The 50 Best swimming pools
From Olympic lanes and local baths to luxury spas and secluded streams, Rhiannon Batten finds the hottest spots to cool off in this summer
Friday 27 July 2012
This week's panel:
Dan Graham is managing director of wild swimming holiday company Gone Swimming (goneswimming.co.uk)
Juliet Kinsman is editor-in-chief of Mr & Mrs Smith (mrandmrssmith.com)
Kate McKnight is head of facilities development at the ASA (swimming.org)
Daniel Start is the author of several books about wild swimming. His the latest is Wild Swimming France (wildswimming.co.uk)
Tim Taylor is an artist whose projects have included swimming the 14 pools of Edinburgh on Midsummers' Day (timgtaylor.com)
The three freshwater ponds on Hampstead Heath, also known as Highgate Ponds, are recommended by Daniel. "Originally built to collect spring water, which was channelled down to the city in a series of hollow elm pipes", today they see service as mixed, ladies' and men's ponds. The ladies' is the most beautiful and secluded.
Hampstead Heath, London, N6
"Cliveden's outdoor pool is pretty darned special," says Juliet. "Not just because you're hidden away amid glorious rolling National Trust scenery but because you'll also be splashing about where John Profumo first laid eyes on Christine Keeler". If you book Spring Cottage, sold as a secluded luxury suite in the grounds of this stately home and hotel, you can also take a dip in the Thames.
Taplow, Berkshire, SL6 0JF (01628 668561; clivedenhouse.co.uk)
London Aquatics Centre
Described by Kate as a "breathtaking 2012 Olympics venue, designed by Zaha Hadid and inspired by the fluid geometry of water in motion," this three-pool facility has "an undulating roof that sweeps from the ground like a wave". The catch? It won't open to the public for swimming until 2014.
Olympic Park, London, E20 2ST (ind.pn/L5DZF7)
Lymington Sea Water Baths
Tim says this is "an ideal location to swim off the effects of a riotous party," this "enormous" outdoor pool, overlooking the Solent, was built in 1833 and is the oldest lido in the UK.
Bath Road, Lymington, Hampshire, SO41 3RU (01590 678882; lymingtonseawaterbaths.org.uk)
It may be a predictable choice, says Dan, but this swimming area, part of Hyde Park's Serpentine lake, plays host to "a unique and wonderful community of swimmers and is quite unlike any other swimming venue in the capital". Public swimming is possible here from May to September, or you can join the Serpentine Swimming Club (serpentineswimmingclub.com) and use it all year round.
Hyde Park, London, W2 2UH (0207 706 3422)
The Anchor Inn
For Daniel the river Ouse, which winds through the Sussex Downs, is one of the most beautiful spots in the southeast. "Picnic at Barcombe Mills, in open meadows, or head upstream to the riverside Anchor Inn," he advises. At the latter "you can hire one of its fleet of blue paddle boats and row, or swim, for more than two miles through remote countryside".
Anchor Lane, Barcombe, Lewes, East Sussex, BN8 5EA (01273 400414; anchorinnandboating.co.uk)
"I'm not big on gentleman's clubs," admits Tim, "but this is a wonderful hidden pool in London". Open to members only, it is "marble lined, and in the Grecian style, and I have been dreaming of swimming here since reading the remarkable Haunts of the Black Masseur – The Swimmer as Hero by Charles Sprawson".
89 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5HS (020 7930 2345; royalautomobileclub.co.uk)
The rooftop pool at Shoreditch House is open to both members and to guests booking one of its hotel rooms. Juliet recommends a visit "for the full see-and-be-seen experience – although you need to be fairly confident in that swimwear when you're likely to be flanked by models and film directors."
Ebor Street, Shoreditch, London, E1 6AW (020 7739 5040; shoreditchhouse.com)
The pool at this five-star hotel in Ascot "is rather special", says Juliet. How so? "It's amethyst coloured and comes with underwater music." At 18 metres it's also pretty lengthy for a hotel pool. A great range of organic beauty treatments is available in the adjacent spa.
Blacknest Road, Ascot, Berkshire, SL5 7SE (01344 876600; coworthpark.com)
With its views of Hyde Park, the outdoor, rooftop pool at this luxury Knightsbridge hotel has always been a popular swimming spot in the capital for those in the know. It's set to become a little busier this summer, however, with weekly synchronised swimming classes running throughout July and August. The 90-minute classes cost £125 per person but, if you're not a fan of noseclips and floral swimming caps, non-guests can pay £45 for a half-day health club membership that includes the use of the pool.
Wilton Place, London, SW1X 7RL (020 7201 1699; the-berkeley.co.uk)
This outdoor pool opened in 1850 but was revamped in 2008 as a smart modern facility, complete with restaurant. Recommended by Juliet, though often too busy for lane swimming, it's a great place for relaxing, with several imaginative packages; one of the most popular is a £25 deal where you get a swim, use of the steam room and sauna and a posh two-course breakfast.
Oakfield Place, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 2BJ (0117 933 9530; lidobristol.com)
Thermae Bath Spa
Forty-two different minerals flow into these natural thermal springs," says Dan. Exploited by the Celts, Romans, Saxons and Georgians, they've now been transformed into a 21st-century spa complex. "It's indulgent, luxuriant, and has spectacular views (from the rooftop pool), so arrive early or expect long queues in the tourist season," he adds.
The Hetling Pump Room, Hot Bath Street, Bath, BA1 1SJ (01225 331234; thermaebathspa.com)
"The Stour, in Dorset, is one of England's best rural rivers," says Daniel. "At Pamphill it opens up in wonderful, wide meanders with a deep ford and a bridge. Float downstream for miles on the sun-dappled current as fronds of water buttercup tickle your toes."
To get there, follow the path upstream from the small car park outside Pamphill village, west of Wimbourne Minster (grid ref: ST 996001)
"This chic eco hotel has an indoor pool but it's the natural swimming pool outdoors that is really special," says Juliet. Perched on the clifftop, overlooking Mawgan Porth beach, it's filtered by reeds rather than pumped with chlorine.
Tredragon Road, Mawgan Porth, Cornwall, TR8 4DQ (01637 861800; scarlethotel.co.uk)
If you're after river pools, sandy bays, oak gorges and towering tors, aim for the Dart, in Dartmoor, says Daniel. "It's one of the most beautiful wild-swimming rivers in the UK". Take a dip around Newbridge, a medieval bridge, as "dense woodland tumbles down the side of the moor".
Between Ashburton and Poundsgate in Devon, on a continuation of the B3357
A favourite with Kate, this Grade II-listed Art Deco saltwater lido boasts stunning views across Plymouth Sound. "A really lovely day out can be had here, with fountains, inflatable fun sessions, a sunbathing terrace, even wetsuit hire for those who may be more sensitive to the natural water temperature," she says. It's open throughout the summer.
Tinside Pool, Hoe Road, Plymouth, Devon, PL1 3DE (01752 261915; everyoneactive.com)
A local institution, this freshwater lido was dug by locals in the 1930s and is fed by a small stream diverted from Dart. Refurbished in 2000 it now boasts solar covers that help maintain a decent temperature throughout its summer season, sometimes up to a balmy 25C.
Rushford, Chagford, Devon, TQ13 8DA (01647 432929; chagfordpool.co.uk)
Midlands & East
If you want to swim in original Art-Deco surroundings you're normally looking at lidos. Mounts Baths, however, is an exception to the rule. Built in 1931, on the site of a former prison, its sweeping pillars and tiled Turkish hot rooms make a very atmospheric setting for a dip.
Upper Mounts, Northampton, NN1 3DN (northampton.gov.uk/mountsbaths)
King Lear's Lake
Rutland Water bathing beach is an ongoing project to give swimmers' access to this spectacular reservoir, says Dan. Unfortunately, recent drought conditions have seen its opening put back until 2013. Until then he suggests taking a dip at this lake, one of several at nearby Watermead Country Park. "A lovely spot that's popular with anglers and windsurfers, there's plenty of wildlife to enjoy as well".
Watermead Country Park, Wanlip Road, near Syston, Leicestershire, LE7 1PD (0116 305 5000)
Basildon Sporting Village
"The Japanese Olympic swimming team did their pre-London 2012 training at this wonderful new facility, which boasts a 50m pool," says Kate. "It opened in 2011, with the promise of becoming the best sports and leisure facility in the East of England," and is living up to expectations.
Cranes Farm Road, Basildon, Essex, SS14 3GR (01268 722450; everyoneactive.com)
"Take tea in Grantchester and enjoy a length of river that has changed little since Edwardian times," says Daniel. "It was here that Rupert Brooke, Virginia Woolfe and others gathered to camp, picnic and swim naked. Anywhere along the meadows is good for swimming, particularly on the outside of the bends where the river deepens. Lay down your picnic blanket, pour cream on your strawberries and soak up the bygone atmosphere."
The Orchard Tea Garden, 45-47 Mill Way, Grantchester, Cambridgeshire, CB3 9ND (01223 551125; orchard-grantchester.com)
Selected by the British Olympic Association as the official preparation camp HQ for Team GB prior to London 2012, "during a dip here there's every chance of bumping into swimming stars such as Liam Tancock, Jo Jackson or Fran Halsall," says Kate.
Loughborough University, Epinal Way, Loughborough, LE11 3TT (01509 226200; ind.pn/Jj8rei)
As you would expect of a contemporary country house hotel, Cowley Manor has a memorable pool – a chic, angular outdoor puddle of water in this case. "Part of the hotel's C-side spa, if you book a treatment you can hang out there," says Juliet. The closest the Cotswolds gets to a Schrager hotel experience, from 5.30pm the poolside area becomes a chillout space, complete with bar and waiter service.
Cowley, Gloucestershire, GL53 9NL (01242 870900; cowleymanor.com)
Moseley Road Baths
Re-opened in April after repairs, the oldest Grade II listed swimming baths in the country (they originally opened in 1907) are as popular with local swimmers as they are with architectural tourists. An even bigger restoration is in the pipeline so go now before the next round of building work begins.
Moseley Road, Balsall Heath, Birmingham, B12 9BX (0121 464 0150; moseleyroadbaths.co.uk)
Southend Leisure Centre
With its 25m competition pool, and world-class diving facilities, this is one of the best swimming pools in Europe, according to Kate. After your dip head down to the town's waterfront for a walk on the pier, an ice cream from Rossi's and, if you're up for it, a second session in the sea.
Eastern Avenue, Southend on Sea, Essex, SS2 4FA (01702 613000; leisurecentre.com)
Jesus Green Swimming Pool
"Opened in 1923, this is one of the few remaining lidos that were built across the country in the 1920s and it retains traditions such as basket storage for clothes," says Kate. "Open for public bathing from May to September, it's among the longest outdoor pools in Europe, at 91m long".
Off Chesterton Road, Cambridge, CB4 3BD 01223 302579; ind.pn/JiyhWp)
Corby East Midlands International Pool
"Used as a pre-Olympic training camp this pool provides activities for all ages and abilities," says Kate. With a 50m pool, 20m learner pool and fun pool, swimming, water polo and diving are all possible, she adds.
Parkland Gateway, George Street, Corby, Northants NN17 1QG (01536 464643; corby.gov.uk/corbypool)
Manchester Aquatic Centre
Described by Kate as "one of the biggest and best swimming facilities in the country," this pool was built for the 2002 Commonwealth Games but "is now used extensively by the local community".
2 Booth Street East, Ardwick, Manchester, M13 9SS (0161 275 9450; ind.pn/KgR9je)
"The Esk is a delightful mountain stream that tumbles down from England's highest mountain peak – Scafell Pike," says Daniel. Tongue Pot is the most beautiful of the many pools along it, he adds. "Just beneath Lingcove packhorse bridge, in a rocky cleft about an hour's walk from the road, a long emerald pool has formed beneath a waterfall at the meeting of two rivers. A white pebble beach shelves down on one side and an oak tree overhangs it."
From the car park at the foot of Hardknott Pass follow the riverside path up through Brotherilkild Farm and two miles up the valley until you reach the old packhorse bridge
Described by Dan as "an idyllic lake in the Cheshire countryside", entry to the water here is via a small beach area. "It's shared with anglers so swimmers are asked to stick to a central area, out of harm's way. With a very hospitable pub right next to it, Hatchmere is perfect for an evening dip, followed by a warming drink".
The Carriers Inn, Delamere Road, Hatchmere, Cheshire, WA6 6NL (01928 787877; thecarriersinn.com)
Hike upstream, following the brook that runs through the village of Hutton-le-Hole, and you'll come to pools, smooth rock slides and small, secluded picnicking areas amongst bracken sheltered banks. "These brackish brown waters were a childhood summertime idyll for me," says Tim.
Around 30 minutes' walk north of Hutton-le-Hole, North Yorkshire
"On the edge of the Cheviots, the legendary Linhope Spout is a high shoot that falls into a perfect round plunge pool renowned for its unfathomable depth," says Daniel. "There's a six-foot ledge from which you can jump, though the most daring climb ever higher. Complete a thorough reconnaissance beforehand, including of water depth and obstructions, then clear your mind and step out."
To get there Daniel suggests following this three-mile walk from Hartside: northumberland-walks.co.uk/linhope-spout
Tim learnt to swim in this "unassuming" 25m pool and has "happy memories of being submerged in the deep end, looking for gold with my brother". It has pool fun sessions, aqua aerobics, therapy swimming and baby and pre-school lessons.
Mill Lane, Pickering, North Yorkshire, YO18 8DJ (01751 473351; communityleisure.org)
Juliet recommends "the stunning 20m, ozone-cleansed pool" at this hotel and spa. With a sculpture in its centre and steps where you'd want to turn, it hasn't been designed for lap-lovers. For a quick pre- or post-massage dip, though, there's plenty of space for all.
Lord Byron's Walk, Seaham, County Durham, SR7 7AG (01915 161400; seaham-hall.co.uk)
"The River Wharfe is one the most popular swimming rivers in Britain," says Daniel. For good places to swim along its length, he recommends "Grassington, Burnsall and Appletreewick – delightful little villages famous for their grassy meadows and wonderful river pools".
Wharfedale is easily approached from Skipton in the south or Harrogate and Ripon in the east
Royal Commonwealth Pool
"Now reopened after a £36m refurb, this listed pool is a 1970s modernist gem," says Tim. "Stripped of the clutter that had accrued over the years, the distinctive silhouette of Arthur's Seat can once again be seen from the water". Kate also recommends it.
Dalkeith Road, Edinburgh, EH16 5BB (0131 667 7211; thecommiepool.co.uk)
Dan sums up this little car-free island, 15 miles south of Oban, as "amazing". It has been so heavily quarried that "the sea eventually caved in the quarry walls, forming very deep and spectacularly clear pools. Some are shallow and warm while others have sheer drops that are great for cliff-jumping." Expect "a breath-taking swim in an isolated corner of Scotland".
To get there, a passenger ferry operates from the village of Ellenabeich on the mainland (ind.pn/JR8h0S)
Portobello Swim Centre
Set on the seafront at Portobello, just outside the Scottish capital, this is "one of Edinburgh's great Victorian pools," says Tim. "Edinburgh has more of these still in use than any other city and this one has Turkish baths and a plunge pool too".
57 The Promenade, Edinburgh, EH15 2BS (0131 669 6888; ind.pn/J5daSy)
Aberdeenshire may not be everybody's first-choice location to take to the water but the seaside town of Stonehaven is home to one of the most unique pools in the country – a heated, open-air, Olympic-sized, saltwater, art-deco treasure. Open daily from May to September, for extra magic go on a Wednesday in July and you can try a "midnight swim" (actually 10pm to midnight).
Queen Elizabeth Park, Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, AB39 2RD (01569 762134; stonehavenopenairpool.co.uk)
"Remarkable in that it was built by, and is run by, the local community, I remember happy days of quiet midday swims and aquatic photography at this pool," says Tim. "It's a welcoming place, run by volunteers, and you can think of the exploits of local lad turned sea-farer, John Paul Jones, while you swim," he adds.
Castledykes Road, Kirkcudbright, Dumfries & Galloway, DG6 4AW (01557 331881; kirkcudbrightswimmingpool.co.uk)
Described by Daniel as "a remote, freshwater loch on Skye, with the Cuillin reflected in its peaty water", this is only accessible either by boat from Elgol or via a challenging seven-mile walk. "One of Scotland's most atmospheric swims, beware the midges, though".
To get there by boat, see bellajane.co.uk
"Opened in 1990, after extensive fundraising, the water at Islay's only pool is heated by the neighbouring distillery and looks out over the Atlantic," says Tim. "Take a tour of the distillery, and a dram, but best after your 40 lengths."
Mactaggart Leisure Centre, School Street, Bowmore, Islay, PA43 7JS (01496 810767; mactaggartleisurecentre.co.uk)
Wales & Northern Ireland
"Llyn Glaslyn is the highest of the lakes on Snowdon," says Dan. "Shockingly cold, it is nestled in the lap of one of nature's cathedrals, with the imposing summit of Snowdon towering high above the lake". A swim here will be memorable "for all the right reasons," he promises.
To get there, follow the popular Miners' Track towards Snowdon, from the car park at Pen-y-Pass, and you'll pass the lake en route
Cardiff International Pool
At this "wonderful, modern, 50m freshwater pool," there's also a separate area with "a plethora of slides and 'rivers' for family fun," says Tim. "Welsh Olympic hopefuls Ieuan Lloyd and David Davies did their training here," adds Kate.
Olympian Drive, Grangetown, Cardiff, CF11 0JS (029 2072 9090; leisurecentre.com)
The Herring Pond
Goggle-wearers in Northern Ireland have their sights set on Aurora in the town of Bangor, a new 50m swimming pool that's set to open in 2013. Until then, this natural seawater pool in Portstewart is a great place for a dip, if not a long lane swim. When the sun shines, the water even gets marginally warmer than the sea.
Kinora Terrace, Portstewart, Co. Londonderry, Northern Ireland
The 'Waterfall Woods', in the Brecon Beacons, "abound with natural pools and the sound of falling water," says Daniel. "Sgwd Gwladys, or Lady Falls, occupies a giant amphitheatre rimmed with a lip of dark black gritstone. Moss and ferns grow in profusion in this misty microclimate and many say this is the most beautiful waterfall in Wales".
The woods are in a triangle between the villages of Hirwaun, Ystradfellte and Pontneddfechan (brecon-beacons.com/ waterfall-country.htm)
This lake boasts the unusual status of being officially registered as a village green, to preserve it from development and safeguard its use by the local community. It's recommended by Dan as "a beautiful swim, and a legally unique one", despite being "quite reedy to get in and out of, and being shared with anglers".
Llyn Maelog is just outside the village of Rhosneigr, on Anglesey
The Rock Pool
A seawater swimming pool that's opened – and managed by the local leisure centre –during July and August, Newcastle's Rock Pool "makes for a unique swim," according to Dan. More reason to jump in? "There are not many of these pools left around the UK any more," he says.
Newcastle Leisure Centre, 10-14 Central Promenade, Newcastle, County Down, BT33 0AA (028 4372 5034; therockpool.co.uk)
Wales National Pool
Just by Swansea University's sports centre and supported by Swim Wales, this pool offers "the best possible facilities, services and expertise," says Kate. It may be popular with locals but it also "consolidates high performance swimming; it served as the training ground of Welsh Olympic hopefuls Georgia Davies and Jemma Lowe".
Sketty Lane, Swansea, SA2 8QG (01792 513513; walesnationalpoolswansea.co.uk)
Perfect for cooling off in after a summer's hike through the magnificent Mourne mountains, this small lake is surrounded by mountains. You can even see the sea back down below. Have a picnic after your dip then trek back the way you came.
To get there it's a five-mile walk from Carrick Little car park, west of Annalong, Co. Down (ind.pn/JWY0QB)
Best for... A romantic dip
The outdoor pool where John Profumo first laid eyes on Christine Keeler, hidden away amid glorious National Trust scenery
Best for... Mountain views
This beautiful pool is fed by a stream flowing down from Scafell Pike in the Lake District. It has formed beneath a waterfall and has a white pebble beach
Best for... Night swimming
A heated, saltwater Olympic-sized pool which offers 'midnight swims' throughout the summer
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