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The 10 best British lidos to visit this summer

With pools now set to reopen following lockdown, we look at Great Britain's long love affair with outdoor swimming and celebrate 10 historic lidos — centrepieces of local communities for generations — that have survived to the present day. 

Tinside Lido on Plymouth Hoe, looking over Plymouth Sound. This fabulous Jazz Age complex commands great views and the round pool, stripey bottom and art deco fountain give it a unique shape and style.

Photograph by Alamy
Published 7 Jun 2021, 17:28 BST, Updated 24 Jun 2021, 15:31 BST

A delicious dip in water that's sometimes toasty, sometimes cool and sometimes absolutely freezing is a daily pleasure for so many of us. Outdoor swimming is firmly in vogue. Our most popular participation sport has waxed and waned though. When the great lidos of Britain were opened, mostly in the roaring 1920s and 30s, an outdoor dip was what everyone did. This was before all homes had bathrooms and cheap flights abroad were within everyone's grasp — it was a way to relax and socialise, and offered a taste of the exotic.

Somewhere between then and now we lost our love of lidos. Indoor pools, computer games, holidays abroad, council cutbacks — all manner of things conspired to push out our outdoor swimming pools, and so many were lost, like those in Birmingham and Barry and across London too, in Chiswick, Muswell Hill and Tottenham. Those that remain are cherished by their communities and regular swimmers. And some of those that closed down are making a comeback — like Grange in Cumbria.

For me, that time spent swimming every day is just the half of it — catching some sun, eating a slice of cake after your lengths, chatting with friendly fellow swimmers, escaping from the grind for an hour — these are all part of the lido's appeal. Exploring the different architecture (and temperatures) of Britain's varied outdoor pools inspired me to write a book, and in that book, I pondered something more primal too — how water reminds us of being babies, how a cleansing daily dip is something akin to religious immersion for the secular swimmer, how time in the water is immensely powerful as a mental self-help tool. As well as clear evidence for swimming's power to fight depression and anxiety, recent reports suggest cold water can even stave off dementia.

As lockdowns ease, along with memories of lidos being bolted shut, there's never been a better time to dive into the joys of an outdoor swimming pool.

At Peterborough Lido, there's lido-themed poetry etched on to the walls, pools for kids, a sun deck and pop music playing from speakers to buoy your spirits.

Photograph by Alamy

1. Peterborough Lido

Peterborough
Topped by a weathervane immortalising local legend Walter Cornelius, a Latvian immigrant who worked as a lifeguard and tried to fly across the River Nene using homemade wings, this huge 1936 complex is in sight of Peterborough's famous cathedral. Peterborough Lido features architecture that might remind the swimmer of a 1980s suburban Tesco. There's lido-themed poetry etched on to the walls, pools for kids, a sun deck and pop music playing from speakers to buoy your spirits. Standard entry: £5.40

2. Brockwell Lido

Herne Hill, London
Brockwell Lido was the inspiration for Libby Page's novel The Lido (2018). Page has sold the film rights, so keep your eyes open for a big screen version too. The wooden decking around the edge of the pool heaved in pre-Covid times with a vast array of south Londoners who use this place on the edge of pretty Brockwell Park in lieu of a beach when the weather's warm. The Lido Cafe, overlooking the water, is currently under the stewardship of acclaimed dough-throwing pizza purveyors 400 Rabbits. Try an evening swim to avoid the crowds. Standard entry: £8

Sandford Parks Lido in Cheltenham, where people have been coming to take the waters for centuries.

Photograph by Sandford Parks Lido, Callum Drummond

3. Sandford Parks Lido

Cheltenham
The Cotswolds spa town of Cheltenham is an obvious choice for a lido — people have been coming here to take the waters for centuries. The flamboyant lido in Sandford Parks was built in 1935 and has a huge fountain at one end. The pool is surrounded by swathes of grass, making it the perfect place for a swim and a sunbathing session when the English summer arrives. What’s more, the water is always a toasty 26C. Standard entry: £4.80

4. Stonehaven Lido

Aberdeen
Britain's most northerly lido is a real treat. A team of local volunteers and supporters saved it from closure and now they help out in running the place and serving in the little cafe. Photos depict the lido's storied history, and the North Sea is right outside in case you want to brave Stonehaven's beach and a sea dip after. A trip to the award-winning fish and chip shop next door, The Bay, might be more sensible though. Standard entry: £5.30

Read more: The celebrated seafood of Stonehaven, Scotland

Sitting on a rocky outcrop in Plymouth, jutting out into the sea, Tinside Lido ranks among the UK's most distinctive saltwater swimming pools.

Photograph by Alamy

5. Tinside Lido

Plymouth
Plymouth's famous lido sits on a rocky outcrop jutting out into the sea. This fabulous 1930s complex commands great views and the round pool, stripey bottom and art deco fountain give it a unique shape and style. Unlike many lidos, Tinside is filled with sea water. There's Tinside Beach next door if you want to swim in Plymouth Sound too, and don’t miss The Box, a recently opened museum and gallery, which includes a newly commissioned Anthony Gormley sculpture across from the lido on West Hoe. Standard entry: £5

6. Lido Ponty

Rhondda Cynon Taf
Pontypridd's pleasing lido was a firm fixture with South Wales swimmers for years after its 1927 opening. Tastes changed, however, and by 1991 the Grade II-listed site had shut down. It lay derelict through the 1990s — but a determined community of locals and swimmers never gave up hope. Their tenacity was rewarded in 2015 when it reopened after extensive repairs totalling £6.3m. Now, it has the grand title of 'National Lido of Wales', which is surely something to shout about. Standard entry: £2 

Parliament Hill Lido, Hampstead, London.

Photograph by Charlotte Bland

7. Parliament Hill Lido

Hampstead, London
Parliament Hill Lido is unheated — yet is open 365 days of the year. Yes, if you want a Christmas Day dip and can stand the cold, this one’s for you. In summer, it's a refreshing escape from sizzling city heat. Built to a sturdy and simple brick design, there are reminders of its history everywhere, like cuttings from the local newspaper about its opening in 1938. The silver-lined pool tank gives it a somewhat glamorous, sparkly air and its location on Hampstead Heath means you can combine a visit with a stroll in one of London's wildest walking spots. Standard entry: £4.05

8. Jesus Green Lido

Cambridge
Britain's longest lido is a lovely trip back in time. Dating from 1923, it’s older than many others in the UK and plenty of historic details remain — the wooden changing room blocks, for example, are like a time machine. Situated right next to the River Cam, its unusually long length is supposed to ape the feeling of swimming in the river, something that used to be very popular among both locals and students in years gone by. Standard entry: £5

Hathersage's historic swimming pool has quaint features like a bandstand and a retro solarium.

Photograph by Alamy

9. Hathersage Swimming Pool

Derbyshire
A day out walking in the Peak District can be combined with a trip to this eccentric little lido in a tiny Derbyshire village with ease — little Hathersage has its own station on the Manchester to Sheffield Line. George Lawrence made a fortune manufacturing razor blades and gifted this outdoor pool to the locals. Its quaint touches include a bandstand where there are regular concerts and a retro solarium. Standard entry: £7

10. Droitwich Lido

Worcestershire
Like so many British lidos, Droitwich fell on hard times and closed in 2000. But the recent resurgence in outdoor swimming and love for our historic lidos won out at this Worcestershire gem. Droitwich Spa was famed in Victorian times for its waters and their health benefits and today the lido is still supplied with that salty brine, just as it was when it first opened back in 1935. The charming arts and crafts architecture sets off the pool, helping make this a real English country day out. Standard entry: £7

Lido: A dip into outdoor swimming pools: the history, design and people behind them (2020)

Photograph by Batsford

Christopher Beanland is a journalist and the author of Lido: A dip into outdoor swimming pools: the history, design and people behind them, published by Batsford (2020)

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