Here’s a really nice piece on some stunning pools that have been abandoned in the UK on the website Urban Ghosts … well worth a look. Click here
Archive for the Around the UK Category
“The sun set long ago on the heyday of Britain’s seawater swimming-pools, but they retain their mysterious allure” Ken Worpole
I don’t know about you, but whenever I think about Margate I just don’t seem to be able to get the 1989 Only Fools & Horses: Jolly Boys Outing out of my head. It’s the one where the Trotters join other Nag’s Head regulars – Boycie, Trigger, Mike, Denzil et al – on a day trip to Margate. Kiss me quick hats, too much shellfish, the great Raymondo, the Villa Bella, and the trip to the infamous fun fair Dreamland (where you can see Denzil clearly shouting “f**k” as he goes upside down on one of the rides). Brilliant stuff. Comedy genius.
Twenty-odd years later we are going to spend a couple of days in Margate, firstly to go and see the amazing looking David Chipperfield designed Turner Contemporary gallery, as well as to try and get a swim somewhere in the historic town.
The construction of the Turner Contemporary gallery on the harbour is part of an attempt to attract higher quality shops (and punters) to the old part of the town, the project also forms part of a plan to relaunch Margate through the arts and its social history. Dreamland is also set to reopen by 2012 to help attract day visitors back from London, and get a bit of a buzz back to this ghost town (once referred to by The Times as a “Dump”) which seems to be dominated by boarded up shops, decay and a complete lack of local government funding.
But while many of Britain’s faded resorts see art and architecture as the path to renewed prosperity, why do so few of them open their eyes to the architectural swimming gems? In Margate’s case its now derelict Lido and the stunning Walpole Bay Pool.
We checked in at the wonderful Walpole Bay Hotel to be as near to the sea, and the Walpole Bay Pool as possible. This historic Margate hotel was built for discerning guests in 1914, extended in 1927 and is now being lovingly restored to her former glory by the Bishop family. Apparently it’s where Tracey Emin stays when she visits the home of her birth – but don’t let that put you off.
Anyway, off to see what the Walpole Bay Pool has to offer. Avoiding the sea of dog excrement we amble to down to the sea front in the cold drizzle much associated with the British seaside.
Legend has it that Walpole Bay got its name because of a ship named after Britain’s first prime minister Sir Robert Walpole. The vessel was wrecked by smugglers that had stolen the valuable cargo after the ship was driven ashore during a gale on 17 December 1808.
The tidal swimming pool that dates back to 1900 seems to be all but forgotten by the locals – although it is sometimes used by people learning how to dive. Like much of the town it has seen better days. Sadly the elegant art deco funicular that used to transport swimmers from the town (or those staying at the Walpole Bay Hotel) has been closed down. According to one of its lifeguards: “Even on hot days, I’d describe the atmosphere as sedate.” It is such a shame as it is stunning. Some locals say that despite is yearly ‘essential’ maintenance, there are rumours that it is soon to be refurbished as the town becomes increasingly gentrified, and tries to take on the like of Broadstairs as ‘must-go-to’ UK seaside destinations. Let’s hope so.
Meanwhile, in the 1920’s the Lido at Cliftonville was completed to cater for the popularity of sea bathing. The Lido was built on the existing Clifton Baths Estate, beneath which ran many passageways used by smugglers in previous centuries. The underground complex consisted of bars, cafes and an indoor warm sea water pool with nearby changing facilities.
The Lido was hugely popular from it’s construction right through to the 1960’s. A winter storm in January 1978 which destroyed Margate Pier also wreaked havoc with the Lido, particularly the outdoor pool. The last time it was used, it was the venue for a series of raves in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Reconstruction work has never even been considered, and even today the Lido faces almost certain demolition. Check out these shocking pictures of the state of the Lido as it ‘stands’:
Times are changing in Margate. You sense that the Turner Contemporary has breathed new life into the town. Let’s hope the locals reconsider the role of their wonderful seawater pools and use the town’s heritage of swimming to encourage locals to petition the local council for funding to save their swimming gems. We have lost too many seawater pools – here’s the chance to save two of the finest.
A lovely piece in the Guardian online about swimmers around the world taking part in a traditional New Year’s Day dip. You have to the love how inventive everyone is. Hats off to Angela McClements from Ballymena who makes a graceful entrance at Carnlough Harbour, County Antrim. Pic by Pacemaker/Charles McQuillan.
According to the BBC’s website: ‘More than 1,600 have braved the cold sea in a record turnout for a Pembrokeshire New Year’s Day swim.The 28th year of the fancy dress event in Saundersfoot took an Olympic theme to celebrate the 2012 London games.’ Love the outfits. Love the turnout. Nothing better than a good swim on New Year’s Day to start the January purge. Amazing.
I just got back from a wonderful week in Devon, more specifically Dartmoor. We stayed at Borough Farm with Devon Yurt situated on the edge of the Tamar valley, an area of outstanding natural beauty.
I have some wonderful swimming memories from spending time on the moors as a kid. My dad has a farm in Postbridge – a tiny village dating back to the 12th century – which has the East Dart river flowing though it. We used to swim in the natural deep pools near to the Clapper Bridge on hot summer afternoons. The pools were deep enough to dive into, and so clear you could see the trout gliding through the chilly water beneath us. In fact my step-brother used to take horses into these pools to cool them off when it became particularly sweltering.
There is a wonderful poem called Dart by Alice Oswald, which captures this remarkable river in a way that I could ever hope to articulate. After three years recording conversations with people – swimmers, farmers, foresters, coarse fishers – who live and work along the river, she produced a stunning homage to the river, and those she met along the way – a kind of liquid rhapsody. Winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2002 Dart tracks the river from its source to the sea.
Here’s a little extract:
Dartmeet – a mob of waters
where East Dart smashes into West Dart
two wills gnarling and recoiling
and finally knuckling into balance
in that brawl of mudwaves
the East Dart speaks Whiteslade and Babeny
the West Dart speaks a wonderful dark fall
from Cut Hill through Wystman’s Wood
put your ear to it, you can hear water
cooped up in moss and moving
slowly uphill through lean-to trees
where every day the sun gets twisted and shut
with the weak sound of the wind
rubbing one indolent twig upon another
and the West Dart speaks roots in a pinch of
clitters the East Dart speaks coppice and standards
the East Dart speaks the Gawler Brook and the
the West dart speaks the Blackabrook that runs by the prison
at loggerheads, lying next to one another on the riverbed
wrangling away into this valley of oaks
The other place we used to visit – the place I chose to have a dip on this particular trip – was Bovey Tracey’s Swimming Pool. Built in 1973 and run by the Bovey Tracey Swimming Pool Association, this wonderful little pool is a Registered Charity run by a dedicated group of volunteers.
The Pool itself is a 25 metre “open air” heated pool and is much smaller than I remembered. There is also a Toddler Pool which is maintained at a luxurious 85 degrees – perfect for my daughter to have a splash around in. She loved it!
Situated alongside the village green cricket pitch (you can actually hear as willow and leather collide when you are doing your lengths), it is one of a number of pools in Devon and Cornwall that thankfully have bucked the trend for swimming in bland, municipal sports and leisure centres instead of natural pools. And because it is run by people who love the pool, rather than money men, it is as friendly as visiting a village pub, or local butchers and tearooms.
Watch out, the pool has a few eccentric opening times. When we asked at the Tourist Information hut about visiting the pool, the delightful old lady holding court with a number of ‘grockles’ politely informed me that ‘it is closed today between 1pm and 2.15 and the opening times vary from day to day.’ Wonderfully British behaviour.
There were only a handful of people at the pool, surprising given the modest admission cost, the surroundings and its own admission that it’s: ‘A great place to relax, keep fit and meet new friends!’ I didn’t meet any new friends, but I swam a relaxing 40 lengths, followed by a good old splash in the kids pool with the rest of the family.
There are various different reasons to visit Bovey Tracey – it’s worth checking out the incredibly random auction house, as well as S & D Todd Butchers for its delicious locally produced sausages, but it’s worth visiting this pool as something of a reminder to all the other pools that have been needlessly shut down by local councils over the years. As social as a local village pub, as relaxing as reclining watch a game of cricket, and fun for one and all.
Last night I had the absolute pleasure of watching Wild Swimming on BBC4 presented by anatomist, author and broadcaster Alice Roberts. It was brilliant, inspirational, thrilling – and I would recommend getting on to the iPlayer and catch it while you still have the chance.
Roberts – best known for presenting BBC2’s Coast and the Incredible Human Journey – embarks on a quest to discover what lies behind the passion for wild swimming, now becoming increasingly popular in Britain. She follows in the wake of Waterlog: a swimmer’s journey through Britain, the classic book by the late journalist and author, Roger Deakin – a key note text for any outdoor swimming connoisseur.
Her journey takes in cavernous plunge pools, languid rivers and unfathomable underground lakes, as well as a skinny dip in a moorland pool. Along the way Alice becomes aware that she is not alone on her watery journey.
According to writer Ken Worpole’s obituary of Deakin in 2006: ‘It is said that only exceptional politicians are able to make their own weather. The same is true of writers. Roger Deakin, the writer and environmentalist who sadly died on Saturday 19 August 2006, literally changed the climate of opinion about access to the countryside, its rivers and waterways, with his 1999 book, Waterlog: a swimmer’s journey through Britain. It is a unique book and it will last for a very long time in the canon of British topographical and naturalist writing.
The launch of the book was memorable. Invitations to the party suggested that guests bring swimming costumes. The event was held at the Oasis open-air swimming pool in central London, where a poolside band fronted by Jacqui Dankworth played Loudon Wainwright III’s wonderful Swimming Song, amongst other joyful and upbeat music.”
Now that summer is almost upon us, go and get yourself a copy of Deakin’s book, dust off your road map of the UK, and go and find some of the great outdoor pools and rivers that nature has given – for free!
There was a nice piece in the Evening Standard the other night about London’s outdoor swimming pools by Jonathan Knott, with accompanying images by Tony Buckingham.
According to Knott: ‘Research suggests that exercising outdoors has the greatest benefits to mood and self-esteem, and the mere sight of water intensifies the effect.’
His round up of Lakes and Ponds, Cold Water Lidos, Heated Pools & Sea Swimming (clearly not in London!), is surely be enough to get you inspired to go and enjoy the incredible swimming pools London has to offer this weekend. Get in there!