Although I wish I were as hardy as the swimmers who leap into the Serpentine, or the ponds at Hampstead, or the sea at Brighton all year round, the truth of the matter is that if I am going to swim outside in winter, it has to be in a heated pool. Not only is it more enjoyable, it's also so much more picturesque and atmospheric. On really cold days the steam rises thickly and fellow swimmers are invisible until they loom out of the mist. The spindly branches of the trees are outlined against the sky as if in charcoal, and any rains falls softly making little spots on the surface of the water. It's a quick dash from the changing room to the water (paving stones are wickedly cold under bare feet), and the warm water is easy to enter. I find the end of my nose gets a little chilly as I swim, but it's a small price to pay for breathing fresh air instead of overheated fumes.
I meet a friend for swims here in winter when the pool is quiet. There are a few regulars, some swimmers having lessons, the odd triathlete training and putting everyone to shame. It's open 365 days a year and it's a wonderful, down-to-earth, no-frills community pool. And there's a brilliant little cafe (and huge terrace overlooking the pool) where you can get big fry-up breakfasts, bowls of porridge, papers to read, and mugs of steaming tea to enjoy after a swim. I nearly said to 'warm up after a swim', but of course the joy of this place is that you never really get cold in the first place, no matter how low the tempearture.