Archive for August, 2010

London Fields Forever

Posted in London Pools on August 31, 2010 by Rejoice & Be Cleansed

The last summer bank holiday of the year in days gone by used to mean just one thing: Notting Hill Carnival. Meeting up with friends at either Good Times to hear Norman Jay, or Sancho Panza for Jimmy K-Tel or Matt Brown, drink too many lagers, Carnival had become a yearly ritual until quite recently with the arrival of my daughter.

Instead of getting involved with Carnival madness this year (with a twinge of regret), I decided to travel against the traffic and head across to London Fields to enjoy a swim at the magnificent London Fields Lido, the capital’s only Olympic sized heated outdoor swimming pool.

I used to live in Hackney, or more accurately Clapton Pond, and have really bad memories of the area. Living with a (borderline) psycho brother, getting mugged a couple of times, not really enjoying the work I was doing – to be honest I was more than happy to move south of the river to the relative peace and quiet of Balham.

I am so glad I made the trip. Not only did I enjoy a first class lunch of lamb cutlets and mutton karahi at Lahore Kebab House, Whitechapel, but a lazy swim in this wonderful (yet surprisingly empty) pool, was the perfect antidote to all of the hustle and bustle you generally associate with Hackney and Bethnal Green. It completely changed my perception of the area, and I aim to return on a more frequent basis.

The Lido first opened in 1932 and remained open until the war. It reopened in 1951, the year of the Festival of Britain that celebrated recovery from the war, until its closure in 1988. It was closed – like many others across London – by funding cuts in 1988. In fact off the 68 Lido’s and open-air pools in the Greater London area at the time, there was eventually to be only 10 surviving in use – Thatcher has a lot to answer for!!

Described by the local council as a ‘blot on the landscape’, London Fields Lido proved to occupy a special place in the heart of the community. For 18 years local people campaigned to have it re-opened, including a close call with the bulldozers in 1989 when they managed to halt the planned demolition. They followed this with a series of petitions and more campaigning to save the pool, which re-opened in October 2006 at a cost £2.5million

Once reopened, it promptly won the Golden Goggles Award that year for the best place to swim outdoors in London. It is easy to understand why. The incredible 50m pool – which holds 350,000 gallons of perfectly temperate water – has been refurbished with care, sensitivity and an eye for attention, transforming this art deco icon into what locals are now referring to as ‘Hackney Rivera’.

The pool which is run by GLL and part of its fantastic Swim London campaign, is open seven days a week, with adult lane swimming available at allocated times and general swimming on offer at all other times, however two swim lanes will be available at all times during weekdays.

Get yourself down to London Fields Lido, the water is warm. The vista ain’t too bad either.


Swim, swim, swim. For free, free, free.

Posted in Around the UK, News on August 27, 2010 by Rejoice & Be Cleansed

Brilliant! British Gas has just reintroduced its Free Swim campaign to the nation, and good on it! It is giving away 3 free swims to its customers (for up to two adults and two children per swim) at health clubs, hotels and leisure centres around the country.

Launched at Clissold Leisure Centre in Hackney, London by Double Olympic and newly crowned European gold medalist, Rebecca Adlington, the campaign is about encouraging people to take the plunge for free and get into the joys of taking the plunge.

Adlington said: “I am on a personal mission to get as many people as possible into the pool to enjoy the benefits of swimming.

“The British Gas 3 Free Swims campaign is the perfect opportunity to get customers, from paddling pool to podium, into the water to have fun in a safe and healthy environment.”

It’s a great way to get the kids off the sofa and keep them entertained after weeks of school holidays, while parents can spend quality time with their children in the water.

Teenagers can meet up with their friends, and adults from all generations can enjoy the social and fitness benefits of being at the pool.

Friends and family can take three dips, without splashing the cash, at over 500 pools across the UK until 30th November 2010.

Adlington said: “It’s great that so many pools are taking part all over the country which means that British Gas 3 Free Swims will be accessible to a huge number of people, from all walks of life. Hopefully they’ll enjoy it so much that they’ll keep on swimming.”

Over 300,000 individuals took part in the inaugural British Gas Free Swim campaign last year, and the nation’s leading energy supplier is hoping British Gas 3 Free Swims will be even more successful.

What better way to discover the joys of some of Britain’s best and most beautiful pools? British Gas, for once we salute you!

Durdle Door

Posted in Uncategorized on August 26, 2010 by Rejoice & Be Cleansed

So we decided to go camping last week in Durdle Door (see above) for a few days. Not only is it one of the most stunning spots on the Jurassic coastline, but I also quite fancied a quick swim around the natural limestone arch. It’s one of those things that every swimmer needs to tick off apparently.

After a fairly long trip down from London, we spend the night in Weymouth, and the following morning bright and breezy, we checked in at our campsite. As we began to set the tent up as it started to drizzle, and then it poured for 48 -hours solidly! It was testing, to say the least.

So as the idea of sitting on the beach with my wife, baby, and a nice picnic was out of the window, I started to look for an alternative venue to enjoy a swim. We ended up going back to Weymouth. It was not pretty.

The website had made it sound promising: “Weymouth Swimming Pool and Fitness Club is located to the west of Weymouth town centre near the harbour and a short walk from the Asda superstore. It serves the towns of Weymouth, Dorchester and all surrounding villages.

The centre has recently been refurbished with excellent facilities including a well-equipped Fitness Suite, 2 air conditioned Exercise Studios, a Main Swimming Pool & a Teaching Pool.”

To be fair my daughter loved it, and splashed around quite happily, but it did come as something of a disappointment to find this ‘refurbished’ pool to be really shabby, badly maintained, and worst of all the family changing rooms really dirty, with showers that barely worked.

In fact the Weymouth Swimming Pool & Fitness Club doesn’t even have a pic of it on its website, so that’s not good!

I will have to save Durdle Door for another time. I really can’t wait.

The Good Ship Elouise

Posted in Abroad on August 13, 2010 by Rejoice & Be Cleansed

We have been trying to get our baby daughter hooked on the joys of swimming. Her first ever pool experience was at Hostel Sa Plana in Agua Blanca in Ibiza. Although she liked her dinghy (the good ship Elouise), she did not seem to enjoy its maiden voyage in the slightest.

No matter. As soon as we got back from our hols we enrolled her for some swimming lessons at Tooting Leisure Centre. She loves it! Although it is nothing like swimming at Tooting Lido or any of the other amazing outdoor pools London has to offer, she has an amazing teacher called Patrick, who has introduced her to the joys of being dunked underwater, swimming through a hoop, elephant watering cans, and ‘splash, splash, splash’, in the tiny 12m x 12m teaching pool – which is so hot it feels like sitting in a bath.

Nearly every other baby in our group has had a bit of a meltdown in the water. But not Elouise. She’ll be tackling the 100 yards of Tooting Lido soon enough with a bit of luck.

Tooting Lido

Posted in London Pools with tags , , , , , on August 13, 2010 by Rejoice & Be Cleansed

For me Tooting Lido is one of the most incredible places in the UK. Not only is it huge (the pool measures 100 x 33 yards – a staggering 30,000 square feet of water), but swimming in the middle of one of London’s most beautiful commons, surrounded by trees, blackberry bushes, the multicoloured changing rooms (which are apparently listed) and the sound of bird song (as well as the clatter of the occasional train), is a joy to behold.

According to SLSC, it is is one of Britain’s oldest lidos: it was built in just four months in the spring of 1906. It did not become a ‘lido’ until the thirties – when the term became widely used – it was originally known as Tooting Bathing-Lake.The pool, at the eastern end of Tooting Common in south-west London, opened to the public on Saturday 28 July 1906. It was intended partly as a communal bath as very few homes in 1906 had their own bathrooms. It is now the biggest open-air pool in the country.

Back in 1906, the Rev. Anderson, the man behind the pool being built, said he hoped it would be ‘a benefit to the public for a long time to come.’ He can hardly have imagined that a hundred years later, people from south London and beyond, would still be swimming in his bathing-lake and delighting in it.

Anyway, although it is lovely when there are lots of people enjoying the vast expanse of water, it is at its best at about 7.00am in the morning, when the sun is out, and only a handful of people are taking the plunge. Here’s some shots at exactly that time of day. They are also taken before some b**tards stole the safety rail that used to surround the pool. Who would have thought that the recession and swimming could have collided in such a sad way?

A couple of hours later …

Marshall Street Baths

Posted in London Pools with tags , , , , , on August 12, 2010 by Rejoice & Be Cleansed

This morning I had the absolute pleasure of my first swim at the Marshall Street Baths in the heart of London’s Soho. It was shut down over a decade ago, in 1997, for health and safety reasons after it fell into a state of crumbling disrepair. In fact the last time swimmers took the dip in this architectural gem Elton John’s Candle In The Wind topped the charts, John Major was still in power, and Princess Diana was still alive. Although, it first opened in 1932 there have been public baths on the site since 1852.

Well, the Grade II listed building famous for its stunning barrel-vaulted roof and Sicillian marble-lined pool has just reopened as part of a £25million refurbishment job. The rest of the project includes a gym, sauna and exercise studios as well as 52 apartments, 15 of which will be part of an affordable housing scheme. So that’s nice.

I got there at about 7.30am, and to my complete surprise there was only about 6 people in the pool. The first thing that grabs you, apart from the amazing paint job, are the green Swedish marble walls and glimmering white marble lined pool. I have never seen anything like it, it is what I imagine a swimming pool in one of the royal palaces might look like (are the any?).

The next thing is the original bronze fountain depicting a merchild and two dolphins, designed by the sculptor Walter Gilbert, watching over the lucky swimmers. Everything has been so lovingly restored. It makes every stroke and every turn a joy as something new catches the eye. But all of this comes at a price., in fact £5.25 which is a lot for most people. But as they say, you’re worth it. Every penny of it.