March 16 2014 Latest news:
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
For most people, a dip in Hampstead Heath’s lido is bracing enough in summertime.
But now a growing band of swimmers are travelling from far and wide to sample the Parliament Hill Lido’s chilly water in the winter months.
The unheated outdoor pool has become one of the most popular places to practise the fledgling sport of ice swimming – and this week it hosted its first ever competition.
The first The Parliament Hill Ice Swim Hootenanny attracted about 120 hardy souls from as far afield as Italy, Switzerland and Newcastle on Saturday.
Proudly organised “by swimmers, for swimmers”, it featured individual races, relays and a “super hardcore endurance challenge” of more than one kilometre.
The organisers declared afterwards that it “all went swimmingly”, saying the only downside was the temperature of the water – it was far too hot for their liking.
Ella Foote, 30, who travels from Berkshire to use the lido in winter, said: “It was really good, but everyone was really disappointed it wasn’t colder!
“They were hoping for five degrees or less, which technically would be ‘ice swimming’, but it was seven degrees – which was fine for me.”
A decree issued by the International Ice Swimming Association, founded in 2009, states that an ice swim must be conducted at under five degrees Celsius to be officially recognised.
Ms Foote, who works for Waitrose, said cold water swimming is becoming increasingly popular in the UK.
“It is the most amazing feeling,” she said. “After the initial pins and needles it’s a really exhilarating, alive feeling that you get.”
The event’s main organiser John Donald, 45, who runs roofing and life coaching businesses, travels from Watford to swim at the lido every weekend.
“We’re trying to raise the profile of ice swimming and it’s been getting more popular,” he said.
“It’s a bit of a thrill and a bit of challenge.”