Look Tinkerbell, an Ice Hole! ; A Lesser-Known Legacy of Peter Pan's Author: Christmas-Day Race in London's Serpentine Lake

By Satterlee, Saundra | The Christian Science Monitor, December 22, 2005 | Go to article overview

Look Tinkerbell, an Ice Hole! ; A Lesser-Known Legacy of Peter Pan's Author: Christmas-Day Race in London's Serpentine Lake


Satterlee, Saundra, The Christian Science Monitor


I blame my midwinter madness on JM Barrie for first sponsoring the Peter Pan Cup in the icy waters of Hyde Park's Serpentine Lake back in December of 1904 - the same year his play Peter Pan premiered at the Duke of York Theatre.

More than 100 years later, hearty souls still gather annually at the enchanting lake in the heart of London that inspired much of Barrie's Neverland story.

By 9 a.m., throngs of spectators are on hand to see a diverse batch of swimmers dive in for an icy 100-yard sprint. Much to my surprise, I - an American in London who hitherto shivered at the thought of getting into any body of water outside a hot Jacuzzi - have joined the Serpentine Swimming Club. Accompanied by the vague hope of winning Barrie's coveted prize cup, I will be taking the arctic Christmas morning plunge, along with 50-plus others.

Although I will be pitted against English Channel swimmers like Kevin "King of the Channel" Murphy, who has made 33 crossings; Rosemary George, who was the first European woman to swim the Channel in both directions; and 29-year-old Nick "The Fish" Adams who at 18 became the youngest person to swim the 21-mile crossing in both directions all in one go (He was in the water for more than 27 hours); I still have a shot. Like the club's weekly Saturday races, held year-round, the Christmas plunge is a handicapped event, meaning the slowest swimmers dive in first and the fastest last, so everyone has a chance to cross the line in first place.

Ice-laden waters are a regular winter feature of the Serpentine. And even during exceptionally severe winters when the lake freezes over, the weekly Saturday competition continues unabated in a different form. An ice hole is cut into which competitors plunge and remain for 10 seconds. Thus far, weather reports of near-freezing temperatures Christmas day indicate that we shall be swimming the 100-yard sprint in frigid water, skipping the ice hole. …

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