I will freely admit that swimming has never been a favourite sport of mine. Public swimming pools always remind me of school swimming lessons, pointlessly diving to retrieve rubber bricks whilst clad in old pyjamas, and being whistled at by a dry teacher wearing real clothes on the sidelines. And then there were the hideous changing rooms. The anti-verucca foot-baths of sloshing brown water, the uncomfortable slatted benches down which your clothes and towel always fell, and that feeling of clamminess after rushing to get your clothes back on before you were actually dry again. Eurgh. I never much enjoyed swimming outside either, thanks to a terrifying encounter when I was about 10 or 11 with a monstrous crab in a seaweedy Scottish loch.
Since moving to London however I've made a number of new friends who have declared themselves swimming fans. And not just pool aficionados either. People in London swim outdoors. Who knew?! They hop into the Serpentine, and in the sunshine they flock to Brockwell Lido. They take a bracing dip in the Hampstead Bathing Ponds, where there is is even a an annual Christmas Day Swim for the most committed of watery masochists. *shiver* In fact, when you start to look for them, there are spots to swim (and people hopping in and out of them) all over the city.
And to save Londoners the bother of hunting them down, Jenny Landreth has written a new book for the city's swimmers. 'Swimming London' is a neat little guide to the city's fifty finest places to swim. Landreth's top swimming spots are indoors, outdoors, council-run and open to all, exclusively owned by plush hotels, shiny and new, and down-at-heel. They are, as she suggests, as diverse as the people who use them.
And then I remember the clammy changing rooms (which feature far less than the glittering pools among the pages of Landreth's book!), and that enormous Scottish crab. And then I go for a run instead.