Basic Info: Address:: Reading Lake Hotel, Pingewood, Reading, RG30 3UN
Opening Times: Saturday & Sunday 07.30 - 10.00, Tuesday & Thursday 17.00 - 20.00/ dusk. (These days align with Bray Lake opening days which means that those that fancy a swim on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday in a lake accessible from the M4, are not well catered for).
Prices: £6.00 Single Swim £54.00 10 Swim Ticket (Discount for HOWSC members - see benefits page)
Background: Reading Lake is in it’s 9th season of opening as an open water venue and this is my 7th season of swimming there. The center is in the grounds of the now closed Reading Lake Hotel, easily accessed from Junction 11 of the M4 or via the Burghfield Road from the A4 through Reading. The lake is relatively shallow and is formed from a former gravel pit. This is important as apparently rats can’t dig into the gravel banks leading to higher water quality by their absence. Apparently, the lake was the venue for the first ever triathlon held in the UK and is now the home base of the Tri20 triathlon club. I always sense that a high proportion of swimmers here are triathletes and there are certainly a lower proportion of skins swimmers. The swim centre is operated by a very friendly team who also run swimming and trail running events, a medal company and ITAB medal inserts (hence the high-quality bling from events and complimentary iTabs). I have always felt very welcome and supported in my swimming endeavors from my first nervous strokes to taking part in races here.
Facilities: There is a large car park which is solely for the use of lake users now that the hotel has closed, There are small male and female changing rooms and there was much excitement last year when a new shower was installed. There is also a changing marquee and seating by the lake where you can leave your stuff. A bike rack in full sight of the lake is reassuring for those triathletes who cycle to the lake on their very expensive bikes. There is an on-site swimming shop with wetsuit hire and a Wetsuit Fitting Centre carries a range of wetsuits and accessories from blueseventy, Orca & Huub. You can try before you buy. In the summer there is sometimes a sports masseuse available. There are life guards on the entry pontoon and at least one lifeguard out on the water on a kayak. There are open water induction courses run regularly for newbies and coaching available to book. The main area for improvement on the facilities side, in my mind, would be a café. Bring your own hot drink or chance the vending machine.
The Swimming: Lake temperature is displayed on the door of the shop and as the lake is relatively shallow the club motto always rings true. In fact the water can also become quite bath like at the height of summer with the lifeguards advising against wetsuits in case of overheating. The water is usually quite clear although sometimes it can get a little weedy. The weed freaks some people out but I usually find swimming around the patches quite straightforward and last year the lake was treated to sort out the weed when it got out of hand. There is a 750 loop and a 400 loop can be made by cutting back across the middle half way round. Sometimes at the end of the season the loop is cut back to the short one only. There are occasionally swans around and on the rare occasion when they are a bit feisty the kayaks keep them at bay.
The loop: The buoys are quite unevenly spaced. It’s a short swim from the deck to Buoy 1 and this stretch can sometimes be a little shady in the evening. If you are swimming a race here, the washing machine effect tends to calm down once you have got past buoy 1. It is then another short swim to buoy 2. There is long straight section to buoys 3 and 4 along the back of the lake. Buoy 4 is the most exposed and there can be a little chop here on windy days. The stretch from Buoy 4 to the deck always seems far longer than anticipated (and I have swum this loop hundreds of time). There are also a fair few football sized buoys on this stretch which you can easily smack into if you forget to look out for them. The course is anticlockwise apart from the week before the Reading Triathlon when it is reversed just to mess with people’s heads.
Lake Events: There are a number of events run at the lake during the year, the spring Small Fry & Big Fish Swims, the Night Swim at the beginning of July (my favourite) The Humdinger in July (how many times can you swim round in 6 hours) the Doggy Paddle and Big Dog at the end of the season and the Reading Triathlon in September. Expect dual language signage in Welsh/English that reflects the ethnic mix and patriotic leanings of the events team. (In previous years newbie swimmers could also be identified by their Welsh flag swimming caps which were sold to them if they did not come suitably equipped).
Celebrity Swimmers: Reading Lake was once featured in Hello magazine after Pippa Middleton trained here for her Bosphorus swim.
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