Hampstead Heath Ladies Pond. I walk through its gates – branded by signs declaring ‘women only’ – and enter the idyllic forest enclave.
Open since 1926, the Ladies Pond is its own secluded world. There are only women, surrounded by tall, leafy, beautiful trees that block out the outside world. It’s truly a haven in smoggy London.
I take off my headscarf, my linen coat and my leggings and bathe in the bright summer sun wearing just my midi-length dress.
Observing hijab, it’s the hot summer days that have me wishing I could shed a layer and enjoy the sun on my hair. Lying in the Ladies Pond grass, I realise it’s not Islamic guidelines that have prevented me from this pleasure, but rather the lack of women-only spaces.
And yet the few times I’ve been to the ladies pond, I’ve never seen any other visibly Muslim women.
So consider this a Public Service Announcement. A PSA for all my London sisters to come take a refreshing dip in the ladies pond on the next cloudless summer day.
To lie in the grass, read your book, admire the ducks as they stumble by looking for food. All this without the stress of a man’s gaze.
Be warned, the ladies pond is not for the fainthearted. There is a fair amount of nudity. I’m not deterred, my liberal European background has prepared me well, but it does take you aback.
The pond is also partly visible from one side as people pass through the larger park grounds. Although people rarely stop to look in, you could be spotted while swimming.
It’s not a Muslim girl utopia, but it’s pretty wonderful and it definitely beats your backyard.
Groups of women chat to each other while sunbathing. Women of all ages lie alone in the grass reading contently.
The phone reception is unstable and this adds to the feeling of being cut-off from the outside world.
If you are a confident swimmer and brave enough to take a dip, you’ll find that the water temperature is just right. When it is very cold, your body adjusts after a minute and it gives you the best feeling.
Busy in the summer months, the pond is also open to its members during the winter. Women come in the bitter cold months to swim in temperatures nearing zero.
Thankfully, photography is not allowed in the ladies pond and I feel completely relaxed taking off my hijab and soaking in Vitamin D.
After a few hours of serene enjoyment, I put my hijab back on and walk through the overgrown grass to leave the pond. I feel like I have a lovely secret, a ticket into a wide open space where I can feel completely myself.
Just back from the poetic experience of the summer: swimming in the Ladies' Pond of Hampstead Heath. pic.twitter.com/fiRVZXsWIm
— Eunice Goes (@DrEuniceGoes) August 13, 2016
Lost my Hampstead Heath ladies pond virginity this eve. What a delight ❤️ pic.twitter.com/0zhRhxl2oQ
— Carrie J. Lyell (@Seej) July 19, 2016
Dutch Muslim in her twenties trying to find the middle path. Writer, poet and Arabic enthusiast. Twitter: @ellalinskens
By Amaliah Writes
By Afroze Fatima Zaidi