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Recent historic landscape events

Last year I completed a MSc course at Bath University on the ‘Conservation of Historic Landscapes and Cultural Landscapes’ in a CPD capacity, allowing me to contribute further to Liz Lake Associates’ well-established specialism in historic landscapes, a legacy of Liz Lake herself.

Since then I have been fortunate enough, courtesy of Liz Lake Associates, to attend a series of heritage-related events and conferences, to continue to strengthen my knowledge and skills in this fascinating and complex field.

A Landscape Institute South West (LISW) trip to the National Trust’s Tyntesfield this month, organized by myself and Samantha (Leathers), generated a very respectable turnout, with attendees from as far afield as Cornwall.

Conservation of Historic Landscapes

The torrential rain did little to dampen our spirits as we networked over lunch, and then enjoyed an informative talk and (admittedly rather damp) walk by Paul Evans, Head Gardener, who focused on some of the quirkier, behind-the-scenes aspects of the historic estate restoration, giving us a real – and refreshingly honest – insight into the trials, tribulations and successes of such an ambitious project.

We were also lucky to have Paul’s predecessor, Deborah Evans, present, thus enabling us to understand how the restoration project unfolded right from Day 1.

I then visited Wrest Park to attend English Heritage’s conference entitled ‘Capability Brown the Technician: Gardener, Architect, Hydrologist’, comprising a diverse mix of short lectures and a tour of the park, which is in the midst of a challenging restoration and re-presentation programme – another prime example of conservation in action.

Conservation of Historic Landscapes

One of the emerging themes of the day was that, despite Brown’s prolific involvement in over 200 sites across Britain, he left very few written records and no published works, to the extent that “We never really know what Brown actually did” (I quote John Phibbs). Perhaps this sense of mystery fuels our ongoing fascination with the designer?

Conservation of Historic Landscapes

Conservation of Historic Landscapes

Conservation of Historic Landscapes

A further theme, common to both of the above events, is the enormous amount of research, reflection, thought and problem-solving which these landscape restoration projects demand. A complex – and immensely rewarding – field indeed.


The first rule of pond club, don’t mention pond club.

Mat Hull, Kris Bowen and myself decided to take the plunge at the much talked about Kings Cross Pond Club on Friday the 29th April 2016.

Kings_Cross_Pond_Club1 Kings_Cross_Pond_Club1

So what exactly is the Kings Cross Pond Club?

Well lets start with the the regeneration around Kings Cross and the Pond itself…

Apparently is describes itself as swimming pond-cum-art installation, personally I’m a swimmer (well triathlete) so to me this was just another excuse for some exercise (except in work time!). First impressions of the massive 20 year Kings Cross regeneration area are impressive, the public realm, architecture and quality of the materials used are of a very high quality, there seems to be an abundance of security people around the site, not to mention a large number of cleaners and road sweepers, I hope these continue in the future and not just during construction!

From an outsiders/tourist point of view it is an imposing but attractive part of London, very impressive. Read more about this from a recent blog by LLA Landscape Architect Mat Hull


The pool itself is engulfed in a mound of earth (we presume from construction workings) surrounded by cranes, bulldozers, trains and towering new build apartments. Whilst screening is minimal there is a structure of planting some of which is new and needs to grow more to allow the pond to feel more settled into its environment. Although I didn’t realise that it was only a two year project so will be removed which seems a shame as its a real asset to workers and residents alike.


What exactly is the Pond?

This is the UK’s first ever man-made freshwater public bathing pool, its natural and chemical free. Built two metres above ground level (10m wide x 40m long) its central pool is surrounded by both hard and soft landscaping, including pioneer plants, wild flowers grasses, and bushes so that the environment evolves as the seasons change. The swimming pond is purified through a natural closed-loop process, using wetland and submerged water plants to filter and sustain clean and clear water.

Two simultaneous processes are at play in the regeneration zone.

  • Plants absorb the nutrients and transform them into plant mass while releasing oxygen.
  • Floating algae and other organic particles including pathogenic germs are reduced by the zooplankton.


Filter Zone:

Gravel beds which compose the filter zone collect a growing biofilm on the surface of the gravel stones. The biofilm is fed by the nutrients brought in by the swimmers and the oxygen produced by the plants.

The biofilm mineralizes the organic matter and reduces the content of pathogenic germs. The lime stone gravel release calcium in the water which bind the phosphorus elements. The solid particles not dissolved in the water settle down as sediment on the ground.

Now you’ve been blown away with science let discuss the actual experience!


The club

So we arrive at the pool, swimmers in hand ready to take the plunge, we head into the tarmac area with a few cubicles and wire cages for your clothes, I read the blackboard and the water temp is a rather chilly 11.4 degrees, “thats not too cold” i chirp up, and off we go the get changed, All the accessories – the fencing, cubicles, the roof of the gazebo-ish structure where you change, the signs painted on the floor – are a bright building-site red.

There are massive boards hung on the wire fencing, showing you how the pool is configured and how it works. “You are entering a living laboratory,” it says, “in which responsibilities towards nature become important.”

The pools proportions are important: on one curve, a reedy raft; then an area of underwater plants, an integral part of the closed-loop filtering system. Then the main area, which gets pretty deep at 2.8m.

As we head up the steps to the pool we are greeted by one of the lifeguards, he’s wearing full winter gear and a parka coat! “Can we just dive straight in”? I ask. “we don’t recommend it, unless you do a lot of open water swimming” he says. So i turn to the lads and say “how bad can it be?” then we take it in turns to dive in, the look on their faces sums it up. Its cold, in fact its freezing, but theres that brief moment of achieving something that makes us all smile as we then jump out and head off into the sauna.

We do make it back into the pool another two times, and on the third attempt I manage six lengths of crawl. I’m feeling very pleased that we made the effort to swim here, it is an amazing place in an amazing setting. So go and see the wonderful public realm and book yourself a swim session at the same time.


King’s Cross Pond will be open for the next year for a limited amount of swimmers every day, whatever the weather. (Limited to allow the plants to do their job – there’s no point setting this project up to fail.) The sunny days will be glorious, but the rainy, windy ones will provoke a response in you, too. In two years, we’ll have the next London swimming venture – the Thames Baths: a lido in the river, which is currently kickstarting to its next phase.

To book a swim visit:

More on the lido project:


For the Plant Buffs out there, here is a list of the plants used within the pool:

Regeneration Plants

Nuphar lutea – ‘Brandy Bottle’

Nymphaea sp – ‘Water Lily’

Elodea canadensis – ‘Canadian Pondweed’

Hippuris vulgaris – ‘Mares Tail’

Lagarosiphon major – ‘Water Miffoil’


Filter Plants

Cyperus longus – ‘Galingale’

Iris pseudacorus – ‘Flag Iris’

Mentha aquatic – ‘Water Mint’

Phragmites communis – ‘Norfolk Reed’

Phragmites communis ‘Var’ – ‘Variegrated Norfolk Reed’

Juncus effuses – ‘Common Rush’

Caltha palustris – ‘Marsh Marigold’

Lythrum salicaria – ‘Purple Loosestrife’

Mimulus luteus – ‘Monkey Musk’