Travel

10 of Britain’s best outdoor pools in the countryside


There have been some benefits to a worldwide pandemic. There was the farmer who grumbled to me that he was having to douse his fields with extra minerals because, in his words: “We’re just not getting the air pollution we used to.” And then there’s all the people who have taken up cold-water swimming, no doubt hoping to boost their immune systems (the evidence remains equivocal: this academic paper is worth reading).

I’ll own up here: I did wild swim every day until early December, when the water temperature was 2C, and then one day, in a downpour of freezing rain and a moment of deep personal insight, I realised how much I like warm water. Many others, made of sterner stuff, have kept it going, but now with lockdown easing there is the chance to swim outdoors in beautiful countryside without being chased by dragonflies, standing in sheep poo or swallowing algae (all things I experienced before retiring).

The heyday of British lidos was the 1920s and 30s, when vast crowds would go for the day and enjoy competitions and shows, most famously Roy Fransen’s Dive of Death, usually performed after dark with the water alight with petrol and Roy himself, in a silver suit, also ablaze. I guess he didn’t like cold water either, but many of this selection are actually heated.

From the 1960s many lidos closed and those that remain today have generally been saved by determined community action. There are many gems around Britain where you can enjoy an open-air swim in clean water with changing facilities and still be in the countryside.

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Hathersage Swimming Pool, Peak District

A woman swims at Hathersage outdoor swimming pool
Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

Many large towns would envy Hathersage (population 2,000) its 30-metre outdoor pool, built in 1936 with funds from local philanthropist George Lawrence (and recently refurbished). Views extend out north-east towards Stanage Edge, one of Britain’s premier rock-climbing venues. As it is open until 9pm (Mon-Thur), where better to unwind after conquering rock classics like High Neb and Marble Wall? The water is maintained at 28C and there are hot showers.
Opened 29 March, £7 adults (tickets go on sale online every Friday for the following week), cafe, picnic in the park next door, hathersageswimmingpool.co.uk

Sandford Parks Lido, Cheltenham

Sandford Parks Lido, Cheltenham
Photograph: James O Davies/Historic England/PA

Another of the classic 1930s generation of lidos, Sandford’s 50-metre pool was saved and refurbished in 2006 after much campaigning by local people. It boasts a fine setting for an open-air swim, with extensive lawns backed by mature trees. The main pool is heated to 25C and there’s a 30C children’s pool, an impressive fountain and changing facilities.
Opens 1 May, £7, cafe, picnic on lawn, sandfordparkslido.org.uk

Droitwich Spa Lido, Worcestershire

The Lido, Droitwich
Photograph: Colin Underhill/Alamy

Yearning for the Cote d’Azur or the islands of the Adriatic? Well, Droitwich Spa could provide the answer. This lido is a rare thing indeed: an inland saltwater pool that is heated to the same temperature as the Mediterranean, 23C, and surrounded by lovely parkland. Droitwich stands on vast deposits of salt, hence the natural brine which is pumped in every year – 40,000 gallons of it. Built in 1935 in an art deco style, it has a children’s wet play area with fountains and cannons and a sun terrace.
Opens 1 May, £6, cafe, picnic on the lawns, visitdroitwichspa.com

Pells Pool, Lewes, East Sussex

Pells Pool, the oldest freshwater outdoor public swimming pool in the UK
Photograph: Scott Ramsey/Alamy

This is the grand old original of all open-water pools: opened in 1861 as a 50-yard-long unheated pool long before the days front crawl caught on (two Native American swimmers, Flying Gull and Tobacco, had defeated the English in an 1844 swimming competition held in London but the British refused to adopt the stroke for another half century, deeming it ungentlemanly). Surrounded by lawns, trees, and a flint wall, the pool is a lovely place in the South Downs to spend a day with a picnic. Warm showers await once you’ve emerged from the unheated pool, which uses water from chalk aquifers.
Aiming to open 8 May, from £3, cafe, picnic on the lawns, pellspool.org.uk

Chagford Pool, Devon

Fed by water from the River Teign, this 1933 classic in the north of the Dartmoor national park is well worth visiting. The original mud bottom and high diving boards are long gone, but the site is little changed in other respects: surrounded by trees with a tea shed for refreshments. The water is heated to a balmy 26C and is UV-treated with minimal chlorination.
Limited opening from 7 June, admission price tbc, cafe, picnic tables, chagfordpool.co.uk

Helmsley Open Air Pool, North York Moors

North of England lidos and outdoor pools are in short supply these days, so it’s good to include this little North Yorkshire treasure – actually Yorkshire’s only heated outdoor pool. The 25-metre pool is set in lovely gardens in the village of Helmsley, itself an excellent base for exploring the North York Moors national park. Run by an enthusiastic team, it often has events such as night-time swims and various classes.
Aiming to open on 21 June, £5, cafe in the village, picnic tables, helmsleyopenairpool.org

Ilkley Lido, West Yorkshire

Summer weather July 27th 2018Olivia Batty enjoys swimming in the sun at Ilkley Lido in Yorkshire as the heatwave continues in parts of the UK. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday July 27, 2018. See PA story WEATHER Hot. Photo credit should read: Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

In 1935, the town of Ilkley did something magnificent: it opened a lido with moorland views which was 46 metres wide and shaped something like a mushroom. It had diving boards and slides, and to get things rolling they awarded a prize for the “smartest and neatest modern bathing costume”. Sadly, the diving boards and slides have gone, but this unheated lido keeps going, with the help of volunteers. As with most lidos, on a hot summer’s day it can get very busy.
Expected to open in June, £4.80, cafe, picnic on lawns, bradford.gov.uk

Gourock Pool, near Greenock, Scottish lowlands

Ryan Robertson relaxes by Gourock Outdoor Pool in Scotland as the hot weather continues.
Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

Lidos and outdoor pools are not common in Scotland, which makes Gourock particularly special. It boasts a superb sea view across the Firth of Clyde to the hills of Argyll, but more importantly, especially on a chilly day, this saltwater pool is heated to a generous 29C. It is the perfect place to idle away an hour or so while awaiting a ferry across to Dunoon or to watch giant ships sailing past. Legend has it that a basking shark was once swept up into the pool by a giant wave and landed next to a swimmer. There is also a monster in Loch Ness.
Opening date and admission price tbc, inverclydeleisure.com

Shap Pool, Cumbria

Eager for a bit of high altitude crawl? Forget the Himalayas, England has its own option at almost 1,000 feet. This volunteer-run, 16.5-metre pool is heated to a civilised 26C and has a children’s pool and sandpit too.
Opening tbc, £5, picnic tables, shapswimmingpool.co.uk

Green Bank Pool, Street, Somerset

This beauty is in the large village of Street, but surrounded by lawns and trees, it feels pleasantly rural. Unfortunately it will not be opening until 2022 because of the pandemic, but it’s definitely one to visit when it does reopen. The pool was built in 1937 after a bequest from one of the Clark family – as in the shoe dynasty – who thought the workers deserved a swim after work. And we are not talking “cold water is good for you” dips: Greenbank maintains a tropical 30C regime. You won’t see Wim Hof diving in here – he’d get heatstroke.
Reopening 2022, £5, cafe, picnic on lawns, on Facebook



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