HAMPTON POOL, LONDON

A guest post from Sarah Thelwall @indianabrambles

Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it …

Thus if one keeps on walking, every thing will be all right.

Soren Kirkegaard, 1847

Rowing, swimming, sailing — I collect water related activities like others collect stamps, planes or old bottles. They are part of a wider collection of experiences in liminal places (markets, fairgrounds, junk shops). I find them full of possibility, opportunity and yet places where real life is suspended and I can just be in the moment.

I used to drive past Hampton outdoor pool daily on my way home from work and when I eventually turned into the car park at some point in the second half of the 1990’s I discovered the blue delight that is a quiet Friday evening wind-down swim in an almost empty pool whilst most people have gone to the pub. Add to that the steam rising in winter (the pool is 82 degrees all year round), the underwater lighting in the pool and the footsteps in the snow from changing room to steps and who would not be entranced?

It can’t be said that I’m any great shakes as a swimmer; picking the middle lane challenges me to keep up with the faster swimmers so as not to be overtaken every few lengths. I’ve made the odd foray into the fast lane but mostly I leave the triathletes alone. On lazy days I survey the state of the slow lane but it mostly contains either swimming lessons or admirable but slow octagenarians and I’d lap both of those in a way that would undoubtedly annoy all concerned.

In the summer of 2013 my diary had more space in it than I was enjoying as Mum died that February and I’d scaled back my consulting to spend time with my Dad, brother and his family in those first few months of intense grief. So I needed something that wasn’t work but that took me out of the house and gave me a goal. I find swimming to be meditative in its repetitive structure. Whilst I can think and swim I mostly don’t and instead just focus on the detail of each stroke — ten lengths focusing on my kick, another ten focusing on my breathing etc etc

So as a summer time activity to get me out of the house I started going on jaunts to lidos I knew of already — Parliament Hill, the Oasis, Brockwell, Tooting and a few in Yorkshire near Dad such as Ilkley, Helmsley, Hathersage. After a while I discovered the www.wildswim.com map and used this to combine my work trips around the country with swimming opportunities. In that first summer I swam in 18 lidos and roped in half a dozen friends. Do a book they said. Do a blog please. Are you taking photographs? As often happens with projects the second year achieved somewhat less … perhaps only a dozen or so … but enough to carry me over the hump and make sure that the whole thing really did become a goal to swim in every lido in the UK. I bought an old map and a box of stick pins. The latter fall out every now and again but it is a good visual summary. I’ve done the most northerly (Stonehaven near Aberdeen), the one at highest altitude (Shap), the oldest (Pells Pool) and the longest (either Jesus Green Cambridge or Tooting but either way I’ve done both) and the most luxurious (Clifton).

Summer number three was pretty good. I reached fifty if you count ones like Tynemouth that you can’t swim in and if you count seapools and tidal pools (I didn’t to start with, I do now). Now in the fourth summer I have added a piece of string to the map so that I can see that I’ve done all the lidos north of Market Drayton and Jubilee Park and all those east of Gillingham. I’ve started to meet others who are on a journey to swim in them all as well as take friends with me and meet lido enthusiasts. The best swim of the season has been at Brightlingsea where I met the legendary Sally Wainman who has been campaigning for over 15 years to restore Broomhill lido. Along the way I’ve taken the opportunity for some international outdoor swims — Cuba has some great pools mostly attached to hotels, Le Sporting in Beirut is a local institution. I first swam there in November 2011 and had it practically to myself as for locals it was a bit chilly. I swim there every time I go to Beirut and make a point of dining in the excellent fish restaurant afterwards. I’m dying to swim in the five harbor pools in Copenhagen and in the underground and surface level pools at Salina Turda. The tidal pool under the harbour bridge in Sydney is great, the one on Bribie island is a gem. I suppose what all this says is that whilst swimming in every UK lido is the short term goal this project will just keep expanding!

Pledge at https://unbound.com/books/lidoguide 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.