CamdenNewJournal

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Christmas went swimmingly for brave Heath water dippers

Open air swimming is still allowed under Tier 4 coronavirus rules

31 December, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Taking the plunge…

THE annual Christmas Day pond swim can be traced back to the 1800s, so Hampstead Heath staff were determined not to let the coronavirus ruin another much-loved tradition.

Usually, the Men’s Pond opens for anyone wanting an icy dip before their turkey dinner – swimmers range from those who lost a Christmas Eve bet in the pub to families who jump in together.

Helen Sharan, Annabelle Bird and Richard Huntington don’t fear the chilly waters and, below, neither do Freya Stallard, Holly Rigby, Ross Burnett and Amanda Dewhurst

There are also regular swimmers who come to say hello to friends and the serious ones looking to win one of the all-comers races. Mulled wine and carols set the atmosphere.

Louise Rix, Johnnie Ball and Rosie Gisborne came for a swim and below, the Millard family prepare for action on the jetty

This year, no races were held, and with numbers limited to 60 at any one time, no spectators could come and witness the challenge. But with the water at a very respectable seven degrees on December 25, and a crisp winter sun shining, the fact it could not take place in its usual form did not deter about 800 people testing the waters.

Heath manager Paul Maskell praised swimmers for following carefully laid procedures on what is normal­ly one of the busiest hours of the year for lifeguards.

Mr Maskell said: “Everyone has had a fantastic time. We are so proud we have managed to keep the Christmas tradition going. There has been a race here since the 1800s – and we’ve managed to let people have a swim in safe and socially distanced way. I am very proud and very grateful to my team here.”

Eddie Hammerman and Jonny Friedman join socially-distanced queues at the ponds and, below, Anna Green, Jess Ellis and Amy Hughes think Christmas Day is perfect for a swim

Kit and Vee Lockey dry off

Queues formed outside due to the restricted numbers, and swimmers were carefully marshalled by Heath staff. Once inside – and stripped down to their cozzies – they were asked to follow a one-way system out to the jetty.

Riley Stonelaugh bombs in

From there they had to take the plunge – and, if they could face the chill, swim to another jetty to clamber out. Brothers Henry and Richard Fisher live in Enfield and visit the Men’s Pond regularly.

Richard said: “We told each other we would come on Christmas Day, if it was at all possible – and it has been worth the trip.”

Jack Dunkerley, Katie Redford and Theo Bond get ready for a swim and, below, Tara Creme and Fiona Power

Abigail Miller not bothered by the chilly temperatures

Swimmer Martyn Groves added: “I have always wanted to do this – I usually just manage the odd dip here in the summer. I thought because there is so much we can’t do today, I could at least leap into properly cold water.”

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