Swimming and the City: Open Water Swimming in London and beyond

Open water swimming is one of my favourite activities, and somewhat surprisingly London certainly has a lot of venues on offer. From Central London to further out into greater London, and beyond, there are a range of swim centres, some open all year round for you to get your cold, open water fix, others operating for the final few weeks of summer season to help you squeeze a 2020 swim in. Below are a few of my favourites, along with some of the ones still on my list to try. All information provided is to the best of my knowledge, but I strongly advise planning ahead before your visit to confirm opening times, memberships, equipment needed and read through any COVID19 policies.

So here’s to swimming and the city!

OPEN WATER SWIMMING IN CENTRAL LONDON

London Royal Docks

Located at the historic Victoria Dock by London’s Excel Conference Centre this is arguably one of London’s most popular open water swim centres, and also home to events such as the London Triathlon and the Dock2Dock swim. The Love Open Water team offer a range of distances with loops of 400m, 750m and 1500m (Subject to COVID protocols and weather conditions), and a smaller 150m loop close to the pontoon and a casual dip area for those wanting to test the water (pun intended!). There is semi-secure baggage drop on site, although at present there are no changing facilities and most people tend to change on the grass beneath the cable car. The water is tested every two weeks and rated excellent.

Location: Dock Road E16 1AH
Price: Annual Membership is £12 for a NOWCA wristband which also covers your membership at other NOWCA centres (some of these also listed in this blog), then swimming is currently £8 per session. There are also introduction to open water sessions and outside of COVID operating procedures wetsuit hire can be offered.
Website: https://loveopenwater.co.uk/swimming-london-royal-docks/

West Reservoir

Operated by Gym and Fitness provider Better, West Reservoir is an oasis of open water swimming hidden within the heart of Hackney. The Centre offers 400m and 100m loops in their extensive city ‘lake’. At present swimming is only available for experienced open water swimmers and you must arrive ready to swim as the changing facilities are closed.

Location: Green Lanes, Hackney, N4 2HA
Price: £10 for 50 minutes (discounts for Better Gym Members) You can book using the Better App
Website: https://www.better.org.uk/leisure-centre/london/hackney/west-reservoir-centre

Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre

Similar to the London Royal Docks this is another NOWCA centre and possibly my favourite in London. Situated at Millwall Outer Dock DSWC offers a quitter and calmer swimming experience away from the hustle and bustle of the busier locations. At present there is a 400m and 250m swim course in operation with a gradual entry ramp or pontoon for those who wish to get stuck in. There is also an acclimatisation area, however it is strongly recommended that you have swim experience prior to visiting due to the deep nature of the dock. The changing rooms are currently closed, but there is plenty of outdoor space and distanced picnic tables to relax after your swim. Free parking is also available onsite and there is a semi-secure bag drop.

Location: 235a Westferry Road, Docklands, E14 3QS
Price: Annual Membership is £12 for a NOWCA wristband which also covers your membership at other NOWCA centres (some of these also listed in this blog), then swimming is currently £8 per session.
Website: https://www.dswc.org/adult-activities/open-water-swimming/

Serpentine Swimming Club and Lido

Located in London’s Hyde Park the Serpentine Swimming Club and Lido is not only one of the most prestigious in London, but is also the oldest swimming club in Britain. If you’re lucky enough to have a membership (currently suspended due to high demand, with exception of 2019 members) then you can sim during exclusive members only morning hours and usually have a bit more freedom to swim beyond the lido bounds. The Lido itself is usually open to members of the public beyond these hours, however it is unclear if public swimming is operating during COVID19. If you fancy a swim in the Serpentine it is worth checking ahead if the lido is open as you are not permitted to swim anywhere else in Hyde Park.

Location: Hyde Park, London
Price: unclear
Website: https://www.royalparks.org.uk/parks/hyde-park/things-to-see-and-do/sports-and-leisure/serpentine-lido

Hampstead Heath Swimming Ponds

Looking for something a little more wild in London? The swimming ponds at Hampstead Heath offer a much more rugged experience, complete with ducks! There are womens, mens and a mixed pond which are lifeguarded and open to the public in summer (the mixed pond) and all year round (the mens and womens ponds). All are in slightly different locations so check before you visit. 

Location: Hampstead Heath (check individual locations on the website)
Price: £4 or £2.40 for a session- swimming is sadly no longer free
Website: https://www.hampsteadheath.net/swimming-ponds

Beckenham Place Park

Beckenham Place Park is home to London’s first purpose built swimming lake, which offers open water swimming and water sports. You must use a tow float, and the venue only has a limited number available to borrow so if you have one make sure you bring your own. The website also states that a few swimmers have been reporting swimmers itch, so bring water to rinse yourself off afterwards or opt for a wetsuit. There is pay and display parking on site and a number of cycle racks.

Location: Beckenham, BR3 1SY
Price: Adult: £5 (£6 for non Lewisham residents)
Website: https://ptpcoaching.co.uk/beckenham-place-park

OPEN WATER SWIMMING IN SOUTH EAST LONDON AND BEYOND

St Andrews Lakes

Based in Halling, near Rochester, Kent, St Andrews Lakes offers extensive clear freshwater swimming famous for its azure blue colour. The venue is just two miles from Junction 2 of the M2 and four miles from Junction 4 of the M20, with parking onsite. The website isn’t the easiest to navigate with regards to booking and prices, you can book online here although the website suggests emailing for more information about swimming as due to COVID you need to book online.

Location: Quarry Grove, Halling, ME2 1FF
Price: unknown
Website: https://www.standrewslakes.co.uk/activities/swimming/

Chipstead Lake

Operated by TriSwim Chipstead is one their two Kent based venues (the other being in Tonbridge). The course is a 650m(ish) triangular lap of the sailing club private lake. This is my favourite open water swimming venue outside of London. The water is lovely and clear, albeit a little bit reedy at one point and the staff are exceptionally helpful. Chipstead is just off the M25 near Sevenoaks and there is free parking onsite. As this is a private lake you must be a member to swim here, membership also covers swimming at Haysden Lake, Tonbridge (which have now finished for the winter season). Sessions must be booked due to COVID regulations and are run pretty much all year round.

Location: Chipstead, Sevenoaks, Kent
Price: Membership is £15 for the rest of the 2020 season (end of September) or usually £24 for the whole season
Website: http://www.triswim.org.uk/triswimopenwater/

Walpole Bay Tidal Pool

Fancy trying some sea swimming but don’t quite feel ready to embrace the currents and waves or just want a refreshing seaside dip? Then Walpole Bay tidal pool may be the answer you’ve been looking for. Based in Margate, Kent it is a little further afield than London, but well worth the trip to experience this historic tidal pool dating back to 1937. You must visit at low tide otherwise the tidal pool is submerged, on days where low tide falls in the morning going early means the pool is much quieter. There is parking close by for free.

Location: Queen’s Promenade, Margate CT9
Price: Free
Website: https://visitmargate.co.uk/venue/walpole-bay-tidal-pool/

Divers Cove

Divers Cove boasts beautiful turquoise waters and lots of wildlife in a former sand quarry (I always find the old sand pits are great places to swim as the water does tend to be super clear) close to the M25. The website highlights that there are 450m and 650m loops, with generous weeknight and weekend opening hours. To be able to book swimming here you need to sign up for a membership which costs £20 (although for 2020 this is discounted to £10 for the remainder of the season). Open water swimming usually finishes once the water is consistently below 12degrees- usually early to mid October.

Location: Godstone, Surrey, RH9 8ND
Price: £5
Website: https://www.diverscove.co.uk/

OPEN WATER SWIMMING IN NORTH EAST LONDON AND BEYOND

Swim Lakeside

Is a relatively new venue situated north of the River beside the Lakeside Shopping Centre at West Thurrock in Essex (adjacent to the Dartford Crossing and right by the M25 if you’re travelling here). The Centre offers a 200m out and back route, with buoys positioned every 25m giving you the option to swim a smaller segment. Whilst it isn’t the most exciting course, its offers a fab chance to test yourself at some 200m intervals. Additionally this would be an excellent venue if you’re new to open water swimming as there is a gentle entry ramp and each lap you return close to the entry point which is great for confidence. It is also quite a quiet venue meaning you can escape the busier London ones and take your time in the water. The venue is also part of the NOWCA family, so you can use this as part of the NOWCA membership and sessions must be prebooked via the ACTIO app.  Free parking is available in the Travelodge car park and there are toilets and lockers.

Location: Alexandra Lake, Lakeside Shopping Centre, West Thurrock, Grays, RM20 2AB
Price: £8.50 Annual Membership is £12 for a NOWCA wristband which also covers your membership at other NOWCA centres (some of these also listed in this blog), then swimming is currently £8 per session.
Website: https://www.swimlakeside.co.uk/

Stubbers Adventure Centre

Operated by Swim for Tri, Stubbers offers morning lake swimming and skills sessions in Upminster. The lake offers idyllic swimming with sandy entry. Fitness sessions feature a 1km lap which you can swim as many times during the specified timeslot, whilst on Saturday mornings they offer skills classes for new or nervous swimmers.

Location: Stubbers Adventure Centre, Ockendon Rd, Upminster RM142TY
Price: You must register for a lakemate band which costs £10 before your first session. Sessions are then £10 or you can buy 10 sessions for £70.
Website: https://www.swimfortri.co.uk/stubbers/

OPEN WATER SWIMMING IN SOUTH WEST LONDON AND BEYOND

Shepperton

I visited Shepperton for a coached open water swim session and thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful surroundings. The lake has a beach entry which is nice to acclimatise yourself, free onsite parking and racks to store your bike. I’m not sure which distances are offered at present.

Location: Ferry Lane, Shepperton, Middlesex TW17 9LH
Price: £6
Website: https://www.sheppertonopenwaterswim.co.uk/prices-and-facilities (although the website hasn’t been updated with the COVID opening hours)

Credit James Poole for Zone3

Liquid Leisure Shepperton

Originally an aqua park, Liquid Leisure now offers a 450m swim course and a 4 lane ‘pool’ marked out within the lake. Swimming can be booked for Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays and you must have a booking to be permitted onsite at present.

Location: Liquid Leisure Shepperton, New Road, Shepperton, Surrey, TW17 0QQ
Price: £6
Website: https://shepperton.liquidleisure.com/

Liquid Leisure Windsor

This is another aquapark offering open water swimming, and like their Shepperton site you must pre book. A 200m loop and larger 750m loop are offered, but the venue states that swimming is only available for experienced swimmers. Make sure you check the website ahead of visiting as there is an extensive COVID policy in place. Parking is available on site and as far as I am aware lockers are available but you need to bring a padlock.

Location: Liquid Leisure Windsor, Horton Rd, Datchet, Slough SL3 9HY
Price: £6
Website: https://windsor.liquidleisure.com/open-water-swimming/

Thorpe Lakes

Sandwiched between the M3 and the rollercoasters of Thorpe Park you’ll find Thorpe Lakes. This is a popular venue which boasts a 1km loop. During the COVID 19 period the lake is open for open water swimming on Saturday and Sunday mornings and booking ahead is essential. Car parking and lockers are available.

Location: Thorpe Lakes, Thorpe Road, Surrey KT16 8PH.
Price: £6
Website: https://www.thorpelakeswatersports.co.uk/book-now

The Haven Bedfont lakes

This is a real hidden gem and one of the most beautiful places I’ve swam in the UK. Based over in Feltham close to Richmond and the M3 you’ll find the Haven. Pop it in your sat nav and you’ll be guided to an industrial estate- and no you’re not in the wrong place. You’ll find a gate which requires a code (when booking via the ACTIO app follow the instructions to get the code) go through this and you’ll find their free parking. The lake itself is an old gravel pit hidden between the trees with beautiful clear turquoise water and lots of wildlife. There are 450m and 250m loops. The staff are really friendly and it is a lovely quiet venue. This is a NOWCA swim venue so you’ll need a membership, and to download their ACTIO app to book, they also offer stamina sessions and introduction to front crawl.

Location: Chattern Hill Community Orchard, Challenge Road, Feltham, TW15 1AX
Price: £6
Website: https://kscan.co/venue/nowca/haven-chattern-hill-community-orchard-lake-bedfont-lakes-southside

Swim Heron

Swim Heron is based in Staines close to the M25. At present a 500m and a 1000m loop are in operation. This is a NOWCA venue and therefore you’ll need to purchase a yearly membership. All bookings must be made in advance and make sure you read their COVID policies online before you attend.

Location: Heron Lake, Staines, Wraysbury
Price: £6
Website: https://www.swimheron.co.uk/

Taplow Lakeside

Between Maidenhead and Slough, close to the M4 you’ll find Taplow Lakeside. Popular with wakeboarders this family run lake also offers open water swimming on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday and Sunday mornings. There are currently 400m and 100m courses. Tow floats are compulsory at this venue. There is also a bar serving Belgian beers and food.

Location: Taplow Lake, Amerden Lane, Taplow SL6 0EA
Price: £6.50
Website: https://kscan.co/venue/nowca/taplow-lakeside

OPEN WATER SWIMMING IN NORTH WEST LONDON AND BEYOND

Merchant Taylors

One that seems to be popular with infamous triathlete Lucy Charles, Merchant Taylors is operated by Active Training World, who run swim sessions weekday evenings and weekend mornings- all of which must be prebooked. The lake usually offers 400m and 750m loops complete with safety kayaks. Free parking is available at the school, but at present the changing rooms aren’t open.

Location: Sandy Lodge Road, Moor Park, Northwood, HA6 2HT
Price: £8
Website: https://activetrainingworld.co.uk/open-water-swimming/


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