London’s Wild Swimmers Love That Dirty Water

Wild Swimming in the Serpentine London

Wild Swimming in the Serpentine

The Wall Street Journal reports:

LONDON—This is Emily Chong’s routine, rain or shine, winter or summer: Wake up, eat breakfast, cycle to Hyde Park, jump in a lake, swim a bit, fuel up with a second breakfast, cycle to work.

One chilly morning this year, she found a team of police divers alongside the lake’s resident swans, looking for the body of a man who had drowned the night before. Ms. Chong put on her Spider-Man swim cap and dived in.

“As I swam, I kept getting an image in my head that a body would just float up,” she recalls.

London’s outdoor swimmers are a serious bunch. Ms. Chong and other members of the Serpentine Swimming Club have the right to swim in the lake before 9:30 in the morning. Sometimes in winter, it partly freezes. The cold water numbs the sting of scrapes from sharp bits of ice.

Hardy Londoners regularly take dips in lakes, ponds, basins and unheated al fresco swimming pools. The Outdoor Swimming Society, which fights to free swimmers from “chlorinated captivity,” now has 18,000 members. It had just 300 in 2006.

“Wild swimming” is so popular that architects and engineers are now plotting a return to London’s most famous waterway, the River Thames. But the challenges are many: vicious currents, swelling tides, dirty water and a fleet of fast catamarans that ferry commuters. More…

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