This month our columnist Martin Dorey is thinking about heavenly swimming in the tipping rain, as he explores some of the UK’s lidos…
Earlier this year I left Cornwall and schlepped to Scotland to work on updates for one of my books. As part of this trip I made it my business to swim in Scotland’s three heated outdoor pools; at New Cumnock, Stonehaven and Gourock. On the way I took another detour into the Peak District to swim at Hathersage’s delightful lido.
Going to Hathersage was a proper English day out. The pool feels timeless, like it has been there forever (it was built in the 1930s). Its bandstand adds an air of genteel expectation, as if the brass section could count time for me as I swam, thinking of strong Yorkshire tea and Victoria sponge.
By contrast, the pool at New Cumnock, a small town in Dumfries and Galloway, is altogether newer and with an overexcited feel about it. It re-opened in 2017 after a revamp and is well loved. We turned up for a very busy session with little hope of swimming lengths. The water temperature and coloured changing room doors made it a jolly potter-in-the-drizzle kind of a session.
In Stonehaven, 15 miles south of Aberdeen, we swam lengths of the 50m pool accompanied by three other swimmers and six lifeguards. I have never felt safer and loved swimming in the warm, silky salt water while the rain soaked everything else – lifeguards included. The lengths slipped by as I stroked my way past each pair of closely watching eyes.
The final dip, at Gourock near Glasgow, beat them all. The heated saltwater pool is 33m long and enjoys amazing views over the Firth of Clyde and the Trossachs beyond. Swimming in it, on a windy day with intermittent showers, was glorious.
So why tell you all this? Well, as this magazine plops onto your doormat, October will be approaching with all the gusto of a summer squall. Here on the Cornish coast it means wild storms – they seem to be getting more furious each year – are just around the corner.
Sea temperatures might still be warm in September, but by October they will be dropping. Swims at home in Bude’s heavenly 90m (unheated) tidal pool will become less appealing with each south-westerly blow. But go we must, even if it means wearing neoprene, because these places are vital to our community, and we must support them.
Inland lidos like Hathersage are just as important for landlocked communities as they are for coastal towns where rips and dangerous surf make open water bathing unsafe for much of the year. They are a lifeline, a place to meet, to learn, to compete and to have fun.
This year, while I have been unable to surf due to a serious knee injury (I broke my ACL in January), Bude Sea Pool has enabled me to stay connected with the water, becoming my go to when I wasn’t travelling. Without it I would have been lost.
So here’s to the coming of winter and those cool autumn days, when the wind whips across the Atlantic and the hardy dippers strip to the sound of crashing surf with a stoic smile and a quick morning chat. Simple things that can make your day.
Oh, and one last thing: please don’t wear your changing robe to the shops. It’s not a coat.
For more columns by Martin Dorey, check out how he talks beach safety.