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London’s Best Lidos

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Ah, the Great British Summertime – the only reliable thing about it is its unreliability.  Though the capital is in the throes of a drought (allegedly), we reckon that with Wimbledon kicking off next week the signs all point towards a scorcher. To celebrate, we’re putting the spotlight on our capital’s open-air swimming pools. Hard as it is to believe now, the humble neighbourhood lido was once a central hub of community life. Many were built in the early part of the 20th century upon an altruistic wave of town planning – transforming pockets of the city into the far-flung shores the masses could only dream of. So by way of restoring them to their former glory, we say dust off those speedos and leave the Pimms and strawberries to the poshos in SW19 as we dive in to London’s best lidos.

Situated atop a High Holborn roof on the fringes of London’s buzzing Theatreland, the Oasis’s open-air pool (there’s also an indoor one) is a tranquil, well… oasis amidst the hubbub of the busy West End/Soho hinterland.  Remarkably, records date a pool on this Endell Street site to as far back as 1728. The current 27m, three-lane lido has been soaking swimmers since before the 60s started swinging and was, in its heyday, something of a watering hole for louche Soho spivs and luvvies treading the boards at the Shaftesbury Theatre opposite.  Today the pool is a heaving throng of office workers out for a lunchtime dip so make sure you plan your visit accordingly.

The locals call it ‘Brixton’s Beach’ and on scorching summer days, it’s not hard to see why. Always busy in the summer months with a young, family-orientated crowd, Brockwell Lido’s Olympic-sized pool is a magnet for sun-worshippers who’ve overdone the bronzing in the park outside. Its cool, unheated waters offer respite from the rays while its award-winning café does a decent line in snacks and adventurous mains. There’s even a decent gym with fitness classes including yoga and pilates.

As far as London locales go, Parliament Hill Lido’s Hampstead Heath setting takes some beating. Parliament Hill is the capital’s only year-round open lido making it one of the city’s more popular swimming haunts. Like its Brockwell counterpart, Parliament Hill was built in the late 1930s and thankfully has retained it period charm. Though this unheated 200 footer can be a shade on the shivery side (even in summer), you can’t help but fall for the art deco details and all round bonhomie of this busy north London institution.

Thanks to the dogged efforts of local campaigners, London Fields’ beloved lido was reopened in 2006 having sat parched and silent for 18 years. Since it’s rebirth, London’s only 50m heated outdoor pool has proven amazingly popular. So much so, the US Olympic swimming team are making it their base for London 2012. With its colourful bunting and mutli-coloured lockers shouting seaside kitsch, there are few better places to spend a sunny afternoon in Hackney then the spacious poolside sun terrace.

No round up of London’s best swimming pools would be complete without a nod to the famous Tooting Bec Lido. At 91 metres long, Tooting Bec is Europe’s second biggest outdoor freshwater pool. It is also one of the UK’s oldest. Built in 1906, its fin de sièclefunctionality gave way to the beach-hut inspired changing rooms of the 1930s which remain lovingly intact today. There’s a happy medium of serious swimmers (the South London Swimming Club have called Tooting home since the pool’s opening) and recreational-types with a children’s pool, well-kempt grass for sunbathing and decent café serving chips and ice cream.

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