Monday, 29 August 2011

Just don't call it Uxbridge Lido

AKA Hillingdon Sport & Leisure Complex
Gatting Way 
Uxbridge, Middlesex, UB8 1ES

0845 130 7324
Added bonus: People are impressed you’re going in, if that kind of thing makes you feel big or clever.
Negative: I realise that I may be opening a can of worms labelled ‘Orpington’ by coming  here, as it’s officially Middlesex. But heck, it's a cold water lido, on the tube and within the M25. Also, yeah? it’s my blog, I make my own rules?

‘People don’t call it Uxbridge Lido’ said the taxi driver. ‘People call it Hillingdon Sport and Leisure Complex’. Woah, I thought, the people of Uxbridge are loquacious. Want a shorter way to express yourself? No, thanks, they say, we prefer things official, verbose and preferably a bit of a mouthful. Verbally dextrous the people of Uxbridge may be, but it seems they don’t like cold water swimming - or not yet, anyway.

We got a cab from the station because the marathon trek to the end of the line was as far from home as some holidays I’ve been on. My swim pal Jackie must have felt the same because as we arrived she said ‘it’s like travelling to a holiday cottage and hoping it will be OK’. The sign at the entrance was OVERSIZED and unpromisingly-council but once we went through a small brick archway reminiscent of stable blocks in National Trust properties (what do you mean, too middle class a reference point?) straight away, you know it’s more than OK. The pool is laid out at your feet right in front of you, and it’s bloomin lovely.

The main building, pool and grounds are classic 1930s lido style, down to the familiar tiered fountains at either end, but a cut above most, visually, because it’s been renovated recently, and beautifully. Oooh, it’s very classy. The sharp lines of the smoky dark windows stand out from long, low, functional curves elegantly lightened by the application of a lot of white paint. It makes such a difference, the white, gives the place a glamorous Eastbourne shine. These same curves echo in the stylish elliptical open shower block to one side of the pool, in clean contrast to the hard glint of stainless steel posts, grey block concrete benches and very light terracotta paving slabs. The pool is lined with white, lanes suggested by neat black tile strips. The whole place is flat and not overlooked, like it’s plonked in the middle of nowhere, so there’s masses of sky outlining everything with clarity.  This light abounds, it opens your irises right up, as if you are in love. This stunning renovation exceeded our expectations. We were a bit in love.

Up a swooping ramp to the ocean liner of a building that is the ‘complex’ bit of the Complex, to get our tickets.  Behind the reception desk, there was a long pause. ‘The outdoor pool?’ asked the girl. ‘But it’s freezing.” Yes we knew. ‘Are you sure? We have an indoor pool’. We were resolute. ‘Both of you?” she said. We asked her if many people swam there. ‘No!’ she said, like, d’uh.  ‘Man, I’ve gotta watch you get in’. We didn’t look at each other, but Jackie and I knew that HOWEVER COLD IT WAS WE WOULDN’T SHOW IT.

Long plastic strips of changing rooms arch round the side of the grounds with that same 30s swoop and even though they look cheap and have none of the good design, they’re functional, enough. There’s a gap in the roof of each one which gives you a welcome glimpse of cloud and blue, but must be a bugger to use if it’s raining. I’d ask a regular, but there's no one here. No one here, midday in August! I asked the lifeguard, and apparently there is just the one regular. I'm so used to lidos, particularly of the cold-water variety, having their bunch of hardy regulars, it seems VERY odd. But then, this has just re-opened, maybe they're all shy, or maybe swimming in freezing cold water just isn't as attractive round these parts. Either way, for now, a pool to ourselves, I'm certainly not complaining. 

There’s two pools out here, one leisure pool (heated) and ‘our’ unheated one, a standard rectangle with added star arms. We get in determined to be nonchalant and Christ, there is a sharp edge to the temperature that makes me breathe out heavily as my shoulders go in. By the end of one 50m length, I’m used to it. There’s no grip or rail at either end, but after a few lengths I’ve got the turn right. It feels great. It’s very clean, very clear, the light of the surroundings reflecting brilliantly in the water even on a cloudy day. Tiny signs of wear are already appearing on the bottom with what looks like creeping rust down some fine metal pool strips. But it’s such a generous wide, long pool, that barely matters. There’s not a leaf or bug suspended in the deep, or on the pristine surface -   the lifeguard says that when the pool is empty, they have to clean. So it’s very very clean.

As I start to get cold I race for a warming shower – there’s only the open block, so no chance to strip off. And two signs, one that says ‘cold showers’, and the other ‘warm showers for children available on request’. So bring a child, or pretend to be one, if you want a warm shower. I can’t pass for 7, which is a shame.  I briefly shiver under a cold stream and hurry to dress.

There is also an indoor pool here, often divided by a boom into two pools but at times open to its full 50m, which, as we know, is a rare and marvellous thing. I didn’t check it out, preferring to spend my time sitting on a bench by the water, marvelling at  our luck. As we sat chatting, two sets of people came and tested the temperature of the water and both went ‘oooh that’s COLD’.  I couldn’t help ‘selling’ it  to them – it’s fine once you get it, it’s good for you, all the usual blah - until I realised I hadn’t combed my hair and looked mad.

That evening, I met Jackie again and we talked about how extraordinary this pool is, how we’d definitetly go there again – just like a holiday cottage that turns out better than you could have hoped.  It had made an impact, got under our skin. It’s an absolute credit, and I hope the people of Uxbridge will (one day) catch on to the glory of cold water swimming, and really appreciate it. As it’s only open til September 11th, they’ve gotta get a shift on. 


  1. I've lived here 20 years which is marginally shorter than this renovation took so for me this is a new pool. The outdoor pool is open May to September but remember the heatwave we had in early October- they reopened the outdoor pool for that, and it was packed. For a Council (in these health and safety times)that was a notably enlightened decision.
    The indoor pool also has a movable floor and will be the training pool for the Olympics.

  2. I think the council have done a bloomin nice job here - and yeah, I knew it had been extended in October, other councils with outdoor pools did the same. I don't want to be cynical and think it was all about extending revenue! Thanks for comments.

  3. I've been a couple of times this year and it's STILL empty. On both occasions they had to find a lifeguard especially for my friend and me after the "you do know it's cold, don't you?" interrogation when we bought our tickets.

    My husband has been a couple of times for a, completely empty, morning swim but the lack of hot showers makes it a bit impractical for a pre-work dip. Maybe that's the problem.

    Oh, and I keep calling it Uxbridge Lido too.

    I honestly don't understand what is wrong with the people of Uxbridge; this pool is stunning!