For many of us, the coming heatwave will be a bit OTT what with not being particularly near a beach and with so little access to open-air pools in London – unless you are lucky enough to live close to one. There was a time when we were much better served with lidos but – rather like the railway cuts 60 years ago – short-term profit for a few was allowed to triumph over health and environmental benefits for the many in the early 1980s. The result is that the queue for places like Brockwell Park Lido is usually pretty mega in hot weather. Crap isn’t it? But there it is. Compare with Germany where every city seems to provide fantastic open water swimming spaces. Beckenham to the rescue. The pleasant lake there offers £5.80 tickets for an hour long swim and it looks as if slots are still available this week. (Pictured below: the woods on the Cudham and Downe walks offer respite from the heat)
Anyway, I’ve noticed my old blog post on Bough Beech reservoir getting a lot of hits. This is probably because people are dreaming of having a swim. Forget it. It’s not possible there I’m afraid and strictly forbidden – it’s a nature reserve and an important facility, so it’s definitely a no-go zone. I’ve noticed people taking to local rivers; the River Pool, the Darent, the Medway, the Eden and the Cray, in certain places. I wouldn’t recommend it: there are just too many issues, including pollution, dangerous substances in the water etc, and although I know a few places where I might take a dip it would be irresponsible to recommend them to others (he said, pompously). OK, OK, OK … cycle or walk from Tonbridge Castle to Penshurst Place on the Hayden country park path; there’s a lovely spot a mile short of Penshurst for a dip in the Medway. But you won’t be alone!
The beach is the best option along with dedicated sites such as Leybourne Lakes just west of Maidstone, and the previously mentioned Beckenham Place Park. But other than swimming, woodland walks are great for getting exercise while staying cooler at this time of year: Petts Wood, the Meenfield woods routes near Shoreham, the Heverwalk and Hosey Common are the best for shade, along with walks within Bromley borough (but not yet on this site) at High Elms and Hayes Common towards Downe. Yesterday on the superb, understated Cudham walk, just as we began to feel the power of the sunshine we would enter the cool woods and comfort levels shot up. Take water obvs. It was on 10 July that the Battle of Britain started, so a good day to hear the distant murmur of Merlin engines as the Biggin Hill Spitfires headed out on their joyriding sorties.
I was planning to do the Shoreham eastern valleys walk yesterday but the friend who wanted me to introduce it to him decided it would be ‘too hot’. I agreed, but I’m sure I would have gone along with him had he decided to go ahead. It was set to be 34C and I must say I kind of relish the walking in these temperatures – you become quickly unkempt and crazed but the first cold drink after finishing is just fantastic. It might be that masochistic tendency instilled in me by my mother (WW2 generation) which dictates that if the conditions are particularly unsuited to a certain activity, then you are duty-bound to press ahead with said activity! Nearing the age of 80 she once cycled to her local GP’s surgery, about two miles away, in a rainstorm to ask why she felt fatigued. This was straight after another cycling trip to Homebase to buy plants. Which followed a decent walk with the dog. Different generation. Sure.
I guess we all draw our lines somewhere. Tourists – many not in peak physical condition I noticed – troop through the 13-mile Samaria Gorge in Crete every summer en masse. So maybe what’s ‘too hot’ here is actually acceptable when in the Med. Oh, it’s ‘dry heat’ I hear you cry. Well, that’s OK then. I once walked in Joshua Tree national park in southern California in 40C, but only for a mile or so at a time, with a lovely air-conditioned electric car for refuge. Some American friends did find my Joshua plans slightly worrying (‘Are you serious?’). But then the lyrics of a certain Noël Coward song were brought up and we all agreed I was suffering from Englishness. Truth to tell I was just desperate to see the place and stubbornly refused to let anything get in my way. It was great, until we nearly ran out of water at the end of the trip. Then we remembered the tragic fate of a tourist couple there the previous year who got lost and actually died of dehydration and heat stroke or something.
Properly hot: Joshua Tree national park, California. Photograph: Adam McCulloch
So, I can’t offer any advice. It’s an individual thing. Some people like the heat, absorbing it to recharge themselves, like human solar panels. Others retreat to a dark room surrounded by fans they’ve just had delivered, but later in the year emerge to crack on in pouring rain and snow. You know yourself and your limits, hopefully. But at times like these it’s a shame there aren’t more places around for swimming. So many of the lakes we do have are very restrictive (not as much as Bough Beech but a lot more than, say, the lakes of Berlin) about safety but it often seems unnecessary and a bit jobsworthy. It’s a shame, given that such hot weather each summer is occurring increasingly often (somebody do something, yes I know).
Anyway, never mind it being too hot for walking; it’s too hot for sleeping, that’s for sure.