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Underwater London: Where to cool off when summer hits the city

 (CNN)The area behind one of London's busiest stations, Kings Cross, used to be a no-go area, notorious for crime and prostitution.

Now it stands transformed, with high-end restaurants, new office blocks and a prestigious art school.

Regeneration is still underway and not due to be completed until 2021.

The cranes that tower over the piazza on the banks of the Grand Union Canal can still make this corner of London seem gloomily industrial.

But a new body of water that's set to become this summer's hottest destination for cooling off in the English capital could change that.

Kings Cross Pond Club (20 Canal Reach, entrance on Tapper walk, London; +44 203 818 6500) is a new swimming hole, a collaboration between artist Marjetica Potrc and Ooze Architects, due to open later this month for a two-year period.

It's the first ever man-made freshwater public bathing pond in the UK and it's set to capitalize on a boom in open water swimming that's seen lidos across London rammed no matter the weather.

I got to try it out on a wet day prior to its official opening.

The rain let up as I arrived, passing through the anti-climb fencing and joining a bunch of hardy outdoor swimmers for a first swim in the pond.

 

Natural filtration

 

Kings Cross Pond Club is the UK's first ever man-made freshwater public swimming pool.
 

Unlike London's other freshwater swimming spots on Hampstead Heath and in Hyde Park's Serpentine, the pond here is lined.

Rather than using chlorine to clean the water, a natural filtration system has been created, with a reed bed at one end and a dedicated regeneration area where swimmers aren't allowed.

That still leaves ample space for swimming.

The pond is 10 meters wide and 40 meters long and has been purposefully designed to allow for paddling in random directions rather than in straight lines.

Its high position, on a raised section of new parkland, means that once swimmers climb in, they can see all of Kings Cross around them.

The water is a cool 13 Celsius (55 F), so I swim at speed to warm up before turning to look at our surroundings.

There's the clang of hammer on metal from the site of new Google offices being built across the way.

Workmen shout. In the distance the neon glow from the top of the landmark BT Tower breaks through the clouds.

But there's something utterly joyous about it all.

It's not hard to imagine this place heaving on a sunny day, despite the resolutely urban setting.

While other London outdoor swimming spots revel in their art deco origins or offer an escape from the grind of the city, Kings Cross Pond Club is something completely different.

It places nature at the heart of the city.

 

'Primordial act'

 

A major regeneration project is transforming the formerly down-at-heel Kings Cross area.
 

The pond's location is ideal.

Nearby Camley Street Nature Park already serves a similar purpose, and this pond is a place Londoners and tourists can come and get right into nature, despite the nearest Tube stop being just a five-minute walk away.

"The juxtaposition of something so natural in an urban environment was a very important idea for us," says Sylvain Hartenberg from Ooze Architects, which designed the pond.

"It is meant to look unpolished and to evolve as the seasons change. The number of people bathing per day is restricted according to a level that the plants in the pond can manage on a daily basis.

"The act of swimming is a primordial act; the body becomes more sensitive and aware of nature in water."

I can attest to that.

After 10 minutes, my body is screaming for the warmth of a towel and a steaming cup of coffee.

Clambering out, the rain starting to fall, I get an enormous endorphin rush.

Usually this buzz is reserved for the moments after a swim in the countryside.

But today I'm looking down at the city and can't help but feel excited about how Kings Cross Pond Club is going to make open water swimming even more accessible in London.

Here are some of London's other best outdoor swimming spots:

 

Hampstead Heath

 

There are three swimming ponds in London's finest park.

Highgate Men's Pond and Kenwood Ladies' Pond offer single-sex bathing and are open all year round.

The mixed pond, on the other side of the Heath, is open from May until September.

There's a lido nearby at the foot of Parliament Hill.

Hampstead Heath swimming; +44 20 7485 3873

 

Tooting Bec Lido

 

Dating to 1906, this south London institution is the city's largest outdoor pool.

It's 100 yards long and 33 yards wide.

The world cold water swimming championships are held here every other winter.

Tooting Bec Lido, Tooting Bec Road, London; +44 20 8871 7198

 

The Serpentine Lido

 

Serpentine swimming lido in London's Hyde Park.
 

Hyde Park's Serpentine Swimming Club is known for its annual 100-yard race, held on Christmas Day.

The ice often has to be broken.

Less hardy swimmers come here during the summer for a swim in a surprisingly secluded part of this busy green space.

Serpentine Lido, Hyde Park, London; +44 20 7706 3422

 

Brockwell Lido

 

Another south London lido, but with a handy addition: a top-notch cafe serving some of the best brunches to be found on this side of the River Thames.

A few laps in the 50-meter pool should help build up an appetite.

Brockwell Lido, Brockwell Park, Dulwich Road, London; +44 20 7274 3088

 

One for the future: Thames Baths Project

 

There's been talk of a swimming bath on the Thames for years.

And with the river cleaner than ever, a new Kickstarter project is hoping to turn it into a reality.

The planned floating baths will include a 25-meter short course pool and a training pool.

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