Wednesday, 15 August 2012


or: What I did on my holiday.

For six days this summer, I went to Embra to embrace (ooooh she’s clever) the festival. I say Embra as if I was Irvine Welsh. It probably makes me look like a knob, but I’ll live.  I love this city. I’ve only ever had good times here, in and out of festival time. I’ve had love, fun, shouting, dancing, happy crying, and a lot of lager shandies. I’ve stayed up all night and stayed in bed all day. The only thing I’ve never done here before is heroin. NO NO, I meant ‘go swimming’. I’ve never gone swimming here.  It was mentioning Irvine Welsh made me think of heroin. I blame him. Let’s never mention heroin again.

ANYWAY. Heroi … SWIMMING. (Mutters darkly: ‘focus woman. Focus’.) I was mid-festival, mid-Olympics and there was actual warmth from the sun, so most of my time was spent watching shows, sobbing at amazing sports people or sitting in cafés saying obnoxiously loudly ‘oh my gosh in all my days I’ve never been warm outside in Edinburgh before’ until frankly, if I'd heard me I would have stabbed me with a little traditional knife from down my sock. In the inbetween bits, I managed three pools which come on, is not bad.

The first was Warrender Swim Centre above (formerly known as Warrender Baths, which tells you plenty about its provenance) just up the road from where we were staying. I loved being piped across the Meadows by a practising band, though I don’t think they’re a fixture. This part of the city is huge houses and greenery but down one wide residential road we came to a low red-brick Victorian building with a twiddly stepped gable and little steeples. It was cute.  Up the steps and through the glazed doors to the 25m pool and at first sight – it is fabulous. Beautifully restored in 2005, look at that ceiling! At the other end, there's a beautiful tiled arch. Oh, even the colours I love and blimey those Victorian builders had a good sense of style. As the picture  shows it has changing cubicles down each side, though they’re plastic now rather than the original wood. There are little round steps to get in at each corner, and it curls up at the edges too, so it feels like swimming in an old quilted bag. It’s very hot, the water’s 29degrees. You have to shower in your costume, and as it turns out, this is the same in the other two pools.

The second pool is modern: The Royal Commonwealth Pool. I’ve arranged to swim with someone I met off Twitter, which sounds like one of those things we warn our children against. Fortunately, I’m a grown up and I’ve done a full impact self defence course (I’ll tell you about that one day. Amazing) so I had no qualms waiting for @Shequeen – apart from one. You know that thing when you’re waiting for someone, you spot each other from miles off and wave, then you have to stand awkwardly, waving a bit more, grinning, looking at a very interesting cloud, maybe you start walking towards them or not, do you? you're not sure, they start to hurry, it’s a bit … awkward. I was worried about that. Oh, and you know when you have an online conversation and people say ‘oh we must meet’ and you think ‘CHRIST. I’ll be found out. This version of me is MUCH better than the real thing’.  That, also. Fortunately Shelagh just appeared, and had no intention of abducting me, so I didn't need to employ that trick where you split someone's nose in half via the nostrils. And I ensured I wasn't dull in real life by only speaking in sentences of less than 140 characters so it was like I was on TwitterLive. Threw in the odd hashtag, too. 

This pool is also fabulous. Normally 50m, today it was split and there was a seniors aquafit class, things that would normally ENRAGE me. Today, look at me, on holiday from rage, you could have added a nursery swimming lesson to the mix and I'd have grinned and with a jaunty wave said 'hey kids, jump in, the water's lovely!" The design is typical contemporary pool school:  lots of smooth dark wood, walls of glass, a beautiful diving area and masses of space, including in the water. The changing area is a village and look at me some more! So busy swopping knitting patterns with the lovely @shequeen that I don’t even complain! And I start using too many exclamation marks! Maybe I’m … (ohmygod) happy!

For the third pool I went back to the old, to a pool someone told me was ‘quirky’, and it was. Glenogle Swim Centre on the other side of town,  cottages and bridges and down all the hill and very sweet, then you come face to face with a huge red building that puts it all in the shade. It’s another saved Baths and bloody hell, I take my swimming hat off to the folk of this city who have campaigned to keep their glorious Baths heritage. Again, this is a total treat. On the way in, the tills were not working so they said ‘pay on your way out’, trusting that I would. I did. The stairs up are in a yellow green brown chunky brick Victorian tile, and again, a stunning pool with cubicles down the side and shared ‘no nudity’ showers. This gorgeous sun we're experiencing shining right in the beautiful skylight windows. We (me and my daughter) swim on our own until two little scamps join us. We are seriously practising our new breaststroke learned off the telly, heads bobbing right up there, and they are mostly finding us amusing. And when we do some diving practice, they get out to show us how it's done in that rather lovely loose way that scamps have, as opposed to my rather nervous and laboured thigh-stinging slaps.

If I’d had more time, I’d have gone to Portobello Baths, and for a sea swim there. But if I’d had more time I’d also have undoubtedly found some pools I hated, so let’s be glad I stopped there, eh.

But I’ve learned things.  Edinburghers are never naked in their public swimming facilities, unless it's behind locked cubicle doors. They have machines to spin your costume dry, I like those. And *swaying gently to a guitar-picking hippy* I’ve learned that on holiday, I’m a pushover. In my real life, I would have picked the 50m serious training Commonwealth Pool every day. In holiday mode, I LOVED those beautiful Victorian pools. In a contest of head v heart, heart won. It never does. Happy times.

(On the train home, I discovered that Ian Thorpe was giving swim tips at Tooting Lido. Rage returned: IT’S SO UNFAIR! I’VE PUT IN THE HOURS IN THAT POOL. And when I explained to my son that Thorpedo was at the pool, his raised eyebrow and questioning 'You WHAT?’ told me that Ian Thorpe needs to work on getting a new nickname.)


  1. Ha, love it. Swimming reviews from my home(ish) city! Dammit, I learned to almost-swim in one of those lovely old Victoriana relic pools, now closed, just off the end of Chambers Street (in Infirmary Street/Row). It took a few more years in Edinburgh's various pools before I was prepared to drop the 'almost'! I managed a swim in the irevamped 'Commie' pool (as the locals call it - yet, not a Red Star in sight!) last Autumn and it is really lovely now. So, thanks for the reviews - holiday swims are great, the different pools, the different water, the different attitudes to incidental and accidental nakedness while changing! I did enjoy my London lido swim at your local gaffe last month and went on to have a week of sea and estuary swims in Pembrokeshire.

  2. Yes, our pools are lovely! And the next time you come, you really ought to try to make it to Porty Baths - there's a beautiful Turkish baths to warm you up after your quick plodge in the sea.

  3. "... Normally 50m, today it was split ..."
    I've swam in about half a dozen 50m pools in the UK, and every one of them was split when I went to swim.

    And according to their timetables they are nearly always split - it depresses me greatly.

    I would be much more excited about the Olympic Aquatics Centre being made available for public use if I wasn't quite so convinced that it's mainly just going to end up being used as a very nice 25m pool.

    1. Oh god, I hadn't thought of that. Did they put in the mechanism for that? Bloody hell.

    2. I think there's a long gap between it being used for competition and being open to the public. Some people might think this is mainly to remove the massive wings and reduce the spectator capacity.

      But I think they're probably going to be using that time to work out how to split it into five 10m pools and add in slides and fountains.

      They will at least have the time to install a retractable boom across the middle.

      Obviously I'm still going at least once though - whatever they do.

  4. Ha ha ha. Let's laugh, while that's still fiction. I'm definitly going at least once - I have to really! But I reckon they'll leave it at 50m and demolish ALL OTHER 50m pools within a thirty mile radius so we're not over-provisioned.

  5. Jenny, your blog is one of my favourites :)

    I, too, am fan of the refurbished Commie Pool. I swam there pre-refurbishment when it was unpleasantly chlorine-y and hot, and I was impressed by the refurb. I swam when it was setup as a 50m pool and it was a real pleasure.

    A pool you didn't mention is Portobello Swim Centre ( - a bit out of town and hot like the Warrender Baths, but with the advantage of being more or less on the seafront so you can go for a stroll on the beach (or a dip in the sea) afterwards.

    And, whilst you were in Edinburgh, I made it to Tooting Bec Lido (not my usual haunt) to see Ian Thorpe - sorry you missed it, he seemed a real gent.

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  7. I would be much more excited about the Olympic Aquatics Centre being made available for public use if I wasn't quite so convinced that it's mainly just going to end up being used as a very nice 25m pool.