6th August 2016

I travelled straight from Finchley Lido to Charlton, making the most of the sunshine and breaking up a journey to Kent. These pools are both run by the same operator, Better Leisure, but there the similarity ends. While Better clearly feels the outdoor pool at Finchley to be an afterthought there can be no doubt that it sees Charlton as a jewel in its crown.

And quite rightly so. Charlton is enormous, and while the only remnants of its vintage charm now visible from the outside is the brickwork of the perimeter walls a little more is visible inside, in the shape of the unusual wall mounted aeration fountains in the corners of the site beyond the shallow end and the unusal separation of changing and toilet facilities. There ends the nod to heritage, however. Charlton has been improved and renovated to within an inch of its life. The reception area is every inch the contemporary corporate welcome and there are hairdryers in the ladies’ changing room. Hairdryers that do not require an endless supply of 20p pieces, and that are capable of actually drying your hair. I nearly fell over at this very ‘un-lido’ state of affairs. But I am not complaining. Investing in a pool to make it attractive to swimmers, as well as the hot day occasional users, is no bad thing.

The pool tank is smart, big and well managed. The water is clean and heated to 25c. Even on the busy sunny Saturday I was there 4 lanes were in for swimmers, and enough room for me to do quite a bit of fly. The rest of the pool was divided for jumping and diving at the deep end, and bobbing about at the shallow end. The site must have been near full capacity, but there was an air of peaceful joy about the place and the lifeguards made the time to actually talk to the customers. One spent some time with a small boy who badly wanted to swim a whole length but was clearly a bit nervous and possibly quite new to actual swimming. A lifeguard walked the length with him, holding out a pole for him to grab if he needed it. He didn’t need it, and the smile on his face, at the end, was as brilliant as the sunshine. That lifeguard made a real difference to that lad, and it was a pleasure to watch when lifeguards can so often be seen sitting disinterested in their chairs and doing their best to avoid eye-contact with swimmers.

There is a smartly refurbished cafe on the roof of the reception / gym building. The food offering is as corporate and unimaginative as you might imagine but it is perfectly serviceable. I did long for a bit of home-made cake though, it would have flown off the counter I’m sure. The cafe is flanked by sun terraces. The members only terrace was very swish, furnished like the deck of a gin palace afloat off Cannes, and I thought this was a handsome way to reward your regulars. The public terrace was under-used, mysteriously, although I suppose the charge for the use of the sun loungers might have put people off as might be the requirement that you don’t eat your own food. That saddened me. The Lido Picnic is a great tradition in our house, and allowing people to bring their own sandwiches does make a family day out a lot more affordable. But I spent some time sitting up there in the sunshine after my swim, and I still liked it a lot. You feel a bit secluded and special, lifted above the hubbub of the pool.

I liked Charlton a lot, despite the corporate modernisation and maybe, even, a little bit because of it. We can’t preserve lidos in aspic if we want them to survive and thrive, and I’m glad to see Better Leisure investing in this pool.

I took the picture covertly, as Better Leisure’s ‘no photography’ policy is also in force here. I respected it at Finchley because the duty manager had tried his very best to be helpful about it. At Charlton the desk staff were simply not interested in helping about that at all. ‘Computer says no’ sort of thing. If anybody at Better Leisure wants to drop me a line to discuss why this picture might represent a child safeguarding issue I’ll be very happy to engage.

Pledge at for a copy of the first ever user guide to publicly accessible outdoor pools across the UK. A practical, beautiful and inspiring book telling you all you need to know to plan your own lido road trips.