CIRENCESTER OPEN AIR POOL

July 31st 2016

Change is all around me at the moment. I’m not, generally, the sort of person who is averse to change and it’s not uncommon for me to actively seek it. It usually leads to discoveries that can be valuable, even if the transition period is uncomfortable. Some of the change around me at present is about things I can’t control and some of it I’ve chosen, albeit in a rock and a hard place kind of way. I’m not enjoying any of it, so I’m having to work particularly hard to remember that good things can come from change.

Cirencester is a volunteer run spring water pool, in the achingly beautiful heart of the Cotswolds, and it is a pool in the throes of change. Fiona and I took a wee while to work out how to get to the pool. We parked on Cecily Hill, opposite the castellated Cotswold stone former barracks, in the shadow of wisteria clad cottages so beautiful that my wallet immediately began to weep from the sure and certain knowledge that it will never contain enough to live somewhere so spectacular. We could hear the pool, and when we peeped round the back of the barracks we could see it. The water was bright and inviting against the tastefully muted colour of the town. To our left stood an imposing country park carriageway, flanked by amongst the tallest trees I have ever seen. The park was open to the public, by grace and favour of the land owner, but it seemed to hold little hope of transporting us to the pool. So we turned down Cecily Hill itself, feeling incongruously French with its blue enamel street sign. Fiona and I are navigators enough to have worked out that keeping turning left would deliver us to the pool and sure enough we soon saw what must be the most handsome pool sign I have ever seen directing us down the river walk.

Having stalked our quarry we pounced through the gate to be greeted by a friendly and efficient volunteer who took our very reasonable entry fee, marked us in on a sheet of paper and offered a lot of help over the issue of whether we could take photographs. It’s always wise to check if you want to use a camera, given that the photography policies of outdoor pools are as diverse as the pools themselves. Cirencester, I was delighted to learn, has a very common sense approach which boils down to ‘go for it, but don’t get in anybody’s face’. I did wonder what the volunteer running the admission desk does when it rains. The folding table set up on the flags is doubtless a joy in the sunshine but when the weather is vile it must feel like a cruel and unusual punishment for doing such a valuable job.

Earlier this year Cirencester pool opened new and improved changing facilities that really do feel very plush, although making sure you’ve got some coins for the shower is advised if you like a sluice down after a swim. This is phase one of works to reinvigorate the pool and preserve it for the future, and the plans look very sensitive to the unique setting of this pool. The barrack building is clearly visible from the pool area, and it has the look of a pretty medieval castle standing guard over the old stone wall. As views go, when swimming, this one is a peach and the tuck shop has some lovely cards of a water colour that a local artist has produced of that view. The pool itself is heated, the water is as fresh as you’d expect of a spring water pool and I hope that the charming original coping stones aren’t lost as part of the renovations. Swimmers of all ages were enjoying the two pools, the toddler pool was full of floats and toys and when the slide in the main pool was open the shrieks of joy must have been audible in the next county. There were copious benches for picnicking, plenty of space for sunbathing and while Fiona and I restrained ourselves and just had a coffee the pasta available from the tuck shop looked to be an enormous hit.

I was greatly touched by the commemorative plaques, set into the stone wall, dedicated to people who have given much time and commitment to the pool. I was equally moved by the enthusiasm of the volunteers I met who all showed such a passion for thinking about how to do things to improve and sustain this little blue jewel.

I loved Cirencester pool. It reminded me that beautiful things can be found around unexpected corners, and that a little time spent looking is often rewarded. It also reminded me that change doesn’t have to be painful, and embracing it can ease the transition. I went away feeling a little lighter of heart.

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