also lifeguard on patrol all year round, which is a blessing considering the very real prospect of losing the ability to breathe upon entry. So although your nipples will genuinely pierce through your swimsuit, a visit to this unique city oasis is a must. And if you happen to be in the area come Christmas, by all means enter the annual splash ‘n’ dash competition. Just make sure you break up the ice before diving in.