Monday, 11 July 2011

Swim Peaks

Artichoke Pl, London SE5 8TS
020 7703 3024
Added bonus: South London Gallery up the road
Try spotting: bad shop names nearby.
(I got the title Swim Peaks from the lovely @HurstAKA, who some of you will know as Mark Hurst or Mark Miwurdz - thanks to him, and 50p.) 

Ooooooh. Gold writing!  Up there, at the top of the building! It says, big gold letters: CAMBERWELL PUBLIC BATHS. How fancy!  Doesn’t that make you want to go in? No? GOLD WRITING? Gah, you’re hard.

When I checked out this pool, it had been open for just over a month, and from now on if I have to swim indoors I really only want to go to pools that have been open just over a month. Lucky Camberwell residents.

It started a bit weird. For about twenty minutes, I was a) the only woman swimming b) the only person wearing goggles  c) the only one not doing head-up breast stroke and d) had the smallest breasts in the pool.  You can’t unnotice that kind of thing, and it felt like I’d been accidentally let in to some sort of Masonic ritual where large men poddle up and down, round and round, boobs all a wobble, not getting their minimal hair wet. Then, phew, another woman came in. But she was in an asymetrical  bright red costume with an ostentatious frill swooping across her frontage, her hair in plaits tied on the top of her head. She was Miss Latvia 1993. I swum on, trying not to worry it was all going a bit David Lynch.

Apart from that bit of weirdness, this is fab. It’s a really successful restoration, combining the art of reclamation with what looks like, but isn’t, top-end modernity. In style, it reminded me of another great building just up the road, South London Gallery, which has a similar approach and attention to detail. For instance, in the reception here, they’ve got the standard desk-kit, but then they’ve got a selection of historic Camberwell pictures, nicely presented, and an original fireplace painted over in a heritage colour - they didn’t just rip it all out, they cherished. Same for the Victorian tile floor in the entrance. It’s a nice touch, leaving that rather than put a more practical lino down.  The long corridor to the changing room is nicely lit by ceiling light wells, the spacious changing room is a stylish mix of bright white and dark brown mock-wood, the showers … great showers! A little ledge for stuff, a little hook for your costume, temperature change, good long timer. Top notch. I even loved the little ‘female changing’ signs, a clear Perspex slab over the white brick walls.

As you walk out poolside, warm air hits you, like a horrid fan heater. Too warm for a cold-loving girl like me. There are two pools in the same space, one 25m and very wide, the other in the same space, a children’s pool. They are surrounded by a high gallery, framed with lovely Victorian railing. Everything is white and blue, clean and crisp, again a showcase for how to combine old and new in an artisanal way. You enter the main pool via a funny staircase, and even at the shallow end it’s deep, up to my shoulders. The message? NO KIDS. HURRAH. So why does the water need to be 29 degrees? Hmmm. Too warm. And the lanes were, on this day, done in a funny combination.  There were only two -  the one where the glazed-eye moob guys swam, was very wide, which forced them to swim in big circles, reinforcing the slightly druggy monotony of it.  The other, fast lane, was normal-sized.  But it didn’t quite work, dividing a pool like that. You need more choice of speed (or I did). When a couple of very fast guys got in, I was definitely in their way.

It is a short pool but the depth works in its favour, gives you a bit of something to push against. It’s beautifully white tiled, and in very warm water it’s nice to have those cold tiles as respite.  At the moment, they look perfect. There’s a hoist at one end of the pool, and a dedicated accessible changing room, so, in all the permanent ways, this is a triumph.

(The best shop names I found were a hairdresser on the corner  called ‘Headnizm’. Doesn’t quite work, does it? And opposite, a fashion emporium, called ‘you moda’, which tempted me to go in and say ‘no, you moda’. I resisted.)


  1. makes me want to go! thanks

  2. Camberwell Leisure Centre has a swimming pool,Gym, cafe and a Group exercise studio. It's a nice place.

    1. I KNOW it's got a pool, I just reviewed it, see above. Are you talking about a different place?