Open Water Swimming at West Reservoir Centre, Stoke Newington

A few weeks ago, I’ve decided to pick up open water long-distance swimming [30.07.2021 update: I’ve since completed several long-distance swimming events, but in my mind attempting the 10km Hever Castle Endurance event was the highlight so far, even though I dropped out after 6km]. This is why I started to check out open water swimming venues in and around London. I ended up at West Reservoir Centre in Stoke Newington.

Open water swimming? Basically swimming.

When I grew up in Germany, my buddies and I would always go wild swimming in rivers and lakes, often several times a week, twice a day during summer. My parents grew up in the Bavarian town of Passau, at the confluence of the mighty Danube, the Inn, and the Ilz rivers. When they were 10 or 11 years old, they swam across the Danube with their big brothers and sisters, zigzagging between the mighty freight ships heading towards the Atlantic Ocean from the Black Sea or vice versa.

Anarchy UK

Here in the UK in the 21st Century visiting a lido as a grown-up is already considered to be quite adventurous. Wild-swimming has the sound of anarchy and is about as reputable as sky-diving or base-jumping.

 

Easy to get to

Last Thursday I did a few rounds in the Thames near Hammersmith. So, as mentioned, earlier today I checked out the West Reservoir Centre in Stoke Newington. I packed my gear and took the Victoria line from Green Park to Finsbury Park (12mins).

 

From Finsbury Park tube station it’s another fifteen minutes’ walk to West Reservoir Centre. Manor House is even closer (but on a less convenient tube line for my purposes; walking distance: 10mins). The staff are all very helpful and friendly and welcome you upon arrival. I only had to queue for a minute until it was my turn.

Red swim hat

I purchased the mandatory red swim hat for £3 (you can bring your own swim hat, but it has to be red for safety reasons, they won’t accept orange or yellow, I tried; they also won’t accept cash, so the payment has to be by card). Everyone has to prebook using the Better UK app, so I had already paid my £10. Then you make your way to the large outdoor changing area.

Great weather, great set-up

The weather at West Reservoir Centre today is phenomenal with up to 20 C degrees predicted for late afternoon and a cloudless sky. This might explain why there were so many other swimmers. My guess is there were 45 other people in total, perhaps 15 swimmers in the water, 15 in the changing area, and another 15 queuing or sunbathing and people-watching on the lawn. In addition to that there were about 2 or 3 life guards, one of them in a kayak, the rest onshore.

 

Tow floats or leave valuables on-shore, no lockers

All swimmers are encouraged to use a tow float. I brought my own one, but there were still a dozen or so to borrow for free, first come first serve. For certain groups like newbies or Under-16s tow floats are mandatory. I prefer having a tow float, because I can take my valuables with me into the water (as many of you know, tow floats often come with little bags inside the inflatable sections where you can store your possessions).

There are no lockers, but the Centre staff told me that nothing has ever been stolen. Most swimmers left their valuables in their bags in the changing area before entering the water. There is a café on the premises and it is open at the moment for take-away and outdoor seating.

Three marked routes

There are three marked routes. One 100m long counter-clockwise swim around a line of buoys next to the changing area. Another, slightly longer, route going further away from the land and more towards the centre of the lake. Then there is the third and largest ‘standard’ course, about 450m long around a square-shaped centre marked by buoys.

 

Woodberry Wetlands

While swimming, you can enjoy a look around the Woodberry Wetlands, a little pocket of picturesque nature around the pond. Should swimming not be your thing, especially at the moment, when the water is still only around 9 C degrees or 48 F degrees and 90% of the swimmers are wearing wet suits, then there are plenty of other options like kayaking, canoeing, sailing, or stand-up paddling (SUP).

I’ll return very soon, probably early next week. 5 out of 5 in my book.

Looking for more fun things to do in and around London? Check out our reviews of Thames Rocket, the London Helicopter, Lock’d Escape Rooms, North London Skydiving (near Cambridge), and the baking courses at Bread Ahead.

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30 Comments

  1. My wife just picked out an old book off the shelf to read last week. London by Edward Rutherfurd. So we just happened to be talking about the Thames yesterday. I just told her that you went swimming in it. She thought that was pretty cool 🙂

    1. Oh.. that’s nice. 🙂

      Tbh.. I had never heard of Rutherfurd’s novel, but just checked out a few reviews.. sounds intriguing. Says the story spans over two millennia since the Roman times. I think I might get myself the Kindle version.

  2. I’ll come for the kayaking and canoeing and leave the swimming to you. 9 degrees- no. Maybe when I was a teenager. I didn’t care. I always admire your bravery and ingenuity. The next adventure is always only a few days away.

    1. You’re too kind, John, haha… thanks so much. 🙂 🙂 🙂

      I did actually think that kayaking might be good fun too… and almost certainly a fair bit warmer.

    1. With the rubber suit it’s not too bad, temperature-wise, actually. I grew up open-water swimming and always loved it. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  3. I actually didn’t realise this was here! This is what I love about living in London – I’ve been here 16 years and I’m still discovering new things. However, I’m not sure I’ll be going for a dip anytime soon hahaha!

    1. Thank you, Lucy. How cool, so you’ve been living in London pretty much for as long as we have! Yes, one of the best things about The Big Smoke… it never fails to surprise you and come up with new things to do and see. 🙂 🙂 🙂

      If you’re wearing a wetsuit it’s not much of a challenge, to be honest.

  4. I always wanted to winter swim and was never brave enough to do it alone and unsupervised… The West Reservoir Centre sounds like such a great option for a coward like me. I loved the Britain – Germany comparison although I must say I don’t exhibit the mentioned German adventure spirit…

    1. Thank you for the comment, Clazz. Yes, it’s not really that common to swim in open water here in and around London. I’m really pleased I found this place. I’d imagine in and around Edinburgh you’ll find quite a few open-water swimming areas and plenty of wild swimming? Also: love me a good pun haha.. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  5. I’m fairly certain we went through Passau on a road trip many years ago. I lived on a small spring fed lake as a kid and loved the cold water. The colder the better! Great memories but I’m not sure I could do it anymore.

    1. So great to hear you’ve been to Passau, Tom. I’m impressed.

      It’s one of my favourite cities in the world. My parents’ families lived a few footsteps away from each other right at the confluence of Inn and Donau.

      Some of my uncles, aunts, and cousins still live in nearby houses and flats with their families.

      How fabulous that you also enjoyed wild swimming as a kid. 🙂

  6. I have a best friend who loves “wild swimming”, she lives in North London and has some favourite places there. Although I have not done it myself, I think it would be so invigorating and many studies have shown it to be good for your mental health.

    1. That sounds great, Gilda. So your friend is really into it. I’m sure you’d love it too. And Dorset would have so many great places to do wild swimming. I do thoroughly believe in the mental health effects. I find it strange that the evidence on the positive effects on physical health is very limited and somewhat disputed, but seems that no one doubts the effects on mental health.

  7. Wow, that sounds like fun! I actually never learned how to swim, but I really want to! Don’t think I’d ever dare swimming out in the open water even if I do learn at some point, haha!

    1. No shame in this. Ellie & I know so many people who never learned how to swim, including her brother and several close friends. Personally I think it’s impossible to not enjoy swimming once you’ve learned it properly. It’s just so much fun to me. 🙂

  8. This sounds so fun! I’ve been a swimmer my whole life so I think I’d enjoy this. Although I would prefer warmer water! Haha. Still I’d give it a try!

    1. Thank you, Jen. Actually, I do often use a tow float. It’s one of those that has a little compartment inside for valuables, so comes in quite handy. 🙂

  9. So great that there are places near London for open water swimming. Even if you have to put your stuff in tow floats. I am not sure if a wet suit would be enough to get me in that water at 9C. Even if I swam the long route to really warm up!

    1. Haha.. I’m pleased to hear that you’re as fussy about cold water as I am, Linda. Despite my wet suit I did find it very cold. While other swimmers with just their bikinis or budgie smugglers on hopped into the water quietly and with smiles on their faces, I made quite a lot of noise (‘Oooooh.. aaaarrgh.. COLD, SO COLD..’) when very slowly entering the water with my wet suit.

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