There are few things more refreshing than an alfresco dip on a summer’s day – and there’s something about it that feels quintessentially British, too. It’s that sense of the outdoors, and hardiness, as you venture a toe into the bracing waters…
While some lidos are open throughout the year for hardy open-air swimmers, others are only open in summer, so it’s always worth checking online or phoning ahead for opening times – but in the meantime, here’s our regional pick.
Of course, in Bristol we’re lucky enough to have a lido very close by, tucked away in the heart of Clifton. The refurbished Victorian outdoor pool (pictured above) reopened in December 2008 and features a sauna, outdoor hot tub, steam room, spa treatments, bar and restaurant, complete with the exquisite fare of chef Freddy Bird and co, as well as a glass frontage, so that diners can look out over the peaceful pool action. It’s open throughout the year, with the water heated to 22-25°C – so not too shudder-worthy but certainly enough to wake you up. It’s largely a members-only spa (£58 a month), but non-members are welcome Monday to Friday between 1pm and 4pm, for £20 – which buys three hours’ use of the facilities. The lido combines contemporary chic with Victorian heritage – the poolside changing facilities comprising colourful striped curtains and wooden cubicles – and is very much an uber-stylish spot for grown-ups to relax and unwind in.
Portishead Open Air Pool is a 33m heated pool at the Lakegrounds in popular Portishead, with views of the Bristol Channel from its sun terraces. On a hot summer’s day, this is as near as we’ll get to the Riviera, as the sun sparkles on the pool and channel beyond. There’s a paddling pool for toddlers, a separate lane in the main area for serious swimmers, and after a few lengths, you can dry off on the steps. It’s a hot spot for unfurling and showing off your best swimwear, if you’ve a mind to, and there’s a new community-run cafe selling Fairtrade coffee and locally sourced sandwiches and snacks plus delicious homemade cakes. The pool was saved by an inspirational public appeal and hosts events including evening swims by moonlight – the next are on 20 August and 17 September and tickets will be available online through Eventbrite, or in advance at reception.
Wotton outdoor pool is 18m long by 6m wide, and the depths go from 1m to just over 2m. With the water heated to 28-30°C, it makes for a very pleasant swim indeed. A referendum was held in the town to save this popular community site and the townspeople voted overwhelmingly in favour of paying a little more council tax to keep it going. In colder weather, a retractable roof is pulled over the pool and then drawn back for open-air swimming when the weather is fine. There are separate male and female changing rooms, toilets and hot showers and a municipal car park close by.
Greenbank Pool was granted to the local people of Street thanks to a trust set up on behalf of a lady named Alice Clark, who wanted the village’s women and girls to be able to learn to swim. (The men already swam naked in the River Brue, apparently.) The pool opened in 1937 and still retains a lovely old-fashioned feel, with some of the reassuringly traditional rules remaining, such as no bombing, ducking or splashing. There’s a large main pool and a semi-circular children’s pool, both heated; a splash area with slide, fountains and water jets; and lawns for sunbathing; plus refreshments. The pool also has a small car park; or, as it’s ideally located opposite Clark’s Village, you can park in the pay-and-display there. The season ends on 11 September.
Given as a present to Lydney by the Bathurst family in 1920, Bathurst swimming pool is considered one of Gloucestershire’s best-kept secrets. This 38-metre outdoor pool (supervised by qualified lifeguards) in the Forest of Dean is run by volunteers and open during the summer. There’s a shop selling refreshments, an area for picnics and sunbathing plus toilets. Open daily until 3 September with free parking.
[divider]Farleigh & District Swimming Club[/divider]
Not strictly a lido, no, but this swimming club, founded in 1932, is one of the oldest wild swimming clubs in the country. It offers swimming in the silky waters of the River Frome at Farleigh Hungerford, with entry to the water just above an old stone weir. The waters get very deep (eight feet) quite quickly so people are advised only to swim when other swimmers are present. There’s also a wooden diving platform with ropes for the more daring to hurl themselves from; and plenty of parking in nearby meadows, as well as an open-air changing stall and Portaloo. You’ll also find space on the sloping field to picnic. Dogs are not permitted. Membership payable on arrival, if the gate is manned by a volunteer, and is £10 a year for adults.
Sandford Parks Lido, in the spa town of Cheltenham, was built in 1935 and is one of the largest outdoor swimming pools in the UK. It retains its quirky period charm with features such as a cascade fountain and slides, and has a 50m heated pool, heated to 21°C, where two lanes are reserved most days. The children’s pool also has a slide, paddling pool, playground and poolside café. Spread out your towels in four acres of gardens, or put up a parasol and enjoy a bite to eat. Also on site is play equipment, table tennis and basketball. There’s also a large car park and your admission ticket allows you to stay poolside all day. On 12 August, there’ll be an evening swim session for season ticket holders while on 10 September, there’s a Heritage Open Day.