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Short Reads: My Secret Women Only Safe Space in Hampstead Heath…

by in Lifestyle on 13th August, 2019

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. Its 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, its 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 its not Islamic guidelines that have prevented me from this pleasure, but rather the lack of women-only spaces. 

And yet the few times Ive been to the ladies pond, Ive 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 mans gaze. 

Be warned, the ladies pond is not for the fainthearted. There is a fair amount of nudity. Im 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. 

Its not a Muslim girl utopia, but its 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, youll 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.

Ella Linskens

Ella Linskens

Dutch Muslim in her twenties trying to find the middle path. Writer, poet and Arabic enthusiast. Twitter: @ellalinskens