Heath ponds film: New documentary highlights ‘euphoric’ Heath bathing

A winter sunrise at the Heath Men's Pond. Picture: City of London Corporation

A winter sunrise at the Heath Men's Pond. Picture: City of London Corporation - Credit: Archant

Hampstead Heath’s swimming ponds have a unique place in north London’s psyche – from above the city they attract thousands each year, and it seems every visitor rhapsodises about the experience.

Two film-makers couldn’t resist exploring this centuries old phenomenon on celluloid over 12 months.

The result is a feature-length documentary called The Ponds which follows the swimming and swimmers in all three ponds with reverence.

Co-director Patrick McLennan told the Ham&High: “It was just one of those stories that was crying out to be told. People have been swimming in the ponds for at least a couple of hundred years.

“They’re unique, too – in other countries around the world there’s just no place comparable.”

Filming lasted a year, and the three main swimming groups, the Highgate Men’s Pond Association, Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association, and the East German Ladies’ Swimming Team, all agreed to be part of filming.

With consent sorted, the team went about immortalising the people who swim come rain or shine.

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Patrick added: “We filmed from March 2017 to February 2018. The idea was that we would capture all four seasons and reflect the diverse character of the three ponds through those seasons – along with some of the human characters who swim there all year round.”

The film shows people strip off and plunge into the icy depths with a variety of motivations.

“They don’t all swim for the same reasons,” Patrick said.“They get a buzz. Others, perhaps they swim for their mental health.”

The film’s subtitle is A Year with the Swimmers in the Healing Waters of Hampstead Heath, and recuperation is something that struck the filmmakers.

Patrick said: “You find most of the swimmers have lots going on in their lives; the pond is somewhere they go for a release. It can be euphoric.”

The Ponds will premiere in cinemas with a sold out showing at Hampstead’s Everyman cinema on January 10, but will also be shown at Kensal Rise’s Lexy Cinema.

More showings at the Everyman and East Finchley’s Phoenix are in the pipeline, with a national release on the cards, too.

For more details of how to catch the film, see: https://www.thepondsfilm.com/screenings