Highgate Men’s Pond, as a breathless entrant into the water said to himself within my earshot as he puffed away from the jetty one late summer’s day last year, ‘always delivers, never disappoints.’
Today (April 6) I achieved my earliest entry into the water yet. Walrus men with iron constitutions and tiny trunks swim year-round, mostly at or during dawn, but I plan to build up to that gradually over the next forty years or so. After a long, cold winter though, the first truly sunny and warm day of the year happily coincided with a day working from home.
I was excited and a little nervous about what promised to be a frigid plunge, but I shouldn’t have been. The pond may always deliver, but it also has an unchangingly magical air and at atmosphere at once unique and timeless. If you’d have walked in on a day like today at anytime over the past half century or more you’d have found knots of men, some old friends, some regulars, some new acquaintances, chatting while drying off in the sun. Next door, a smattering of naturists make good use of the only public nude sunbathing area in London.
The chalk-board greets swimmers with various notes, and, casually tossed in, the water temperature: 10c. Not warm, but at least double figures.
Walking out onto the jetty with a walrus man close behind I quickly realise I now have to jump into the dark green depths of the pond, where non-swimming types fish for huge pike which, when caught, often make the front page of the local paper. A quick dive in and the rush is instant. As I splash along, breathing like a hippo but grinning maniacally my surrounds come into focus. A colourful bird (sorry I can’t name it) swims nonchalantly next to me. The trees ringing the pond are not so green as later in the summer, a reminder we are still in Spring with a whole season to look forward to. Walrus man is swimming much better than I am.A few minutes is enough, then a couple of dives back in, then off again. Another walrus comes out for his dip. He must be 70, and I wonder if he’ll ease himself in. Silently he hops onto the diving board, bounces once and then smashes, from about eight feet in the air, into the water.
My internal organs glow all the way home.
Heaven is in London, and it is here on the Heath, when the sun shines.