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Something phishy’s going on: Phil Cooper reports on a selective cold water swimming event

Saturday 21 January 2017 saw the 4th annual Parliament Hill Ice Swimming Hootenanny, better known to its possibly masochistic participants as ‘PHISH’. I happened to be one of the ‘lucky’ few invited to take part.

This event features races of 122m, 244m and, for the almost indestructible that are hewn from the same material that lines the bottom of the beautiful North London lido, an endurance race of 610m (10 lengths) plus (just for fun of course) an additional length for every degree of water temperature above. The event also has mixed relay races for four swimmers each doing one length for the marginally less adventurous or those simply ‘warming up’ for the big races.

Sharp winter temperatures meant it was just 3 degrees around the pool this year, while the water was a mind (and body) numbing 2 degrees (or less!). Of course, being the middle of winter, swimmers were only allowed regular swimming costumes, a pair of goggles and one cap – otherwise known as ‘Channel’ rules. Unlike Tooting Bec’s cold water championships with its single width races, PHISH is definitely not for the inexperienced occasional cold water dipper.

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The quite unique steel lined Lido at Parliament Hill is open all year round, and on perfect days the winter sun creates colourful mirror like reflections through the water. When it’s especially cold, these are made even more dramatic by the occasional light covering of ice first thing in the mornings. In fact, the day following PHISH 2017, the pool had to be closed entirely due to an inch or so of solid frozen H2O.

Strictly by invite only, based on previous cold water swimming experience, ‘PHISH’ may be becoming just a little bit less of a secret now, but given the wonderful welcoming atmosphere, and the presence of some true open water swimming royalty its certainly worth the effort to try to seek it out if you can.