As improbable as it may first appear, this sprawling city is, in fact, bristling with beachfronts on which to promenade, watery oases for a refreshing dip, and untold spots to frolic in the urban surf.
Don’t believe us? Read on…
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1. Of Soil and Water: Pond Club
Siting a pool for natural freshwater bathing in the shadow of towering, noisy cranes, shifting mounds of rubble and tumbledown Victorian railway infrastructure is the latest, typically thrilling project to arrive in King’s Cross this summer.
A shimmering 40-metre swimming pond has been carved out of land slap bang in the middle of the construction zone, with room for just over a hundred bathers to take a dip each day, thereby also playing an active role the area’s ongoing art programme, RELAY.
Pond Club is the latest work from the art-meets-architecture dream team of artist Marjetica Potrc and Dutch architects Ooze, whose recent collaborations include a wind-powered lift attached to Folkestone’s majestic mainline viaduct, part of last year’s Triennial art event.
The water in this new project is totally chemical-free, being purified via the natural filtering process of several thousand wetland and submerged water plants. These only recently arrived from greenhouses in Dortmund, so the area is yet to bloom into the lush oasis of swaying grasses and wild flowers promised, but the installation has a two-year lifespan in this spot, so expect the look to be ever-changing.
And regardless of vegetation, practising your lengths submerged in this unique, shifting urban landscape is sure to be as cerebrally challenging as it is physical.
The wildly popular sandy bonanza will be returning to the Roundhouse car park for a fourth successive summer in July. By day, children build sandcastles and get sunburned while mums eat fish from the grill and sip a cheeky cocktail on the loungers.
At dusk, the whole place becomes Camden’s very own Copacabana as the post-work brigade descend to party. Often that means there’s hardly space to sit down on those tonnes of specially imported golden sand, so for those who don’t wish to jostle with the hoi polloi, VIP rooftop garden packages are available from £99 a head, including unlimited drinks, barbeque and hot tub, plus the best views of the action below.
Astutely named, these indoor and outdoor options nestled in the heart of West End Theatreland quickly transport the swimmer a world away from the honking busses and tour group elbows bobbing all around.
It can get a little splashy when the sun is out, but nipping down for a quick dip in the sunshine still feels like a proper lunchtime holiday for locals and office workers alike.
With its dancing fountains and jolly, scattered deckchairs, Granary Square has gained a summertime reputation as London’s newest ‘beach’.
There’s even posh ice cream close at hand from the KERB streetfood vendors, who’ve just moved to neighbouring Cubitt Square (also featuring fountains) to make more space for the frivolities. And remember, you can also play retro arcade game Snake with the water jets via a special iPhone app too.
State-of-the-art, energy efficient and brand spanking new, these council facilities are bringing all kinds of municipal benefits to residents of King’s Cross and Somers Town, not to mention having a huge multi-coloured flashing wall.
The smaller pool, with its spray jets and jacuzzis is fun, particularly if poor weather forces you to beat a hasty retreat with disappointed kids from the fountains and squares up the hill.
Except for on the hottest of summer afternoons, where the concrete terraces resemble the beach at Bournemouth on a bank holiday, this vast steel-lined outdoor pool is a serene spot. Famously unheated, serious swimmers brave its consistently chilly waters to clock up lengths year round.
Now the sun is out, the regular wetsuited triathlon crew will have to share the extensive pool over the coming months, which is long enough for some serious lengths. The Grade II-listed art deco building took a bit of a knock in heavy winds late last year, but reconstruction is almost complete.
If you fancy taking your alfresco bathing ambitions a little deeper, the Heath’s Ladies’ and Men’s Ponds are unique in being the only life-guarded open-water swimming facilities open to the public every day of the year in the whole of the UK, let alone the capital.
On whatever day you pick, a quirky band of eccentric regulars will often be ruling the proceedings, and look out for the gay ‘beach’ too, outside the men’s pond, where preening and strutting in teensy pairs of Speedos is de rigueur: quite the eye-opener for families embarking on a summertime stroll in the park.
This infamous all-day (and night) naturist hotspot boasts its very own semi-verdant garden terrace out the back. Recline in-the-buff, freely and easily in the heart of north London in the company of ‘likeminded adults’, if, er, that’s your thing.
Or perhaps dare to bathe in the saucy pool and jacuzzi inside, where proceedings have been known to really swing. Rio’s sits right atop the old river Fleet (you can hear it gurgle in the nearby drains), so you can lounge where anglers once landed their catch.
9. Prince of Wales Baths (Kentish Town Sports Centre)
Beautifully restored Victorian baths, where the old meets the new in comfortable style. Light floods in via generous vaulted skylights in the family and Willes pools. Glide through your lengths beneath the original ornate viewing galleries, where at one time, the water used to be covered with boards to host boxing matches attended by thousands.
A vision of the future, but also a nod to the past, is the recently Kickstarter-funded campaign to fund a new floating lido on a pontoon in the Thames. The river is currently ‘London’s largest underused public space’, according to Studio Octopi, the design team behind this ambitious project.
It wouldn’t be the first of its kind though. Back in 1819 the Royal Waterloo Bath, a public pool inside a timber ship’s hull, operated near Waterloo Bridge, and Charing Cross Floating Baths were a Victorian-era engineering project that once saw hundreds take a dip in water of questionable quality.
The new design, which rises and falls with the tide, contains a 25m lap pool, a plunge pool and a kids training pool, and promises to use crystal clear river water, that’s passed through a bespoke filtration system.
A bylaw introduced in 2012 has actually made it illegal to go for a dip between Putney Bridge and the Thames Barrier without permission from the harbour master, despite water quality being better than it has been in decades. If the crowdfunding goes according to plan, the new pools might be ready by next summer.
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