Tucked away along a shady path towards the north-east edge of Hampstead Heath is a sign: Women Only. This is the Kenwood Ladies’ Bathing Pond.
Floating in the Pond’s silky waters, hidden by a canopy of trees, it’s easy to forget that you are in the middle of London. On a hot day, thousands of swimmers from eight to eighty-plus can be found waiting to take a dip before sunbathing in the adjoining meadow. As summer turns to autumn and then winter, the Pond is still visited by a large number of hardy regulars in high-vis hats, many of whom have been swimming here for decades.
In these essays we see the Pond from the perspectives of writers who have swum there. Esther Freud describes the life-affirming sensation of swimming through the seasons; Lou Stoppard pays tribute to the winter swimmers who break the ice; Margaret Drabble reflects on the golden Hampstead days of her youth; Sharlene Teo visits for the first time; and Nell Frizzell shares the view from her yellow lifeguard’s canoe.
Combining personal reminiscence with reflections on the history of the place over the years and through the changing seasons, At the Pond captures fourteen contemporary writers’ impressions of this unique place.
Ava Wong Davies | Margaret Drabble | Esther Freud
Nell Frizzell | Eli Goldstone | Amy Key
Jessica J. Lee | Sophie Mackintosh | So Mayer
Deborah Moggach | Nina Mingya Powles
Leanne Shapton | Lou Stoppard | Sharlene Teo
‘This book of essays is something to hold on to and re-read when we cannot be there in person. Pure joy.’ – Financial Times
‘To see this most precious oasis through the eyes and words of these writers is a treat’ – The i
‘The Ladies’ bathing ponds on Hampstead Heath are a London institution, whether it’s sunny or snowy, so what better way to immortalise them than with a book?’ – Red
‘In this collection of work, writers including Margaret Drabble, Esther Freud, Deborah Moggach and Sophie Mackintosh share their stories of the pond and reflect on its history and present.’ –Stylist, 2019’s best non-fiction books
‘A joyous collection of essays celebrating the sanctuary of the women’s pond on Hampstead Heath.’ – New Statesman
‘A joy to read – perfect for when you need an escape from the stresses of everyday life.’ – Culturefly
‘A small but wonderful collection that shares the joy of the Ladies’ Pond … At the Pond is a series of essays about a body of water but these essays are about so much more than that.’ – Outdoor Swimming Society
‘If you’re a pond dipper / wild swimmer / have ever front-crawled alongside a family of fuzzy buttercup ducklings / peculiarly adored silt in your pores / swum in water so cold you can feel your blood wrapping your heart and lungs in an invisible thermal blanket… this beautiful collection of essays is for you.’ – Dolly Alderton
‘Captures the exhilaration of a visit to the Ladies’ Pond.’ – The Herald
‘There’s a ringing clarity, like the most purposeful swim. And also, there’s the kind of poetry I love, found in prosaic things like bus routes and mobile phones and in the way old cucumber goes mushy inside its shrink wrap. There’s lots of wit and perspicacity. There’s cool honesty, insight and warmth, even in the coldest months… It struck me as clever and appropriate, what Daunt have done: produced a thing about a thing which is a perfect accompaniment to doing the thing. For completion, this should be read near water.’ – Jenny Landreth, Caught by the River
‘This book is made of memories, and sunny days . . . It’s a collection of essays about swimming in the Hampstead Ladies’ Pond, written by an impressive roster of some of the most luminous literary voices in the UK. I especially loved Nina Mingya Powles’ piece, Small Bodies Of Water, which took me beyond North London, to Shanghai and New Zealand, with powerful, poetic descriptions of everything that is beautiful and bewildering about the natural world. I found that I fell in love with many new voices, as well as rediscovering old favourites like Margaret Drabble and Esther Freud. This is a perfect book to dip into when you’re travelling, and it will probably make you want to maintain your adventurous spirit when you’re back at home.’ – Daisy Buchanan
‘The Ladies’ Pond has truly been one of the wonders of my life. Slipping into its waters is slipping into bliss.’ – Deborah Moggach
‘I loved to lower myself down the rungs of the ladder and launch myself into the silky waters of the Pond. There was something magical about the unplumbed depths, the moorhens, the dragonflies, the waterlilies, the willows, the floating rings and rafts.’ – Margaret Drabble, ‘Out of Time’