“To swim, perchance to drown, is an undeniable human right. The Port of London Authority should take a running jump into the Thames – only they’ve just made it illegal,” wrote Boris Johnson in the Telegraph. Calm down, dear, there are still plenty of places to enjoy all the fun of the water in our capital city.
We’ve only had a few days of sun so far, but be brave and be positive my friends, London has so much to offer the enthusiastic water lover even if the weather isn’t always clement: swimming, sailing, rowing or fishing, it’s all there. There’s also plenty of waterside sun-bathing and drinking available to the enthusiastic hedonist.
Swimming the Thames
You don’t have to be a famous comedian or a boat-race prankster to swim in the Thames, but from 1st July 2012 you do have to get prior consent from the harbour master if you want to swim between Putney Bridge and Crossness (near the Thames Barrier). Anyone can enjoy a dip in the water upstream, and there are some lovely spots to cool off on a hot summer’s day from Hammermsith to Richmond, via Barnes, Old Isleworth, Strawberry Hill and Twickenham. Some of London’s best pubs litter the riverbank. So go for a stroll and take your swimming costume with you.
The Upper Mall from Hammersmith to Chiswick floods regularly, and on a hot day there’s nothing better than a quick swim near the Black Lion. Further along the river Strand on the Green has several riverside pubs from which you can get into the river, try the Fullers local brewery’s Bell and Crown. Try a dip from the slipway at the London Apprentice pub at Old Isleworth, or my personal favourite, the White Swan near Eel Pie Island.
Before you take the plunge, check out these guidelines from the Port of London Authority.
Sailing the Thames
Yes, you can sail in the middle of London. Affiliated with the Shadwell Basin Outdoor Activity Centre, the The Shadwell Sailing Club is open to the public every Tuesday from April till October. For as little as £10 a session the club will provide all the equipment, sailing gear and instruction needed for novices and experts alike. The evening starts at 6.00pm, and if the conditions are good, you could find yourself on the water for four hours. After all that exercise you’ll relish a pint or two at the Prospect of Whitby right next door.
Open: Late April to early October.
Price: June, July, August £15 per person, per evening. Other months £10.
Shadwell Basin Outdoor Activity Centre and Shadwell Sailing Club
Address: 3-4 Shadwell Pierhead, Glamis Road, London E1W3TD
Tel: +44 (0) 2074814210
The Shadwell OAC also runs youth courses for RYA certificates in sailing
Canoeing/kayaking the Thames
If sails don’t float your boat, how about learning to canoe or kayak on the Thames? The Tower Hamlets Canoe Club, also affiliated with Shadwell Basin Outdoor Activity Centre meets every Tuesday of the year at the Shadwell Pierhead near Tower Bridge. Get there at 6.30pm, the club provides everything you need. Check out the extensive website for further details.
Fishing the Thames
Fishing is free anywhere along the tidal Thames from Teddington Lock to the sea. Catch freshwater and sea fish, ranging from roach, pike and perch to bream and flounder. Choose your spot carefully and watch the tide. A friend of mine is a passionate angler, and swears Thames carp fishing is some of the best to be had anywhere. You’ll need a rod and line licence, available online or through the post office.
For more information check out the Environment Agency handbooks available from the website.
Loads more information on fishing in London is available from Londonangler.com
Licence cost for 1 day:
1. Non-migratory trout, char, freshwater (coarse) fish, smelt and eels — £3.75
2. Salmon and migratory (sea) trout AND non-migratory trout, freshwater (coarse) fish, smelt and eels — £8
Wild swimming in London
If you fancy some wild swimming, but don’t want to dodge the traffic in the River Thames, there are other watery magnets around the capital. Try the ponds on Hampstead Heath, or the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park (where you can sunbathe all day too, and maybe do a little people-watching. There are also Grade II listed lidos in Parliament Hill Fields and Brockwell Park. Break up a day of London sight-seeing with a dip in the outside pool at the Oasis in Covent Garden. Finally, at 90m, the Tooting Bec Lido is perfect for serious swimmers.
Hampstead Heath Ponds
Men only, women only and mixed. No children under 8, children under 16 with an adult.
Address: Hyde Park, W2 3XA
Tel: +44 (0)20 7706 3422
Open: 10am-6pm weekends and bank holidays in May; 10am-6pm daily June-mid Sept
Brockwell Park Lido
Address: Brockwell Park, Dulwich Road, London, SE24 0PA
Tel: +44 (0)20 7274 3088
Open: Mon-Fri: 06:30-22:00, Saturday: 07:30-21:30, Sunday: 07:30-21:00
Parliament Hill Fields Lido
Address: Gordon House Road, NW5 1NB
Tel: +44 (0)20 7485 3873
Open: May-Sept 2012: 7am-9am & 10am-6pm daily; 6.30-8.30pm Mon, Thur & Fri. Sep-May 2013 7am-12.30pm daily
Oasis Sports Centre
Address: 32 Endell Street, WC2H 9AG
Tel: +44 (0)20 7831 1804
Open: Mon-Fri: 6.30am-9pm, Sat-Sun: 9.30am-6pm. (Last admission one hour before closing).
Tooting Bec Lido
Address: Tooting Bec Road, SW16 1RU
Tel: +44 (0)20 8871 7198
Open to the public from 19 May to 30 Sep. For the rest of the year, the Lido is open every day to the South London Swimming Club.