I lose an hour of sleep to go to the Ponds before work, but knowing I’ll be immersing myself in cold water before the day begins makes it that bit easier to get out of bed. I’m actually there early and have to wait for it to open. The Mixed Ponds were my first introduction to the swimming delights of Hampstead and while I love the female solidarity and secrecy of the ladies pond, the mixed still reminds me of the first time I sunk into that deep glossy black. This morning it is scattered with regulars. It’s not too busy to spoil it, if anything could, but enough to give a sense of the camaraderie that is so much a part of the open water swimming community. People chat with steaming mugs on benches at the edge. As I walk out onto the wooden pier I am joined by a lady with a floral shower cap covering her hair. Though it’s early, it’s sunny and the water sparkles in its top layer. Beneath the surface, the glossy black depths are deliciously cool when you stretch out a questing toe. I do a circuit, swimming close to the intricate ferns and pink-purple flowers that decorate the banks. A path runs along one end and early morning dog walkers stroll by. Being in the water feels like being part of some wonderful and eccentric club, the ones who have discovered the euphoria of cold water. I float and look up at the sky, I turn and glide forward like a water skater, sending out ripples and ripples that circle away from me growing ever bigger. My cheeks are red with pushed up blood, temples tight with smiling. My chest is soaring, the space carved out by the cold inside me.