16th February, 2017
A film about the wild swimmers and wildlife of Hampstead Heath
Patrick McLennan is about to start production on a film that will be a love letter to the ponds on Hampstead Heath. ‘The three swimming ponds on Hampstead Heather have hosted bathers since Byron, Keats and William Blake immortalised them in verse,’ says Patrick McLennan. ‘I’m a passionate outdoor swimmer and as a transplanted New Zealander I’ve always headed for the open space of Hampstead Heath to swim and just be in nature.
‘There is something amazing about being in the heart of one of the great cities of the world and diving into cold water, among verdant English trees and bushes, with coots and mallards gliding by, taking time to think about life as you hyperventilate and catch your breath then stretch out, before facing the day.
‘It’s difficult to know exactly when people first began swimming in the ponds on Hampstead Heath, but it’s thought William Blake was referring to them in Jerusalem, his epic poem of 1804, when he wrote ‘The Ponds where boys to bathe delight’. Since then millions have swum at the three ponds – the Kenwood Ladies Pond, the Mixed Pond and the Men’s Pond – and the essential nature of the experience hasn’t changed. The water is cold, the facilities are Spartan, the scenery is spectacular, the serenity is undiminished and the wildlife glide by unbothered by their human neighbours.
‘Myself and co-producer Samuel Smith are going to create an impressionistic, observational film about these unique ponds in north London, just a couple of miles from the centre of London. It will tell the story of the swimmers, their relationships, what compels them to come every day and how it feels to swim in the midst of the bucolic beauty. It will be a window into the soul of Britain, the eccentricity, the humour, the camaraderie, and a love letter to Hampstead Heath itself.
‘The Ponds will be filmed over a year. It will begin in the earliest part of spring when new life is beginning to form on the Heath and the winter swimmers see the arrival of the fair-weather folk; into summer when the Heath heaves with picnickers, strollers and fitness fanatics while the part-timers start to gather at the ponds. Then it’s autumn when leaves coat the water and the temperature plummets; and into winter when the rain and the snow can turn them into brooding, uninviting ice floes… and yet still they come, the perennials, to take the waters.
‘The Ponds will be filmed with state-of-the-art HD cameras, incorporating super slow-mo and underwater filming, and will feature an original score as we create an absorbing, rich picture of why outdoor swimming has become so popular in recent years and why these enigmatic ponds are so important to so many.
‘We expect to finish The Ponds in late spring 2018, at which point we will enter it in film and documentary festivals and seek a theatrical release via film distributors and sales agents. We believe the unique nature of the subject and setting will appeal to international audiences, as well as British viewers.
We’re partially crowd-funding the production. Please take a look at our Kickstarter campaign to see how you can help and the rewards we’re offering. We’d appreciate it if you could share the page far and wide. We really can’t do it without the support of you, the swimmers.’
Patrick McLennan, February 2017