So I am up in Manchester, a city famed for its relationship with water (among other things), and I am looking for a great place to swim. It is not as easy as you might think.
I ask a friend if she might know any good pools (lidos or pools of historical interest) in the city and she says she will ask a few people. She rings a few friends and the response is: “I mentioned the word lido and I could hear the laughter all the way from London.” I get the point.
Plan B. What about pools of a historical significance? Well there’s the Victoria Baths, Manchester’s Water Palace and winner of BBC2’s Restoration series. “But that’s closed … for restoration.”
But having had a look at the website I see that it does tours. Annoyingly, not when I am here. It looks incredible, and I am reliably informed that it is used all the time for filming – it was used in Prime Suspect a few years back.
But if you are in Manchester on the Sunday 7th November the Baths will be open for the last Open Day of 2010.
The building will be open from 12 noon to 4pm. Guided tours will take place throughout the afternoon including a Family Tour at 1pm and Boiler House tours at 1.30pm, 2.30pm and 3.30pm. Between 2 and 3pm there will be choir performances by Manchester Community Choir and the Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus. Hot and cold refreshments and souvenirs are on sale. The building is apparently chilly so wrap up well! Admission £2 for adults, free for children (admission includes a free guided tour and the choir performances).
Anyway back to finding a swim. Eventually I am told that the best place to check out is the Manchester Aquatics Centre.
Situated just south of the centre of Manchester, right next to the Manchester Metropolitan University, the pool was purpose–built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games, and cost £32 million to build.
It is jointly owned by the Manchester City Council, the University of Manchester and the Manchester Metropolitan University. The centre is the home of the City of Manchester Aquatics Swim Team, as well as Disability Swimming and Water Polo athletes within the English Institute of Sport. Before it was built, for many years its site was open waste ground left by demolishing inner-city industrial terrace houses.
The building was designed by Faulkner Brown. Construction started in August 1996, and was completed in February 1997, with finishing touches made in September 2001.It was opened on 12 October 2000 by Queen Elizabeth II.
The centre’s facilities include: two 50m pools, each able to be split into sections of varying dimensions and depths with the help of moveable floors and booms. In fact, the centre has the world’s largest area of movable floors and booms in a swimming facility. It also has a diving pool for aspiring Tom Daley’s to learn their trade.
Although it was built fairly recently I can’t help being reminded of the final moments of the 1970’s television programme Superstars when all the kids jump into the pool. It feels dated, generic, quite uninspiring. The changing rooms are dark, the architecture internally feels like it’s bordering on the brutal, and the staff not particularly engaged or engaging.
But having got over the fact that you are not allowed to dive into the pool (I wonder how they coped in the Commonwealth games?) my opinion of the pool soon changes. Firstly there is something much nicer swimming in a 50m pool than some of the more conventional 25m or 33m. It is just a better swim.
And because of all the activity going on around the pool – people practicing water polo moves, people heading down slides etc – it is actually really enjoyable, and really relaxing after two days researching consumers and their shopping habits in the Trafford Centre and House of Fraser.
I can’t wait for the Victoria Baths to reopen – and I will definitely make a trip up to Manchester to have a swim in them when they do – but in the meantime I recommend the Manchester Aquatics Centre. At just £3.10 for a swim it is a bargain, if anything else.