Parliament Hill Lido

Swimming at Parliament Hill Lido

Time Out recently said that Londoners have replaced going out with exercising, and I think it’s true. This evening as my colleagues headed to yoga classes or the gym I hopped on the bus to Parliament Hill Lido – one of the few lidos in London that I was yet to try.

This summer I am making it my aim to swim in as many of London’s outdoor swimming spots as possible. Preferably all of them. On a summer’s day that had perked up just in time for the end of the working day, I couldn’t think of anywhere better to be than in a lido.

Parliament Hill Lido might be my new favourite place to swim. It was bigger than I was expecting (60 metres in length) and as I swam I felt as though I could keep going forever. It felt wonderful to swim uninterrupted.

The water was perfectly blue and the sun reflected off the metal bottom of the pool. I swam while the sun set and the concrete decking around the water was golden. There were only a few other swimmers: some doing laps with me and a few children playing on foam mats and jumping in from the deep end.

Despite a day punctuated by cloud and rain the water felt warm. It felt perfect. After my lengths I sat on the poolside for a while taking in the last of the sun, moving further up the bench every few minutes as my sunny spot turned to shade.

Above the top of the lido walls I could see the green and the trees of Hampstead Heath, where I headed after my swim to sit in the grass and look back on London. Seeing it from a distance makes it somehow more beautiful. The sky was full of cranes and I wondered when London will be finished. When will it be satisfied enough to say, “That’s it. I’m done now”? I think never.

For more information on Parliament Hill Lido: https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/green-spaces/hampstead-heath/swimming/Pages/Swimming-opening-times-and-charges.aspx

Kings Cross Skip Garden

Volunteering at the Skip Garden

“What is the purpose of slugs?”

The gardener looked up at my question, her bare hands half buried in the soil of a plant tub.

“I know that worms are our friends in the garden, but what about slugs? What do they do?”

Her eyebrows scrunched up for a moment.

“They must have a purpose,” she replied, “Else they wouldn’t be there. Everything has its place in the garden. I can’t think what that purpose is right now though… Let me Google it.”

With hands still covered in soil she took out her phone and started Googling the purpose of slugs. I continued digging, pushing aside the damp earth to make room for a camomile plant that had up until then been living in a small pot by itself. I was re-homing it among tomatoes, baby chard and cosmos in a new planter at the Kings Cross Skip Garden, a community project not far from where I live. It is hidden behind Granary Square, opposite the Kings Cross swimming pond, and is home to a café, a potting shed, greenhouses and a chicken coup.

“Ok, so I can’t find the answer right now,” the gardener said, putting the phone back into her pocket and going back to planting, “But we’ll ask the Head Gardener later. He’ll know.”

I pushed my hands deeper into the soil. When I arrived to start my evening volunteering in the garden I was offered gloves.

“But I prefer not to use them,” said Robyn the gardener, “They say that there is something in soil that is also in antidepressants. I’m not sure if I believe that, but it certainly feels like it.”

As I felt the damp grit underneath my nails and the cool body of a worm wriggle past my fingers into the soil I felt inclined to agree. Living in London it is very rare that I come in contact with mud – good old-fashioned mud like the kind I made pies out of as a child. The smell made me feel six years old again and I felt flushed with the same sense of joy.

I have no experience as a gardener. Luckily experience wasn’t required when I signed up to volunteer.

“Are you a gardener?” the Head Gardener asked me when I met him later that evening.

“No,” I replied, “I know nothing.”

“Good, we like people like you. You’ll believe anything we tell you.”

And he was right – I was a very eager learner. I learnt the importance of pushing plants into the soil and watering them to settle them into their new home. I discovered how to build a bug hotel for insects and creepy crawlies. And I learned how to gently coax the roots of plants before bedding them in a new pot. At the end of the evening I was muddy and proud.

I never found out the purpose of slugs though.

Find out more about the Skip Garden here: http://www.globalgeneration.org.uk/skip-garden-and-kitchen-1/

 

 

 

My favourite books for swimmers

swiming books

Some of my favourite books about swimming

I organise my bookshelves by categories, and one growing section is books about swimming. Whether you are a pool-swimmer, an outdoor-swimmer or just have an interest in getting in the water, here are some of my favourites:

Down Stream: A History and Celebration of Swimming in the River Thames, Caitlin Davies

When I told people I was reading a book about swimming in the Thames their reactions were the same: “Eww!”

Most people associate the Thames with the murky brown central London section and bottles (or worse) floating on the surface. But humans have actually swum in the Thames for years. The book follows the river downstream from the Thames Head (the exact location of which is much disputed) right along to Southend, and tells the story of the people who have swum stretches of it over the years. I particularly loved the tales of kick-ass women who were swimming miles and setting records years before they were allowed to vote.

The book is full of characters and stories that made me smile and laugh out loud. You’ll have to read it for yourself to hear them all.

Swimming London: London’s 50 Greatest Swimming Spots, Jenny Landreth

I am making it my mission to swim my way around these pools, lidos and outdoor swimming spots in London (so far I’m on about 10). From central pools that you’d never imagine were hidden among the busy streets, to peaceful lidos a little further out of town, this book makes me realise how fortunate I am to live (and swim) in this city.

Swimming Studies, Leanne Shapton

Leanne Shapton trained as a professional swimmer when she was young, and is now an artist. Her book weaves together her experiences of training with vivid descriptions of being in the water and wonderful paintings. It also includes photographs of her collection of swimming costumes and a description of when she bought them all, which fascinated me.

It’s the kind of book that you can open at random and know what you read, and see, will be beautiful.

Wild Swimming Walks: 28 River, Lake and Seaside Days Out by Train from London, Margaret Dickinson

My sister bought me this book and I can’t wait to try out some of the walks and swims. They are all within easy reach of London and some include stops at pubs. When the weather is nice I am looking forward to slinging my swimming bag over my shoulder and heading off to one of the many places I have marked with post-its.

Do you have any other suggestions? Add them in the comments below

A dip in Kings Cross swimming pond

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Kings Cross swimming pond

“Are you warm in that?” the man in the swimming trunks teased me. We were both leaning against the side of Kings Cross swimming pond, except his arms were bare and mine were cuddled in neoprene.

“I’m testing out the wetsuit,” I said. I’m going to the Lake District for an outdoor swimming adventure next weekend and wanted to check the hand-me-down wetsuit fitted. It did, after ten minutes of jumping up and down in the tiny changing cubicle and tugging wrinkles out of my knees.

It was my first time visiting the freshwater pond that is ten minutes from my flat, hidden behind the fountains and the fashion students at Granary Square. I walked there through a small park where a group practiced Tai Chi and chanted, not quite drowning out the sound of the construction sites all around. If you look in any direction at Kings Cross you can see a crane. The skyline is broken by half-built buildings and shiny glass tower blocks. And in the middle of them all is a swimming pond.

I swam alongside two other swimmers and a pair of ducks as the sun set behind us. The water felt warm (or maybe it was the wetsuit) and I swam front crawl up and down the small pond, catching glimpses of scaffolding and sky under my arm as I rolled my head for air. When it was nearly time to leave I floated in the middle of the pond, my feet and neon pink toes poking out of the water. I took deep breaths and floated. And I felt so happy.

There is nothing that says ‘London’ to me more than a swimming pond surrounded by building sites. London is a confusion of noise and buildings growing from the ground like weeds overtaking a garden. I hate it. But then I find a little pocket of something special – nature in an unexpected place, a bookshop so beautiful it makes me want to cry, a restaurant with the best banoffee pie, or a swimming pond in the middle of the city – and I am charmed. The surprises make my heart swell.

“No wetsuit next time,” said the man in the swimming trunks as I stood under the outdoor shower, my head turned up to the sun and a huge smile on my face.

“No wetsuit next time!” I replied.

http://www.kingscrosspond.club/ It’s advised to book your session online if you can. If you are turning up on the day the swimming pond only takes card, not cash.