Up on Hampstead Heath, one of the highest spots in London, the buried
River Fleet makes a series of springwater pools in a chain
down the hillside. One of these pools, in a hollow fringed by thick bushes and
trees, has a high fence all around it and a sign forbidding men entry past
this point. This is the Kenwood Ladies Bathing Pond. It's been in use for over
a hundred years by a hardcore bunch of enthusiasts ranging through
aristocrats and politicians to writers. I've seen redoubtable old girls of
nearly ninety, sailing like stately galleons in ancient swimming costumes
across the cold, cold water, which never gets hotter than 12C. If you want
to see English eccentricity in action, this is where to come.
Young children are not allowed, which makes for a nice quiet swim. There are showers and a wooden jetty to dive from, and a wide
grassy bank with benches, for drying off. The pond's seclusion from the
main park gives the illusion that you are by a river in some idyllic country
meadow, instead of in stanky London. It's open all year round from 7am till
sunset, and, especially if you are an overheated girl in the area, is well
worth a visit.