Thursday, 17 September 2015

An open air swim in King's Cross Pond

My second time open air swimming in London

My first attempt at open air swimming in London was at the Serpentine in Hyde Park few years ago, shortly after the Olympics, on a chilly, grey day in early September, inspired by a radio programme on the subject. I didn't stay in the water for that long, and I saw that the serious swimmers were wearing wet suits, but it was enjoyable to be swimming in big pond out in the open, with the ducks nearby, rather than in a tiled swimming pool.

Open air swimming in a temperate climate is a pretty bracing experience. If most of your swimming has been done in the tropics, this is a completely different sort of thing. Much more of a shock to the system, and no question of loitering in the water by the side of the pool having a chat with your mates. But it's good fun in a different way, and I like it in small doses.

I did plan to visit a few more of the open air swimming places in London, but didn't get round to it until last week when I was on leave, and saw a sign at King's Cross pointing to the King's Cross Pond. I returned the following day for a dip.

The King's Cross Pond opened earlier this year, and it's an art installation called Of Soil and Water: Kings Cross Pond Club by Ooze Architects and artist Marjetica Portrč. Set bang in the middle of an enormous building site, it's the first man-made fresh water bathing pond in the UK. The water is kept clean naturally by using wetland and submerged plants for filtration and purification, and without the use of any chemicals.

The site is beautifully laid out, the red, white and grey colour scheme of the built elements providing a bold contrast to the plants and greenery. Because of the natural water filtration system, there is a limit to the number of people who are allowed in on any one day, but we thought we'd chance it as we were going in the middle of a weekday, and there was no problem getting in.

16.8 C is pretty cold for me and a couple of laps was all the swimming I felt like doing, but in between it was very pleasant lounging around in the sun, strolling around, and looking at the plants. The pool and plants are a total contrast to the towers going up all around. The builders were hard at work during our visit. The juxtaposition of natural and man made elements is very appealing.

I really enjoyed swimming in the middle of a city, surrounded by construction and new buildings, in this man-made pond filled with water that was filtered and purified by plants rather than chemicals. When I was growing up in Singapore, you either swam in heavily chlorinated water that bleached your hair, or in slightly oily seawater. The biological plant-based system of water cleansing is very attractive. I wonder if it can be used in the tropics as well.

In this video, the artists explain their project:

Did I feel like I was participating in an art installation? I had such a good time I didn't think about it. Was I made aware of man's relationship with nature, and nature in the urban environment? Actually, I suppose I was. It was certainly a restorative and enjoyable experience. The Serpentine was nice, but this was better, I thought

The Kings Cross Pond is open daily, and it is sensible to book before going. It's only going to be around for about two years, so make the most of it while it lasts.

After my swim, it was off to the adjacent Skip Garden and Kitchen. Read about my visit here.

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