Alison has challenged herself to swim in every outdoor pool in the UK
Currently taking on her third Aspire Channel Swim, Alison has been inspired to give herself the challenge of swimming in every outdoor pool in the UK
I took on my first Aspire Channel Swim in 2017. To set myself an extra challenge and to keep it varied, I decided to try to swim in as many different pools as possible over the 12 weeks. I started searching online to find extra pools that were local to me and anywhere I had day trips planned. That year I swam in four (heated) lidos and 17 indoor pools, finishing my Aspire Channel Swim in the Olympic pool in London.
By setting myself this extra challenge, I found some beautiful pools in the most unlikely of locations, including the Marshall Street Leisure Centre Pool which is just a short walk from Regent Street and Oxford Street. The stonework façade hides a beautiful wooden reception booth leading to a restored 1930s pool with a barrel-vaulted ceiling and stunning marble floors, a real pleasure to be surrounded by as you swim!
In 2018 I set myself the same challenge whilst doing the Aspire Channel Swim and swam in 5 lidos and 15 indoor pools, including two Olympic pools as I was fortunate enough to have a holiday planned to China where we swam in the Beijing 2008 Olympic pool.
While scouring the web for pools, the idea of swimming in every outdoor pool in the UK had crossed my mind. However, knowing how hard these pools are to find and get information about, as they are often run by charities or local trusts, I dismissed the idea.
And then, just before Christmas 2019, I was in a bookshop and noticed a book called The Lido Guide. Inside the front cover there is a map of the UK showing all the outdoor pools that are publicly accessible. With a quick glance of the map, I could see many of them are in the south of England and I knew the idea seamed plausible. I received the book as a Christmas present and carefully spent the rest of the Christmas break marking off all the pools I had swum in before, with dates, which was 13 in total.
There is something special about swimming outdoors in the fresh air, under blue skies watching clouds and birds go by, swimming in the rain, looking up at a rainbow or even the stars.
Many of the pools and buildings are charming in their own right. There were many lidos built in the 1930s and although some are no longer standing, the ones that remain show glimpses of their history. You can sometimes spot a flowerbed that used to be a fountain and other hints of their past. Some are still surrounded by beautiful Art Deco buildings, a real pleasure to swim alongside as you look at the symmetrical building between breaths to work out how many metres to the other side.
Although this last year might not have gone the way we expected, I managed to swim in six new pools. Not bad considering many pools have sadly not managed to re-open since the first lockdown. I have thoroughly enjoyed each one. I often took friends or family with me who, thankfully, don’t seem to be put off by the (sometimes!) cold water and seem to understand the enjoyment factor, although not all of them are swimmers!
I am looking forward to next season with a few more UK road trips and lovely new lidos. Hopefully the small organisations have been able to survive the uncertainty of the past year and will be able to re-open this year.
In the meantime, I am planning to complete my third Aspire Channel Swim. Having to plan ahead and book every swim session is enough to factor in this year. Although I am pleased to say I have managed to squeeze in a midnight swim under the stars and Christmas lights at Hampton Lido for my last swim in December. With just 8½ miles to go, I plan to 'warm up’ for my final stretch in my local Guildford Lido. It’s unheated at this time of year so I plan to take the plunge with a wetsuit over the Easter weekend!