Thursday, 30 July 2015

London Royal Victoria Docks

Summer. On these optimistic sunshine mornings we trip out in thin clothes with bits of tissue paper for shoes, then by around 10.30 everything is ruined by the thick taunt of dark grey cloud. So it was good that I was swimming early at Royal Victoria Docks, under that first-thing sunshine. It's easier to get into twinkling water. Sun limes the green of the top few inches; it lies on your back like a soft blanket. And when you turn your head to breathe, you see how it goldens your arcing arm. Swimming in sunshine is the best. 

In one sense, this isn't new territory. I've swum in the docks before (doing the Great London Swim at Millwall Docks) and learned then that they're not full of dead dogs and rodent wee. I'm here because this is a new and permanent part of London's open water swimming 'offer' and I take my swimming blogger responsibilities seriously. But I've never been to this bit of London before, not even on the cable cars that whizz along on strings right above my head. Such is my self-involvement, I imagined tourists in the cars saw me in the water and said as one (in generic Euro accent) ‘mein gott, zis voman, so amazink she must be Svedish’.  Over there is another vanity project I’ve never been to, the Dome. There's modern glassy flats and new-build houses in a neat row down the right dockside, offices and restaurants down the left. Ancient oily dockside machinery looms over the water like giant gawky mechanical herons. Straight down the middle, a plane takes off as if the water were its guide. This is flash new London, butting right up against the heft of our old industrial working city.  

Just along the way is a waterside gazebo, but don't be alarmed – that’s just where you register and get your Nowca bracelet so your swim can be tracked and timed, if that’s important to you (it’s not to me, but I do quite like people on land knowing I’m in the water). I thought for a second I’d have to change here, though that’s more of a worry for spectators than for me. I could care less, I’ve re-birthed out of a wetsuit in a minibus full of strangers. The changing area is on a nearby barge, and while its soggy floors and steep slippy stairs are not luxurious, it has showers, loos and benches which are all you need and more than some venues offer.  

On to the swim itself. There are three courses – 400m, 750m and 1.5k, all marked by huge buoys there’s no missing. The water was about 18degrees and I was swimming ‘in skins’, which people use to mean ‘no wetsuit’ though that seems counter-intuitive to me, somehow. Down a metal jetty then in via thin red steps. The water felt soft and was old-felt green. I took a few breaststrokes to acclimatise, always worth doing so you get your bearings, spot your first buoy, suss out where the safety kayak is. It can take a while to put your head in, but take that while. This isn’t a race; there’s no point being out here if you’re not going to get pleasure in your surroundings.

I’ve been mostly swimming in a lake this summer, which has a particular taste. So does the lido, it changes according to the rain/suncream/chlorine ratios. I'm at the stage where you could blindfold me, put me in water and I could tell you what kind of water it is. ‘Hmm. Goosey. Lake’. Or 'I’m getting distinct back tones of pee, I’d say six year old vintage? Lido’. This is different. It doesn’t have a peaty grit, or a cold top of the mouth snap, or a salty diesel bite, all of which I've recently tasted. I’m recalling it sitting here writing this; it’s the taste of old water, a slight texture, soft and not unpleasant. This is clearly not a exhortation to drink the stuff.  

I head over to the first round buoy marking the 1.5k course. I’m right near an old  dark wood jetty. A bit too near, its oppressive and above me tower these dock cranes. I can keep going, right up to the far buoy under a high modern bridge. It looks like out to sea. (It's clearly not.) Or I can turn and go across the dock. And suddenly, from nowhere, I feel vulnerable. I can see the safety kayaker right bloody THERE.  But everything is enormous down here in the water.  The dock machinery looms, the buoy is far on lonely water. And I get The Fear. Not the Sea Fear, which is when the tentacle of some unknown beast will slide up from the deeps, sucker and coil round my leg and drag me down. Not that fear.  Another one, that I’m small and alone, a tiny ant that the water could overwhelm in a flash (I did say, didn’t I, that the safety kayaker was RIGHT BLOODY THERE). The fear that I might just let go. Stop, and fall deep like an autumn leaf falls. The one where you might step in front of the tube. It's a fear almost of oneself. And I could feel it bubbling in me, so I struck out across the water to the 750m buoy across on the other side, trying to keep my breathing steady and not go into full panic mode, not least because it's embarrassing.  And the walls on that side were high, I couldn’t have scaled them and it didn’t feel like fun and I wanted to be out. So I swam in.

That bit of the story is not about the space, it’s about me. It has happened to me in a lido, it’s happened to me when I’ve been swimming with friends. Sometimes it just happens. And sometimes when it COULD happen, when the sea is rough or no one could reach me, it doesn’t. But even when it happens, I still don’t regret that swim. I never regret a swim. Next time I come here (and I will, and you should too) it won’t happen, and I won’t believe I felt that way. I’ll maybe laugh at my stupid human vulnerability.  

The jetty pricked my cold feet as I clambered out, and I stopped to chat with the organiser who is full of good plans for this place – running it year round, for instance. Yes please. We talked about jellyfish, of which there are none. I warmed myself in the sun, before those clouds, bang on time, started to come over. I had a hot shower, took some snaps, and got back on the DLR with tourists and people going into Canary Wharf for their proper jobs. And just had that teeny and unattractive bit of smugness we swimmers can get. Wanted to say ‘you’ll never guess where I’ve just swum’. Add this one to your London list, and we can have that conversation together.

Thursday, 23 April 2015


UPDATE: As of Tues 18th May, the kickstarter was a SUCCESS! Feel Actual Emotion for all the people who've worked so hard to make this happen. Congratulations, you lot! Really look forward to swimming in Thames Baths.

I've spent some considerable time swimming round London. I've swum in more of the city's pools than most. And as is abundantly clear, my true love is swimming outdoors. I love what it does, I love having air on my skin, I love how every day is different, I love it in the rain and sun. There is something elemental about it that we are essentially cut off from in most parts of our lives. In London particularly, we are heated and cooled and bustled and jostled around, all our experiences tightly controlled, our access to nature doled out in tiny plantpot-sized portions.  Swimming outdoors is a great antidote to all of that. 

I also (mostly) love this city, particularly the public bits of it. As everything round us gets corporatised and privatised and reserved and oligarched, the public stuff we do have gets increasingly important. I look at that proposed new bridge and I despair. This is not for 'us'. This is not about community. And I think how ironic, that something that crosses a river will actually be so divisive. Never have the words 'judicial review' gladdened me so much. 

But here's something. Something for all of us. All the swimming community (and what a community we are) and beyond. Thames Baths is the project that hopes to put a lido in the Thames. A year-round, 'gently-warmed' public amenity, in the Thames. Amazing thought, eh? I think so. It will be safe, sustainable, and at £10million, around a 20th of the cost of that wretched bridge. 

Thames Baths - who incidentally are not some faceless conglomerate, they're three Londoners, you can see them on the link - are launching a crowdfunder to raise £125k to get to the next stage of development. It looks like a big chunk of ££. Hey, it IS a big chunk, there's no getting round that. But this isn't ££ that is going on some CEO jolly with celebrities (shorthand for 'I met Joanna Lumley* and she entranced me with her twinkly eyes'). This isn't ££ that will be spent 'attracting overseas investment' (shorthand for 'sold off to companies who put their tax offshore'). This is carefully controlled and budgeted to bring the project to the next stage, to make it ACTUALLY HAPPEN! 

If you have the wherewithal to contribute at any level, please please do. If you know rich folk who care about the future of swimming, or frankly hate it but just ooze philanthropy - please shove this under their noses. This isn't a selfish, roped-off, benefits-just-for-MEEEEE project, this is for all swimmers. And we are multitude! We want to swim the future! LET'S DO THIS THING! 

I've never done so many !! in my life. It's because I really care about this project. I want to swim the fu ... yeah. you got that already. But thanks for reading. Do share it around.  All the kickstarter info and some great pics are here: Thames Baths. 

*No disrespect to Joanna Lumley. I'm sure she's fabulous. It's just ... weird, innit? However, if she'd throw her obviously considerable charms behind a lido not a bridge, I'd probably feel differently. 
* Oh and other celebrities are available. Always. 

Thursday, 16 April 2015


There are two swimming seasons in the media. One is around Christmas/New Year ('Look at all these fools jumping in cold water!') and the other is  summer ('It's hot! Jump in cold water!'). We're just starting with the annual crop of 'here's the best places to swim in London', but they're often written by people who haven't swum in many, so it all becomes a bit of a 'lucky dip'. Yeah. I did say that. 

I, however, DO know about the best places to swim,  because I've swum in them all. The best ones are in my book, Swimming London. Buy it, shove it in your backpack, and get out there. (There's lots of indoor pools in it too, it's a really great book.) 

So instead of relying on half-baked lists that don't really know what they're talking about, here's my top five, and then the rest. You don't need another list, you just need this one, it's got the lot. And then get my book for full info. You'll be truly Swimming London.  

And by the way, the book also has loads of brilliant photos, taken by the very talented Luisa Martelo. She did NOT take the pics on this blog, I did with my phone. I am a bad photographer, but even I can't ruin Tooting Lido. 

You WILL need to check on opening dates - not all of these are open all year round. And if I've missed any out, yell at me on Twitter @jennylandreth. Nicely, please. 


TOOTING LIDO Unheated 90m, glorious, biggest and best. The sunny pic above is Tooting Lido. Open to the public from May - that means NOW. 

BROCKWELL LIDO:  50m unheated pool, near Brixton. Open all year. Two lidos in South London! We are spoiled. (They may be at no.2 in this list BUT their cafe is nicer than the Tooting Cafe.) (You can go to the Brockwell cafe without visiting the pool, but why would you?)

CHARLTON LIDO Also 50m, heated but not madly. This pool has been done up recently. It's a great swim, now FIRMLY in my top five. FIRMLY. The pic at the bottom is Charlton. 

LONDON FIELDS LIDO Again, 50m of urban heated pool bliss. Have a very nice coffee in Broadway Market afterwards. It gets busy with trendy people. Men wearing knitted trunks. *tries not to look* 

and sneaking in the top five by dint of having a lovely stainless steel bottom: 

PARLIAMENT HILL LIDO 60m, cold, open all year. Right by Hampstead Heath. 


LONDON DOCKLANDS  a new addition. A GREAT addition. Three courses (400, 750m and 1.5k) with cable cars racing overhead, planes taking off over you from City airport, the Dome practically next door. GO. 

HAMPSTEAD PONDS which has a ladies, a men's and a mixed bathing pond. 

HILLINGDON Leisure Centre In Uxbridge. Lovely big pool, never very busy. Unheated. 

RICHMOND POOLS ON THE PARK One indoor heated pool and one small cold outdoor one with weird steps. 

THE SERPENTINE  Right in Hyde Park. I once had a funny swim here with my friend Becky. Remind me to tell you when we meet. 

HAMPTON Very heated. Very bacon baguettes. 

OASIS Packed. Covent Garden One indoor, one tiny outdoor pool. 

PARK ROAD LEISURE CENTRE. Beyond Crouch End, even. This one has apparently been done up since I visited. But the pool remains the same.

and last but honestly not least, and really worth a visit, our newest addition: KINGS CROSS POND. You have to book in advance. IT IS WORTH IT. It's more the kind of place you dandle around in, than train for a 10k. That first link goes to my review, but this one goes to the ticket shop. TICKET LINK.

(There is also Finchley Lido. I've tried about ten times to go there, but it never seems to be open so I can't recommend it. Let me know if it's worth a visit.) 

Lake-type experiences:

Now, be warned. These places aren't 'swimming spots'. They are 'open water swimming spots'. I hope you know the subtle difference; if not you can ask me and I'll try not to be sarcastic in response. You'll meet loads of triathletes, wetsuits may be compulsory, and the opening hours are limited. BUT, so nice to get a decent lake swim in, eh? 

WEST RESERVOIR - Stoke Newington. Rather a brilliant building attached. 

THORPE LAKE - right out on the M25, west. You can see Thorpe Park rides above the trees.

HERON LAKE - Near Thorpe Lake. 


HAM LAKE - Not actually a ham lake. IN Ham, not OF ham. 

DENHAM LAKE - a bit like being on holiday.

LEYBOURNE LAKE. I started swimming there last year. It's not v crowded, there's very basic facilities but it's a lovely swim. See you there.  

and finally, DAY TRIPS

If you feel like getting out of the city but have limited travel time, try either GUILDFORD LIDO  and last but DEFINITELY not least, as it's the oldest public freshwater pool in the UK and is really rather splendid and special, PELLS POOL, LEWES

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Then look no further. 


That link above takes you to a map. The map has a dot on it for every pool I've swum in and reviewed. If you click on the dot, it takes you to my review. It's a handy guide to some of the best places to swim in London, and some of the worst. These are all public pools. 

THIS link - Swimming London - takes you to the page on  for my book, which is called, surprisingly, Swimming London. The book is a guide to the best 50 places to swim in London. It all makes sense when you think about it.

The book is mostly public spaces. Lakes, bits of the river, lidos and indoor pools. There are a couple of examples of great private pools, so we can press our noses to the glass in wonder. It's already out of date, such is the nature of these things. Charlton Lido, for instance, is newly re-vamped and now on my Top 5 of London pools. 

And if you're interested in what I've written for the Guardian about swimming, all the pieces are here.

Hope this all helps you find a great place to swim in London.