Our leafy Hampstead neighbourhood is beautiful, charming and desirable for all kinds of reasons – the small shops, the winding backstreets, the open spaces of the Heath. The extraordinary green spaces are home to all kinds of wildlife but also something particularly special – three expanses of water, called the Hampstead Bathing Ponds.
This month, we’re looking at the small but fascinating exhibition currently running there entitled “The Ponds”.
A mixture of interviews, drone footage and ambient material, the documentary focuses on the people who use the Hampstead Bathing Ponds year round – come hell or frozen water! The swimmers here are all addicted to their daily swims here, even on the bleakest winter days.
Hampstead Heath has three bathing ponds – one for men, one for women and one that is mixed. The film shows the beauty of the area from the spring (when the water is about 10 degrees), to the summer (when the heat makes the ponds incredibly crowded) to Autumn (coloured leaves changing then falling) to the winter, when the water is bitterly cold, sometimes even at freezing temperatures.
What’s really interesting about the film is not just the relationship the swimmers have to these beautiful Hampstead Bathing Ponds (which only cost £2 to enter, which is a bargain by London standards) but the problems in their lives that swimming has helped them overcome. Divorce, bereavement, depression…and in Tom Kearney’s case a devastating accident which left him in a coma.
Indeed, it is incredibly moving to hear him talking about how close he came to dying and how his subsequent swimming in the Men’s Ponds helped aid his recovery and helped him overcome the emotional trauma he had gone through.
Since the film was released, people have been flocking to see it and not just in London, but all around the UK and abroad too. It has a particular appeal for swimming groups of course…for whom a daily dip is a way of life.
“The act of getting into the cold water brings about a feeling of freedom from the stresses of life, a sense of connection with nature and other swimmers, and a euphoric sensation so powerful it should be banned” remarks co-director Patrick McLennan. We couldn’t agree more!
So if you’re coming to Hampstead for the day, make sure you take a walk and see them for yourself (and, if you’re feeling daring, pack your bathing suit). And if you’re staying with us, and want to brave the waters, just know that after your dip (with your appetite whetted) our restaurant’s a great place to grab a bite and our comfortable guest accommodation is there for you to rest your weary head.