If you were ever to have a staycation or come on holiday in the UK from abroad, this is the year to do it. The UK has everything you could possibly want to see or do, and this year we even have the weather. And before you say “But I like lounging by a pool – you can’t do that in Britain”, there are 127 UK lidos (outdoor pools).
UK lidos have featured in plenty of travel articles this year – as optimistically early on as April in The Independent. Putting in a regular appearance in UK “top lido” lists is Ilkley Lido in Yorkshire (pictured below), where my house is. It’s a gorgeous lido with acres of lawns to lie on whilst you gaze up at Ilkley Moor and the famous Cow and Calf rocks before having a dip to cool off. It was built in the 1930s and, whilst not as beautiful as some of the art deco UK lidos, the cafe is a testament to the era, remaining largely unchanged, and it should stay that way, as the lido, cafe and changing rooms are all Grade II listed. The Friends of Ilkley Lido say up to 4000 people pass through its doors on a sunny day.
Most UK lidos were built in the 1930s when people first saw the health benefits of outdoor pursuits, eagerly taking to activities such as hiking. The 1920s had seen the first women swim across the Channel (fifty years after the first man) and changing attitudes allowed women to wear suits that “changed bathing into swimming” (the advertising slogan of Jantzen swimsuits), and so swimming as a sport had taken off.
Bizarrely, many UK lidos were built by the sea and filled with salt water. The reason was that although bathing machines had ceased to be used (wheeled cabins that allowed bathers to get straight into the sea without publicly displaying their bathing attire), it was still considered indecent to be in bathing wear beyond the beach and councils insisted bathers used, and paid for, their changing cubicles or paid to erect their own tents. Bathing was also forbidden on occasions when the councils deemed the sea was too rough.
Since sea swimmers had to pay anyway, lidos became very popular as they were often cheaper and guaranteed to be open once you got to the seaside. They usually had the added attractions of fountains, slides and diving boards, and the water was constantly pumped out, cleaned, and pumped back in.
UK lidos were, of course, closed during the Second World War, and some didn’t reopen. Attendance dropped in the 1960s due to the accessibility of foreign shores and cheap package holidays, triggering a series of closures into the 1990s, including the lido in one of my nearby towns of Otley in 1993 (pictured above).
Otley is a lovely Yorkshire market town, famed for being home to furniture designer Chippendale, and the inventor of the Wharfedale Press which revolutionised printing. The lido is situated amongst the formal gardens and amenity space of Wharfemeadows Park along the picturesque banks of the River Wharfe. It’s now looking very sorry for itself, but the Friends of Otley Lido have plans not just to restore it, but to make it better than before with added facilities for the community. They held an Open Day last weekend to show their vision to the public, hear people’s memories of the old facilities, and obtain feedback on the new plans.
Fortunately many other historic UK lidos have already been saved or restored. Tinside Lido in Plymouth has been listed and restored, as has Saltdean Lido (pictured below) which was going to make way for a block of flats. Cornwall’s Jubilee Pool in Penzance, built in an unusual triangular shape to withstand the wind and waves, was also restored, saved from making way for a fun park.
Other UK lidos have been saved from closure by being maintained and run by volunteers such as Portishead, Hilsea and Stonehaven pools.
Why not support your nearest community’s effort and enjoy our Great British heritage and try one of the UK’s outdoor pools this summer?
How about the UK lido which is farthest North in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire? Or the UK’s highest heated outdoor pool in Shap, Cumbria at over 1,000ft above sea level? Or the UK’s deepest pool, Hilsea Pool in Portsmouth, Hampshire where Britain’s swimming team trained for the 1936 Berlin Olympics?
And don’t forget to take your Blue Flamingo scarf to protect you from the sun or sea breezes. My last blog looked at some inventive ways you can use my pure silk scarves as a cover-up. Here are some of my designs that remind me of a pool’s beautiful blue waters and the gold ribbons of the sun’s reflection.