Thursday, 21 April 2011

A proper little oasis

32 Endell St, City of London WC2H 9AG

020 7831 1804 ‎
Added bonus: Nearly naked, right in the middle of town.
Negative point: Wandering round Covent Garden with goggle marks on your face

What better thing to do on a beautiful spring morn than down a quick macchiato on Endell St then head for Oasis Pools? That’s what I thought, and it was nice of so many people to join me. (Irony.) On a street fugged by noise and fumes,I go up the steps into a chi-chi little entrance area with a chi-chi little café area, and straight away get a view on to the reason people come here -  the outdoor pool.

It takes approximately three steps for chi-chi to give way to old school scruffy (by which I mean as scruffy as an old school, rather than some back-ref to the 90s). I managed to miss the sign and went wandering  down corridors with utilitarian carpet probably made of recycled car tyres, searching for changing rooms, finding only squash courts. Eventually I find a MASSIVE changing area, a funny old place with thousands of lockers, a few half-benches with pink metal hole-punched dividers, and traffic cones on broken bits of the floor. It’s a mish-mash of money badly spent – you can see where they’ve had tiny injections of cash in things like a few newer shower cubicles but overall, it’s grimy, a bit smelly, and in all that space, there’s practically nowhere to put your bag.
*In the interests of veracity, for what are we without it, I thought I should update this entry after a recent visit on a September morning of 2012. The women's changing rooms have been updated. They are now a massive space, big enough for a party, cleaner and nicer with the ubiqitous dark plywood beloved only of municipal designers. But there are still only three toilets and a couple of showers. Well, six: three in cubicles and three open. So if you ARE there for a party, you'll end up queueing for the loo. We always do, don't we *beleagured feminist holding it in face*. 

First stop (note, Oasis Pools, plural) is the outdoor pool, a tiny little square surrounded by buildings on three sides – on one side are the brick walkways of a council block, and if I lived there, I would definitely get a little rope ladder and shimmy down for a night swim. These high buildings must create a noise barrier, it’s suddenly peaceful out here, lovely; it  probably looks best in an aerial shot, a dot of blue in the concrete. The water looks inviting; it’s 27m long (?), three-laned and the shallow end is a real little hot spot, overheated any way and exacerbated by the sunshine; it cools into the shade, with a definite cold spot as you hit the deep slope of the pool. At the deep end are three huge cone lamps set under water; they must have been hi-tec once, and now look about as trendy as Madonna. In the very shallow end, I banged my knees on the floor on practically every length turn.

This is a busy pool, where you take your place on the hamster wheel and  stick to it; they seem to favour nose-to-heel breast stroke. The lanes are JUST wide enough to overtake, if you breathe in and sprint.  Also, recalibrate your view of what constitutes ‘fast’. A couple of people practically vertical in the slow lane bumps the slows into the medium lane, meaning you can’t get much beyond crawling pace (that’s a swimming joke). It’s clearly well used by locals and workers (which used to be me, early eves, when I worked in an office round the corner) and honestly, in this little well-named oasis in the middle of town, you can’t blame them even if you’re silently wishing they’d speed up a bit. And even when it doesn’t look like there’s much nature around in this bit of town, it still gets in, so the pool floor doesn’t have a crisp, sterile look. It’s a bit mucky.

Mind you, it looks like ‘nature’ messed up the indoor pool too. I can guess the provenance of cotton wool and plasters, but how do indoor pools get sand clumping on the bottom? (Please don’t explain.) It isn’t clean. I wouldn’t normally do this, I wear my Outdoor Swimming Society swimming hat with pride, but there are two pools here, so for the purposes of this blog and after a slow stretch in the sun, I head to the smaller (by 2 metres) indoor one. It’s like going into a cave, dark and cool, light overspilling from outside. The water is consistent, unruffled and silky - and it’s quieter, without the people and outside air, so you can crack along for a few speedy lengths.

A pin-sharp shower in short over-hot bursts, and I’m sneezing out again onto the streets.  A motor bike raced past and woke me up; I had genuinely forgotten how busy this bit of town is, so successfully does this pool live up to its name, in being a refuge from the noise, at least.


  1. Yes! why do they apply the principles of the 'virtual drinking establishment' to the ladies' changing rooms? and why are the hooks next to the showers so high up? did they just put them at the same height as the ones in the gents'? Thoroughly concur with your observations above but, my, it's in a good location, it's in the Swim London scheme and the staff (these days) are really friendly and helpful.

  2. The men's changing area used to be very cruise-y, but then I guess I'm now going bald and getting more rotund!


  4. It's quite normal to find sand in swimming pools - layers of sand are used at water treatment plants to filter water before it enters the clean water supply and small amounts of sand can escape into the supply. Pools utilise large volumes of water and so the occasional grains of sand accumulate into visible quantities. Thus, fear not the sand.

  5. wonderful journal versions 2012