I love the idea of swimming. Watching people gracefully glide through the water, strong and fast, whether it’s at the frenzied start of an open water triathlon or solo in a pool. During the Olympics, swimming is one of the sports I find myself utterly engrossed in, it’s a joy to watch.
The practise of swimming however… well, it’s just so much more exhausting than people make it look!
Years ago, when I’d run my first couple of marathons and wanted a new challenge, I decided triathlon was going to be my new thing… something else I love the idea of. I spent a small fortune on a bike which was way better than I needed, and signed up for swimming lessons with a chap called Mario. Before I even got in the water at my first lesson he explained that, whilst men have the upper-hand when it comes to upper-body strength, women are generally more buoyant than men, which obviously helps when it comes to swimming. He got me to swim a few lengths so he could check out my current style, and I will never forget the five words he spoke, in a thick Italian accent, as I emerged breathless at the end… “You sink like a man”.
The swimming lessons didn’t last long.
These days, I know lots of triathletes and they all talk about Hampton Pool – the mecca of open air pools. As a mini heatwave struck, I decided this was the perfect time to check it out.
What They Say:
Welcome to the heated water of our open air pools. Hampton Pool, known as “South West London’s best kept secret” is situated next to Royal Bushy Park. Our main pool is 36 metres long and we also have a learner pool dedicated to children and their parents.
The Sunday Times described us as “one of Britain’s coolest, biggest, hippest pools”.
The Hampton Pool website is a bit like a village hall notice board… there is just so much stuff going on!
After being briefly distracted by an advert for photochromatic swimming goggles (available in the shop) and a Jason Donovan concert (Saturday 8th July) I quickly established that there was an adult-only swim session from 10.30-12. It was already 11 so I raced on down.
I parked in a nearby street and the entrance to the pool was already thronging with parents and kids on half term, waiting to be allowed in at midday. Like jumping the queue at a nightclub, I hopped straight to the front and was ushered through the turnstiles to the pool area, which looked simply stunning in the blazing sunshine! Stepping poolside, it was the epitome of British summer: blue, white and red bunting bedecked the main pool, where a dozen or so swimmers paced up and down. Around the pool, people relaxed on loungers tanning and there was a large grassed area where a few people sat on towels reading newspapers.
Given my distinct lack of swimming prowess, and in the knowledge that proper swimmers use this pool, I headed straight for the slow lane. Half way up I was greeted by a couple of septuagenarians in matching swimming hats standing having a chat. “Yes!” I thought, “I’m not the slowest person here”, and advanced myself to the middle lane.
It turns out, just swimming lengths with the same crap stroke doesn’t make you any better at swimming and I’m not very good at doing any kind of exercise without a PLAN. A couple of people were doing drills using floats, and next time I think I need to set myself a programme – I will tap up my swimming friends for advice.
As the clock struck midday, the gates opened and a flurry of happy yells and squeals filled the air as the kids flocked in. Within minutes, the place had transformed into a joyous summer playground! Mums laid out towels and the grassy area was quickly crammed with picnics. The air was full of the sounds of splashing water, laughter and lifeguards scolding people for running. It screamed “British Summer Fun!”.
I strolled up to the Sun Deck cafe and surveyed the scene, catching some rays with an ice cold drink as I dried off.
As I left, it was one-in one-out and the queue went round the corner. This place is popular for good reason.
This pool is open every day of the year (even Christmas day) and the serious swimmers come at 6am when the doors open.
You don’t have to be a good swimmer though… in this particular sesh, I worked harder on my tan than my swim stroke!
This really is a special place and I’m so lucky to have it just down the road. I’ll definitely be going back over the summer and I’m determined to actually learn to swim efficiently.
I’m doing a team competition on a beach in Devon later this summer, which is bound to involve a sea swim, so I’d better get cracking. I don’t want to be the last out of the water… Hampton Pool to the rescue, see you soon!
Where: Hampton Pool, TW12
Cost: £6.50 – packages and monthly memberships available
How to book: http://www.hamptonpool.co.uk