This sinuous lake in the middle of Hyde Park in central London is well known to locals and tourists as a pleasant place to take a break. There are a great many ducks and other waterfowl on the lake; unfortunately they are so accustomed to being fed by tourists that they are quite unable to forage for food themselves, and each year many of them perish during the brutally cold winter months.
Worse, much of the bread thrown to the ducks by visitors sinks into the lake, where it goes to feed a large population of wild carp, some exceeding 30 pounds in weight. In their search for food some of the bigger carp have become predatory, and if you spend long enough at the Serpentine you are almost sure to see these leviathans preying on ducklings and other small water birds. The only indication of an attack is a sudden swirl in the water, followed by a brief cry from the unfortunate bird as it is pulled under.
The Serpentine has long been a favourite of London bathers, including a hardy breed who swim there on Christmas day every year. But bathers, too, have been the subject of unwanted attention from the larger fish. While the carp rarely cause serious harm, they can certainly alarm swimmers by latching on to hands or feet with their cavernous mouths. For this reason it is advisable not to swim in the Serpentine without wearing flippers and rubber gloves, which can be rented by the hour (kiosk just outside the Serpentine Gallery).
Twice every summer an ‘open day’ is held for anglers to fish out as many carp as they can using any legal method (baits, lures, nets, snares on long poles, etc) which attracts fishermen from all over the country. Most of the carp are sold to local French restaurants. The dates are only announced a few weeks in advance, so ask at your hotel for further information. Watching the sport is certainly an entertaining day out, but you should arrive early to ensure a place, as the crowds can become quite large and boisterous.
More recently, some of London’s notorious practical jokers have been feeding the carp on corn, pasta and other fattening foods. The declared aim is to see how big the fish can get, and whether they can one day ‘take down’ a swimmer. However, such irresponsible behaviour is unlikely to impact on your enjoyment of the Serpentine as a bathing venue, at least for several years.
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Taken from my new e-book 'How Not to Be a Tourist in London'
Available for the Kindle in the UK; and in the USA
And in other e-book formats.
You can read an extract here