The Lido Guide

By Janet Wilkinson and Emma Pusill

A practical, beautiful, inspiring guide to the outdoor pools of the UK

Monday, 11 June 2018

Listing heavily.

Some things happen like clockwork in the annual lido calendar. One of them, almost wearisome in its inevitability, is the flush of lido lists that appear in the media. You know the sort of thing...




That sort of thing. 

They hurt my soul, a little bit. Not because I dislike seeing lidos get a bit of publicity, of course not that - have we met? I bang on about them relentlessly. It's because they are so formulaic, and because there are only about 15 or 20 pools that ever get any of the limelight. And they are all lovely pools, they deserve a mention - but journalists, there are another 100 or so that you're avoiding like a used sticking plaster in the shallow end. Whereas you should be all over them like a swimming towel on a deckchair.

So... take a deep breath... here's an alternative ten pools to swim in. And I suggest you wait until it DOES start raining, because swimming in the rain is amazing and you'll have them largely to yourself. I know. It's hard to believe - but some people don't want to get wet while they're, errr... getting wet.

1. Marbury Park, Cheshire.

This is an unheated, vintage gem in a garden that Monty Don would be proud to call his own. All you can hear is birdsong, the breeze in the trees and the gentle slop of the water. Punctuated, occasionally, by an almighty whoop and a splash - this pool has a springboard and a fixed diving platform; and they are unfettered by the shackles of bureacratic dos and don'ts. Oh, and there's a wedding cake fountain. Win win.


2. Moretonhampstead, Devon

The best things in life require timing, and planning. Moretonhampstead falls squarely into that camp. Limited opening hours, tucked away on Dartmoor where you need to allow for the tractor factor when planning jounrey times and with a disconcerting habit of closing when it rains you'll need to put in a little effort to catch Moretonhampstead. But it will be worth it. 25m of heated loveliness, with staff so friendly you'll want to take them home and keep them. The grounds are full of English country garden charm, there are floats and toys for the children to play with and the whole place is bathed in genteel tranquility

3. Hitchin, Hertfordshire

If, like me, you have barely heard of Hitchin, much less its staggeringly beautiful, heated 50m 1930s lido prepare to have your socks knocked off. This pool easily stands shoulder to shoulder with the other, more lauded, grand old ladies of the lido world. It is awash with period charm, with a side order of modern changing facilities and sunloungers that are free to use. The terraces are perfect for sunning yourself between swims, and the lido geeks can peer through the windows of the prettiest plant room I've come across and ogle at the filters. Oh - and if that isn't enough there's a lovely grassy area where you can spread out your towel, lay on your back and watch the birds above you.

4. Brightlingsea, Essex

The latest in a long line of pools now taken into community steardship by a town who didn't want to see their pool filled in Brightlingsea is the grecian blue jewel on a pretty, beach hut strewn seafront. It is large, unheated, accompanied by a paddling pool for the small people and an absolute suntrap. But when the sky is heavy with coastal weather systems, this pool is going to be dramatic. Lie on your back and watch the clouds scudding over, then roll over and watch the topsails of historic sailing vessels scudding out on the tide. 

5. Bourne, Lincolnshire

Lincolnshire has a handsome cluster of outdoor pools, and if you're travelling to swim at one you really should swim at the others too. You could camp at Jubilee Park, Woodhall Spa, and start your day with a swim in that beautiful pool and a wander around the rose garden. But I'm highlighting Bourne because it feels unlikely, for where it is. The town (sorry Bourne) lacks the picture postcard charm of Woodhall Spa, but the recreation ground and outdoor pool are a sliver of blue green perfection. The pool is vintage, the flower garden grounds immacculately tended and the love that goes into caring for this place oozes from every brick. It has some really unique period detailing in the geometric steps down into the tank, and any pool whose plant room bears a plaque boasting of how it was funded by the community is alright with me.  


6. Clyst Hydon, Devon

If Enid Blyton had written 5 Go Mad At A Lido it would undoubtedly have been set at Clyst Hydon. It survives in a tiny village, no more than a hamlet really, with barely enough parking tucked into the hedgerows to accommodate a dozen cars or so. Aside from basic outside toilets there are absolutely no mod cons. But that is precisely its charm. Approached up a leafy tunnel in the trees, set into banks of grass, cows grazing beyond and blessed with an old-fashoned steel water slide. Clyst Hydon is the secret garden of lidos. Pack the ox tongue sandwiches and lashings of ginger beer. 

7. Tropicana Warm Sea Pools, Newcastle, County Down

Lidos don't always have to be about serious swimming. Sometimes you just want your fix of toes dangling into heated seawater, whizzing down an elephant slide and penguins whose beaks squirt water. It's about the frivolity, the novelty, the garishly cheerful colours, the ice-cream, the nostalgia for childhood and the sheer unadulterated joy of finding a pool like this in a location you least expect it to be. 

8. Ware, Hertfordshire

Set in the grounds of a priory Ware oozes history, and offers a splendid view of the priory as you swim. But it's the view underwater that marks this pool out as special. The artwork painted on the inside of the tank is a unique, and heartening feature. Many pools, and artists, are beginning to appreciate and develop a working and mutually insprational relationship, but aside from at Ware the blank canvas that is the inside of the tank is often overlooked. Well worth a trip. 

9. Haltwhistle, Northumberland

England's most northerly pool dwells in a small community that punches well above its weight when it comes to outdoor swimming, The modern leisure centre boasts not one, but three heated outdoor pools; the largest is a 25m tank where the serious swimmers in the party can knock out a few miles while the young (and young at heart) can wear themselves out repeatedly riding the huge flume that sits alongside the pools. What's not to like?

10. Clevedon Marine Lake, Somerset 

Last, but not least, is a tidal pool that is, perhaps, the finest infinity pool the British Isles has to offer. Recently restored the 250m long tank boasts salt water lapping over a sea wall that offers stunning views over the Bristol Channel to Wales. In summer the temperatures can reach the low twenties, but throughout the year this lake is home to a vibrant community of swimmers. There are no facilities at all, aside from some poured concrete benches that are a welcome addition to Swimmer's Corner - at the Salthouse pub end of the lake. But with views like this, who cares. Pack a flask and a folding chair, and settle in for the day. 

So there. I've sold my soul to the list making devil. But I feel alright about it, because I know that these pools don't constitute any sort of top ten. They are simply ten out of the 120 or so diverse, fascinating and extraordinary pools that will feature in The Lido Guide. And what is a guide book if it isn't, really, just an enormous list. 

If you want a copy of that list - you know what to do. Pledge. It's that simple.


We know that working up a piece is hard, and that you look for inspiration in your research. If this post forms part of your research that's great, but if you want to use any of the photographs you need to ask our permission first. And if you want to quote us directly, and reference The Lido Guide, that'd be a nice way of acknowledging that our ten years of research has informed your own. Happy list making. 

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