eatwave alert! But where to take a dip now that London’s lidos are all heaving?
Let John Weller and Lola Culsán, authors of Outdoor Swimming London, be your guide to the lesser-known lakes and rivers just a short train journey (or long cycle ride) from the capital. It pays to be in the know. If you’re feeling jaded by the city hustle and your stuffy commute is getting you down, a spot of rewilding is the perfect antidote. Recent studies have confirmed the mental and physical health benefits of cold-water swimming, plus it’s cheap, natural and probably the most fun you can have with your clothes (partially) on.
From Hampton to Chigwell (yes, really!), it’s time to dip your toes in gorgeous clear waters.
Divers Cove, East Reservoir Godstone (lifeguarded lake)
Train: London Bridge to Redhill + Bus 400 to Waterhouse Lane + 0.5-mile walk
Park: free onsite – accessible from North Park Lane off A25
A turquoise seven-acre reservoir surrounded by a dense wood of silver birch, Divers Cove is an oasis of serenity and favorite among open-water swimmers in the know. The water, entered by a slipway, is exceptionally clear due to the sandy floor, and boasts two swim circuits (450m and 650m), which are marked out with buoys. Wood-fired saunas and hot tubs are available seasonally. Advanced booking is required (£9.50 swim, plus £2 membership, diverscove.co.uk).
Albany Reach River Thames, Hampton
Train: Waterloo to Thames Ditton + 0.5-mile walk
Park: on surrounding streets near Albany Reach Park, KT7 0PY
This pretty riverside beach has a gentle slope into the water and a meadow which overlooks Hampton Court Palace. Kids will love splashing about in the shallows and this is also popular with paddleboarders. Walk a bit further along Albany Reach to get to Palace Beach for another great swimming spot. Just keep an eye for boats and be mindful of the current which can pick up.
Luxborough Lakes, Chigwell (lifeguarded lake)
Tube: Roding Valley + 1-mile walk
Park: free onsite, Chigwell IG7 5DF
Take a trip to the far eastern end of the Central line. On a crisp sunny morning, the lake is beautiful, the water clear, cold and refreshing.
Wetsuits or cold water experience are mandatory here. Luxborough Lakes is currently open on Saturday mornings and booking is required (£10) — check the Facebook page for more details (facebook.com).
Desborough Island River Thames, Shepperton
Train: Waterloo to Weybridge + 2-mile walk
Cycle: Thames Path from Central London — 6 miles
Park: Walton Lane after Desborough Bridge
Desborough Island is a 112-acre island formed in the 1930s by the digging of the Desborough Cut, an artificial channel. Enjoy the riverside walk along a shaded path lined with trees and wildflowers, before entering at a small river beach opposite the white manor house, a 90-degree meander creates a wide swimming spot with very little current.
Taplow Jubilee River, Berkshire
Train: Paddington to Burnham + 2-mile walk
Cycle: Grand Union Canal west from Camden Town and take the Slough Arm, picking up the Jubilee River near Eton College — 28 miles
Park: Lake End Road, SL4 6QT
Pretty yellow water irises join the familiar oxeye daisies, cow parsley, red clover, dragonflies and butterflies along the riverbanks of the Jubilee’s western end. This lesser-known area is a wonderful place for swimming, as the river flows gently and powered boats are prohibited. By Lake End Road, a series of concrete fishing jetties provide good access to the river, and at Ashford Lane footbridge, you can swim among swans and cygnets dancing their gliding ballet.
Shiplake Lock to Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire
Train: Paddington to Shiplake + 1.5 mile walk
Park: Mill Lane, RG9 3NA
Escape the metropolis with this delightful swim/walk adventure through George Orwell’s “Golden Country”. Swimming downriver between eyots (river islands) and an eclectic mix of houses, just do keep an eye out for river traffic. This is a 3km swim, but there are plenty of places to get out for a breather. We used a large tow float to transport our gear and got out at Singers Park, just before the bridge. The Chocolate House Cafe will be in front of you.
Hartham Common River Lea, Hertford
Train: Liverpool Street to Hertford East + 1-mile walk
Park: near St Leonard’s Church
Hartham Common is the confluence of four rivers: Mimram, Lea, Beane and Rib. At the eastern end of the common lies a tiny peninsula, where you can enjoy a glorious swim around the wide pool. A windbreak has been erected by swimmers as a changing area and thoughtfully lined with astroturf, while a ladder provides steps in and out of the river. A wooden bench on the headland provides the perfect spot for great views.
Porters Lock River Medway, Kent
Train: London Bridge to Tonbridge + 3.5-mile cycle
Park: by Hartlake Bridge and follow River Medway towpath west for 500m
This is a quiet spot bordered by meadows adorned with rushes and wildflowers. There’s a long wooden pontoon with podium-style blocks that are perfect for diving from. Swim around the back of the pontoon to get out.
Denham Waterski Club, Denham, Buckinghamshire
Cycle: Grand Union Canal Walk for 25 miles from Camden Town
Park: free onsite, North Orbital Road, Denham Bucks, UB9 5HE
A Scandinavian log clubhouse, changing facilities, bar and lakeside decking area give an early evening swimming session a warm, friendly feel at Denham Waterski Club (denhamwaterski.com). You can swim the 1km loop with coots alongside you. A shack supplies burgers and sausages with veggie options and chips. You must be a member of NOWCA to book (£7, nowca.org).
The Haven, Feltham
Train: Waterloo to Ashford (Surrey) + 2-mile walk
Cycle: 1.8 miles from Ashford Station
Park: Free on-site, Community Orchard Southside, The Haven, Chattern Hill, Challenge Road, Feltham, TW15 1AX
A hidden gem in Chattern Hill Orchard, Feltham, as soon as you put your feet in the lake and launch yourself through the bright, clear water, you’ll feel like you’re in heaven. Whether you’re training for your next triathlon or just need to reset your mind and body, this is a fabulous lake in a beautiful location (£6, loveopenwater.co.uk).
Outdoor Swimming London: 140 best wild swims and lidos within easy reach of the capital,by John Weller and Lola Culsán is available now (£18.99, Wild Things Publishing). Readers receive 20 per cent off and free P&P with discount code ES22
Four tips for cold water swimming
1. Acclimatize — keep swimming regularly (twice or three times per week) from summer, through autumn to winter so that your body gradually gets used to the falling temperature.
2. Wear neoprene or thick silicone hats if submerging your head in cold temperatures. Neoprene gloves, socks, swimming costumes or suits can also help but are a matter of choice. Remember, we are all different — so wear what feels good to you.
3. As it gets colder, spend less time in the water and only dive if you are well acclimatised. Most importantly, learn to listen to your body. Again, this is very personal. Don’t feel you have to stay in because someone else is. If in doubt, get out. Hypothermia is not fun.
4. Get dressed quickly, wrap up and cover your head. It is generally thought better to warm up slowly rather than have a hot shower, but a hot drink and something sugary can be helpful.
Open water swimming: 10 ways to stay safe
1. Always check thoroughly for depth and obstructions before jumping or diving
2. Always make sure you know how you will get out before you get in
3. Never swim alone and keep a constant watch on weak swimmers
4. Don’t get too cold — warm up with exercise and warm clothes before and after a swim
5. Wear footwear if you can
6. Wear a colored swim hat so you can be seen by boats on any navigable river
7. Never swim in canals, urban rivers, stagnant lakes or reedy shallows
8. Never swim in flood water, and be cautious of water quality during droughts
9. Keep cuts and wounds covered with waterproof plasters
10. Avoid contact with blue green algae