From an Olympic-sized seawater pool on the Scottish coast to an art deco masterpiece overlooking Plymouth Sound, here are some of the British Isles’ finest lidos.
Perhaps it’s optimistic to be British and to swim outdoors – the past few summers, this one being (touch wood) the exception, don’t really inspire most to find their local lido and swim under the skies. Which means many outdoor pools, some with incredible art deco architecture from the golden age of British lido-building in the 1920s and 30s, are under threat of closure, or have languished unloved and unpened for many years.
There are, however, some glorious exceptions. Here are 10 lidos, tidal and outdoor swimming pools we love. Is your favourite on our list?
A complete suntrap in the summertime, Brockwell lido – or Brixton beach, as it’s known to locals – is one of the best examples of art deco-style lidos, and a model for lido campaigning groups. It’s a huge success story, with a gym and spa as well as an award-winning poolside cafeserving locally sourced food from breakfast through to dinner. If you don’t want to get your hair wet, order yourself a craft beer and sit poolside soaking up the continental ambience.
Tooting Bec lido is famously the largest freshwater open-air swimming pool in England and it’s also the home of cold water swimming. Its size and eyecatchingly colourful poolside changing cubicles mean the place is heaving when it’s open to the public in the summer. If you’re a member of South London Swimming Club you get the pool to yourself – in the chilly winter off-season.
You have to be careful to stick to your lane at Jesus Green outdoor pool in Cambridge. Built to mimic the river Cam, it’s as long as Tooting Bec lido at 91m, but only half the width – a skinny 14m. Built in 1923, the idea was that the pool would recreate the experience of swimming in the river it parallels, but with the thoughtfully added convenience of changing rooms. The pool is open every day this summer for you to enjoy the retro experience.
The Clifton lido, as it was when it opened in 1849, was one of the first open-air pools, built to cater for the Victorian love of spas and baths. Today its multimillion-pound upgraded spa facilities, poolside bar and 75-seat restaurant make it a fairly exclusive spot, and the large, square blue-tile-lined pool and glass surroundings will add a sense of glamour to your swim.
Another Olympic-sized pool, this time right up on the north-east Scottish coast in Stonehaven, this is the UK’s only open-air heated seawater pool. Saltwater from Stonehaven Bay is cleaned and heated to a balmy 29C from every May to September. It retains that traditional seaside pool feel, with chutes and inflatables for kids. For a child-free, starlit swim visit on a Wednesday night during the peak summer season, when the opening hours are extended until midnight.
The clean, sweeping white lines of the Jubilee pool in Penzance are surrounded by bespoke festival-style flags designed by local artist Lucy Birbeck, giving you the feeling of the French riviera. Bathers swim in a million gallons of seawater in what is the UK’s largest seawater lido, sheltered from the winds by the high walls and with the spectacular backdrop of Mount’s Bay and St Michael’s Mount.
Havre de Pas is home to the most southerly lido in the British Isles. A tidal pool on the beautiful Jersey coastline, it’s open to swimmers all year round and it’s completely free. With large steps down to the water, changing rooms, freshwater showers, a cafe and a low-tide toddler pool, it’s a great spot to camp out and spend the whole day with your kids.
This much-loved sea pool on the Irish Sea coast is, like many of the UK’s outdoor pools, hanging between renovation and closure. After this summer, hopefully it will be the former, since with the Mourne mountains as a backdrop and the sea in front, it’s a beautiful spot for an outdoor swim.
Ilkley’s lido is uniquely mushroom-shaped. The circular part of the pool is 46m in diameter, and it slopes from paddling shallows that get lovely and warm in the summer to a depth where you could play water polo, if the pool weren’t such an odd shape. There’s a working fountain in the middle, and beyond it, poster-perfect views of the Cow and Calf rock formations on Ilkley Moor.
Jutting out of the headland and overlooked by Plymouth Hoe, Tinside lido is a triumph of art deco architecture. After a £3.3m renovation several years ago, its curving asymmetric sweep of a roof and semicircular pool are undeniably classy. The lido is floodlit at night, and by day it’s possibly the closest thing the UK has to a public infinity pool, with beautiful views out across Plymouth Sound.
Read the piece as it appeared in the Guardian here