“Will the water be heated?” is the most frequently asked question about Thames Baths.
To widen the debate we asked journalist and year-round swimmer (sans wetsuit) Jon Harwood to give us his thoughts.
What’s the ideal temperature for a swimming pool? It’s a question that can cause heated debate among swimmers.
Some prefer the icy thrills of a chilly lido in the depths of winter, others campaign for their local leisure centre to ramp up the heating a couple of degrees. The answer to the question probably depends on what you want from your pool.
FINA rules require the pool temperature to be between 25C and 28C for competitive events, and your local leisure centre is probably a degree or two warmer – way too hot for some.
The difference between, say, Marshall Street baths in central London, where the water has a slight bite to it, and some council leisure centres where you could wallow for hours with a rubber duck, may only be a matter of a few degrees but covers an entire philosophical spectrum.
Outdoor swimming is a whole different kettle of fish. Isn’t it supposed to be bracing and stimulating? A challenge to the senses? Thames Baths thinks so – up to a degree (or several).
Triathlon rules state that wetsuits are mandatory in water below 14C, and while some people would shudder at those sorts of temperatures the great British weather dictates that for much of the year that’s where the temperature will be.
But not everyone is daunted and it’s increasingly cool to be cold. Triathlons, midwinter charity swims and Tough Mudder events have all contributed to the growth of all-year outdoor swimming – and regulars at London’s outdoor pools have reported an increased number of visitors this winter.
But despite the sudden popularity of cold-water there is still a reason you don’t have to queue outside Brockwell Lido in January.
The health benefits of taking the plunge in icy water are well documented and the post swim glow is something glorious, but it requires a certain frame of mind. Not everyone wants to haul themselves out of bed on Saturday to swim 500m in water of 3C – or even 13C.
Water temperature is something that Thames Baths has given a lot of thought to.
Their aim is to open up the capital’s river to Londoners and the cold truth is that freezing water is not a big draw.
Heated lidos like those at London Fields and Charlton offer the chance to enjoy an outdoor dip whatever the weather and are popular with swimmers of all stripes over the winter – and Thames Baths wants to be just as inclusive.
The project aims to establish a connection with the river, one that is available to as many people to experience as possible.
Purists and cold-water enthusiasts might argue that heating the water will create a point of difference to the river, but the mission of the Thames Baths would be on thin ice without some sort of heating.
Do you agree with Jon?
Please email us your views and we might even do a blog post of comments received.