Our resident wild swimmer, Sophie Clowes, reviews Outdoor Swimming London
Heatwaves always have us hunting for places to cool off, but for some, outdoor paddling, or rather swimming is a year round activity. This stunning book for outdoor swimming contains 140 of the best wild swims, lidos and pools within easy reach of central London.
Many books about London are written to charm and inform visitors to our mighty capital, putting the major attractions within tourists’ reach. This book, however, is different. An inside-out book, if you like, written for Londoners seeking solace from the busy buzz of their own metropolis. It is a guide to the best places to swim under a big open sky in London herself or on an easy day trip, slipping through the outskirts on foot, by bike or on public transport to the waterways beyond.
Written with passion and enthusiasm, while not skipping the helpful information bit, the lyrical prose is matched by inviting pics that have a raw reality to them, a little like the swims they describe. From Oxford to Southend, there are recommendations for splendid dips in the Thames, while non-river swims stretch from former gravel pits to the sea. If you hanker after the safe confines of a pool, the recommendations range from the municipal to posh hotel, via some incredible Art Deco lidos.
This is a book that welcomes and enthuses every type of swimmer, from rookies to channel crossers, tiddlers to old trouts, fit to feeble, sun worshippers to ice swimmers, or the city dweller who just wants a bit of a wild day out. Hurrah to the unfiltered photos and delightful descriptions of swimmers having fun, such as on swim 125 at Ensfield Bridge in Kent where, ‘We made acquaintance with ten-year-old Archie the Bold, who took his rite of passage and leapt from the bridge that very afternoon.’
This bright gem of a book has been distracting me on my desk for a few days. I want to try almost every single swim in here. I’ll leave the Spielplatz Naturist Club (120) to the good people of St Albans, but otherwise yes please to the heated luxe of Thames Lido at Reading (83), to the cool green water of the actual Thames at Medmenham (61), to the dyed emerald waters of Shepperton Open Water Swim (39) and to the 100 yards, or, less neat 91.4m, of unheated Jesus Green Lido in Cambridge (100).
Dawn dipping is more my jam than lane lapping and the first swim in the entire book was, in fact, the last swim that I had! If you are after a dip in the Thames where you are still in London but the tide isn’t rushing at a million miles an hour and a shingle slipway provides easy entry, Petersham Meadows (01) is a delight. A short walk from Richmond in one direction and Ham House in the other, with Richmond Park behind and a high-end snack situation five minutes away at Petersham Meadows cafe, it’s a winner.
This is a brilliant guide for Londoners to enable them to slip, jump or dive out of their urban comfort zone and discover the best outdoor swim spots on the doorstep.
utdoor Swimming London by John Weller and Lola Culsán is published by Wild Things and available to purchase here.