Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Accidental Reads: Swimming London

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.
Swimming London explores the history of each venue, as well as what it is like to swim there. Some pools are for posing beside, whilst others are for the strictly sporting. Landreth gives tips on how to find and get into pools, as well as how to face plunging into some of their murkier depths. She includes the shiny new Aquatics Centre at the Olympic Park, as well as an older local of mine, the Kentish Town Sports Centre. Reading Swimming London I learnt more about the Marshall Street Leisure Centre, whose fine pool I have glimpsed several times on my wanders around Carnaby Street. The inclusion of the Putney Leisure Centre however brought back well-buried memories of the time an old housemate and I attempted a new fitness effort; which ended abruptly after an awkward experience in the Centre's mixed 'Changing Village'. But the book's photos of rippling blue and sleek tiles almost make me want to dust off my swimsuit and go join the hoards of urban swim fans. 

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.

Swimming London is now published by Aurum Press, and available at all decent bookshops. (And on Amazon of course.) 

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  1. Just like you, I am more into running. Much safer. That said, there are lots of lovely places to swim around London, and maybe it is time for me to start, well, changing my habits!

    1. Well, if summer ever really happens this year, maybe it'll be a good way to cool down, Muriel...

  2. Yes, I'm much more of a runner (and goalkeeper!) than a swimmer. I had a flashback when you mentioned diving for rubber bricks in your pyjamas - my goodness, we must have been entertainment for our swimming teachers! I think it's having to bear it all in a swimsuit that most puts me off about this water activity. And swallowing water that other people's bodies have been in *shudders* X

    1. You're such a sporty bean, Lou! Oh those school swimming lessons. So not fun. I just loathed the post-swim communal showers and then clammy changing rooms. So happy to have left that behind!


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