Monday, 28 May 2012

When the going gets hot.

I said right at the start of this blog that the main thing wrong with it is that time spent swimming elsewhere is time that could be spent swimming at Tooting Lido.

I  ♥ Tooting Lido. Some people who live in my house think I go on about it too much, but I don’t care. I ♥ it in winter and in summer and in all the bits in between. And the bits in between this year have dragged on, and on, and on. The water was stuck for weeks at 10 degrees. Which is fine, but I’m not some kind of idiot, I don’t want cold cold all year round. I love winter swimming, in winter. I do NOT love winter swimming in the middle of May.

And in winter, I can do a dip in Tooting, then a proper swim elsewhere. May and June are usually GLORIOUS, water heating up, those of us acclimatised gradually upping our lengths. But now it's blazing hot? Now I shall avoid it like the plague until a small cloud creeps across the sky and the masses run away.  Now - it's for everyone else. So now, I magnanimously give you the creamy warm water, the dodging between lilos and people chatting as they go and grrrrr, the triathletes with no pool etiquette. Other people's children. Instead, shall I tube for hours across the wastelands of London to slog up and down some shitty dive and be caustic about the cleanliness? Nah. I'll rig up an outdoor shower in my garden and dream about an empty pool in the summer rain. 

 Go in the rain. Go under the cloud. The added peace is worth it. The crisp wash of cold water against your skin, the bliss of a long length, the flash of sun in your goggles. I’m not a hippy (fuck it, I am) but there is zen-like transcendence about getting lost in your thoughts while your arms mechanically churn over and over. Go for a swim, sort a problem out; now that is magic.  I know people who say ‘I can’t swim in cold water’ meaning, I’m made of more delicate material than you, you great clodding peasant. But give it a go. Yes, it’ll feel cold when you get in, even/especially on a hot day. But if you get out at that point, you’re just doing the hard bit. Stay in. Do the first length slowly, breaststroke. Put your face in gradually. Don’t fight it. Relax. You'll enjoy it, I absolutely promise, or I'll give you all the money you've spent on my blog back. 

Here are our outdoor London pools, almost in order of my preference. Try Tooting or nearby Brockwell, a surprisingly nice pool at Uxbridge or the steely cold bliss of Parliament Hill. Try Crouch End Lido, even, or for the nature try Hampstead Ponds or the Serpentine. If you need your water warm (which I understand less and less as the air heats up) try London Fields or Hampton Court. The lido at Charlton is heated minimally, and while it may be surrounded by a building site, the pool is lovely.  Richmond Pool and the Oasis both have outdoor bits, the first cold, the latter positively hot. 

Also, breaking the self-imposed boundaries of my own blog, there is a pool within daytrip distance that I highly recommend. Pells Pool in Lewes (all the info is here) is spring-fed, and sometimes manages to be warmer than other places (don’t ask me, it’s physics, innit. Or, er, chemistry, I don't flippin know). It’s a very appealing space, as mellow and warm as the old high brick wall down one side of it; and a nice big pool so room for all sorts, whether you’re a triathlete or 5. (Are you 5? Wow. You're gifted, but wasting your childhood reading this. Go and do Lego.) Lots of sunbathing space, too and some history, and there’s a lovely homemade chocolate shop by Lewes station. 

We also have Arundel, which I haven't tested so can't endorse, and Saltdean Lido, currently shut. Saltdean has a different vibe. A potentially beautiful Art Deco building right by the coast, it’s less cosy than Pells; there’s a bit of the ‘blasted heath’ feel to it. Sometimes the sea can blow a salty unkind wind across, cutting through the harshest of suns. And here, campaigners have fought the cold wind of destruction, and having cleared the first hurdle, now wait for permissions etc to move into the next phase - being open. They had a terrible fight with the previous owner who we shall refer to as ‘some arsehole’, and who wanted to demolish this listed treasure and put up flats. The arsehole didn't look after the pool,  in the hope, I suspect, that it might spontaneously fall down.  But regardless of some arsehole, the pool is substantial, and very nice for a proper trainy kind of cold swim, with kid pools and a picnic lawn if you have to bring small people along. There is a brilliant campaign (here)  that we should all support, in gratitude for a group of people who worked extremely hard. I wish them happy swimming, eventually. And I'll shout, when the gates open again. 

And if after any one of those you don’t prefer swimming outdoors, you cannot say I haven't tried. 

* PS If you see me at Tooting Lido, please say hello. I’m the one in tinted goggles and with a hunch (costume too short).

* If you have any other suggestions in easy day trip distance, let us know, via the comments section below, PLEASE! 


  1. Jesus Green lido in Cambridge? 91m, but not as wide as Tooting Bec..

  2. Spoiled by living so close to Tooting Bec lido, I love it, on a good day you get a whiff of chlorine and tomato ketchup coming across the park. But you conveyed its specialness very well thanks.

  3. Likewise. I've bored all my friends silly going on about Tooting Bec lido. It's a little bit of paradise in South London. I'm a bit worried you're evangelising too efficiently though.

  4. I swam in Charlton Lido on one of the last days it was open (?2010, I think). It would be great if it's open again this summer.

  5. By the way Jenny - long time lurker and rare commenter, just wanted to say how much I enjoy your blog. I swam as a prelude to start running again in the run up to my wedding and still swim once a week - thanks to you I've discovered Marshall Street, Seymour Street, and the Oasis Pools (although getting walked in on in the changing rooms 3 times by the same guy in the latter kind of took the shine off the place!!)

    I swim fairly regularly at Crystal Palace and dismally Brixton Rec - always a milky, soupy mess. I thought (when I first read your review) that you were a little but unduly harsh but after months swimming there found it depressingly realistic! Keep the reviews coming, would love to hear more about potential swimming holes.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to make such a nice comment! It's really brightened my morning! More reviews on the way ...