Today I went swimming outdoors in England for the first time since last September! (yes, that statement does deserve an exclamation mark.) I think of all the activities I have missed during lockdown, open water swimming is at the top of the list.

The moment the weather becomes even vaguely warm, usually somewhere around the end of April beginning of May, although I have been known to go in one of those weird early heatwaves in March, I start swimming in the Hampstead Ladies Pond almost daily. It’s the way I decompress, it’s my mental oxygen and to be without it feels like a deprivation for the soul.

Last summer my friend Amanda Vickery became my pond partner: She lives almost exactly equidistant between me in Camden and the ponds so I would pick her up at 8 am every morning and we would swim together, taking a leisurely swim around the pond like two elderly dowagers, discussing everything from Horrocks summer dresses to Georgian architecture. Having a kindred spirit whose head contains all the things in which I am also interested and who is happy to swim slow luxurious lengths whilst talking about them was a blessing indeed.

We have been keeping a weather eye on the Corporation of London website – they run the Ponds, but so far no sign of an opening. Then Amanda heard a whisper on social media that the West Reservoir, hidden between Manor House and Stoke Newington, had beached its fleet of Optimists and canoes, and had opened an Open Water swimming course, bookable every ten minutes via an app to allow staggered water entries. We managed to snag two sessions, as the rather breathtaking sum of £10 each and joy was unconfined.

So this afternoon I put the roof down on my car, sprayed every surface with a bleach solution, and collected Amanda to drive there

(As we are using the car for purposes of exercise and mental health I feel this falls within the regulations. After all, if that idiot renegade Dominic Cummings can drive to Durham in an enclosed car with his family to generously take his germs five hours north, I’m pretty sure I can drive for twenty minutes to a reservoir with the roof down, whilst wearing a mask.)

I have written about the swimming experience on another post. But that first hippo-like splash off the algae-covered slipway into the cool silky water of the reservoir felt like a baptism. Truly we were born again. We swam the open water course, some 500 metres in total, for 35 minutes before wrestling off our wet swimming costumes under our towels like toddlers on the beach on a corner of the concrete under the blazing sun, before driving home energised and exhilarated.

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