The wild swimmer documenting Hampstead Heath through the seasons
- Credit: Archant
David Cole takes a photo of the Heath every day before he dives into the icy waters of the Men’s Pond
On summer days the grassy banks of the Heath’s swimming ponds overflow with people laying out in the sun, while a queue of swimmers raring to take a dip in the bracing waters trails off the jetty and around the path.
Come winter, when the ponds’ temperatures sink to nearly freezing, the banks empty out of fair-weather visitors - but splashes can still be heard as the Heath’s most intrepid wild swimmers leap into the now electrifyingly icy waters.
One man who frequents the ponds no matter the season is David Cole, from Belsize Park. He has been taking the plunge into the Men’s pond come rain, shine, or even snow for the last couple of years. Sometimes, he says, he feels a thin layer of ice on the water’s surface cracking as he dives.
Since August he has been documenting the changing colours and silhouettes he sees each day as he looks down onto the Men’s Pond from Millfield Lane.
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“I never noticed how much it changes,” he say. “It’s astounding. It’s like I’m in a different place every day.”
His photos track the vivid greens and deep blue of the late summer skies as they are reflected in the water, the silvery autumnal mist that sinks in the pond, the russet leaves that fall to cover the banks, and the piercing November sunlight as it casts long shadows through the trees’ now bare branches.
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He also records the water temperature alongside each photo, as it sinks with the seasons from a balmy 22 degrees in late summer, to just nine this week. It’s down to one or two by March, he says.
“Your body gets used to the cold after a while,” he says. “Not to the shock - that never goes - but you warm up more quickly in the water. You only get that after swimming three or four times a week for some time.
“Sometimes it’s a tough call between a warm bed and an icy pond,” he says. “But when I’m out there, it’s incredible. Nothing else wakes me up like it.”
So while the landscape changes and the temperature drops, one thing stays the same: the wild swimmers on the jetty, ready to take the plunge.