Monday, 4 April 2011

London Fields: a eulogy

London Fields
London E8 3EU
020 7254 9038
Added bonus:  Coffee after in Broadway market.
Negative points: Teeny changing rooms.

I love the power of people, particularly unceasing, intransigent, consistent people who carry on and on until something gets done. So, to those who campaigned for 18 years to get this place reinstated: truly, my heartfelt thanks. They’ve given us such a great pool that surely even the most hardened cold water people can forgive it for being heated. The pool has history of the kind I love, and I have history with this pool. It was here I had an inspiring hour with an Olympian, c/o Outdoor Swimming Society, and it’s here I escape with my mate Jackie, when we fancy a long swim and it’s too cold at Tooting Lido. (This eulogy has a tiny codicil, which is that crossing London Fields on a busy day can be like Dutch skipping with Staffies. I once heard a man calling his dog. ‘Ian. IAN’ he yelled. What kind of a man calls his dog Ian? I thought, looking round. Oh. That kind.)

The long low building sits at one end of the ‘field’ dotted with fine London planes, those fantastic familiar trees that punctuate a lot of our open spaces, like old men.  As you approach, you get a tiny glimpse of the pool through the open hatch of the café that serves both sides. Inside, the pool temperature notice today says 26 degrees, cool by some standards, lovely by mine. We go through to change in a teeny space which is a tad under-generous: loo, showers, benches, hooks all packed into one little box. Having tried not to inadvertently touch someone else’s bare skin, you then have to lug all your stuff poolside where the lockers are, which is fine but awkward with winter coats and boots and all the gubbins. The lockers are the bright splash here, architecty yellow and red squares on both sides, standing out from the modern block glass. There’s a terrace at the shallow end, and I imagine it's the prize spot for sunbathing.

 The pool is set in the centre of a building whose lack of height lets you borrow the view around it - a Victorian school, flats, houses, sky. Half of it is very modern, the other half is a restored old block that reflects the modernity via a series of grey metal window plates.  It’s by juxtaposition that the build cleverly celebrates elements of the original lido - like the old back brick wall, overlooked by some rather fancy houses. On one side towers a huge block of flats, making it all feel proper urban. Even the standard metal handrails seem crisp and modern. 

The best days here are blue sky cold, when the mist rises from the warm water; today the sky was a grey slab cut by wind, and the pool was maybe quieter for that. You can get in via steps or a gentler sloping walkway, and actually, on impact, 26 degrees certainly gets you moving. The pool is a glorious 50m long. Contented sigh. Nature can mess up even the most OCD cleaning plan, and today it was full of suspended black bits – christ, I hope it was  twigs and leaf. It’s usually very well maintained, but again, today, the water was tinged from the green algae bloom on the bottom. The first signs of ageing are setting in, but that doesn’t matter when you’re taking advantage of the space and length to get some proper thinking done.

There are often lessons in the furthest lane that gets the early shade (watching huge teenage boys learn to dive was a good reminder that they're little bellyflopping bubbas, under all that noise of youth) and children, at weekends, in the nearest one. But the pool is still wide enough to have another two or three nice fat lanes, plenty wide enough for kindly overtaking. And while the temperature might get you off to a quick start, you soon settle in to it, and don’t get cold unless you stop and chat. If the sun’s out, it’s great to take a couple of minutes at the end of your swim, pull off your goggles and turn to the sun, getting warmth on your face as you loll in the shallow end, shoulders under to keep from shivering.

Because this is what it is where it is, this is a very busy pool; the average age of swimmers seems to be mid-20s, there’s a high count of Outdoor Swimming Society or Swimtrek hats, and a great collection of interesting tattoos. Out of the water, you can choose between a nice warm outdoor shower, or a nice warm indoor one. Then a decent coffee in the pool café, or an even better one a ten-minute walk away down Broadway market, a hipstermix of Greggs and craft shops, where Jackie found one button that costs £7. (It was a nice button.) (She didn’t buy one.)


  1. oh i love love love the lido. Then undoing the good work by going for cake in Broadway market, squeezed on the only remaining seat in the cafe between a fashion designer and the type of man that calls his dog Ian.

    Have you thought about going to Clissold's. It is also a lovely Hackney pool.

  2. Great idea for a blog. I am also a lido lover. Look forward to discovering new pools through this blog

  3. Clissolds is on my list, but if it's nice, I'll put it slightly higher up. Thanks for the tip.

  4. I love your words, they fill the gap when time means I can't fit in a swim. Perfect.

  5. I've recently (6 months) taken up swimming, and this lido is my weapon of choice. It's amazing! Why didn't I do this before? I'll be in tomorrow at 7am :)

    Thanks for the blog, it's good to find new pools for when I'm in other parts of town.

    Cheers, Mark

  6. PS - it makes me sneeze sometimes too