I like to swim in historic, quirky, beautiful and idiosyncratic pools. For a long time I have been looking for a map that would help me find these places because often they are only known to local people. The explosion of interest in Wild Swimming has led to a handful of apps, websites and books, but they tend to neglect pools that have been built by people. Similarly the enthusiasm in the UK for lido swimming has led to more documentation of those pools, whilst less architecturally significant but nonetheless delightful pools have been overlooked. There are extensive swimming pool databases, but they are for fitness swimmers and usually say nothing about what the pool looks like.
Why I made this map
In 2012 I went to the Allied Media Conference in Detroit and learned about digital map-making. Since then I’ve had fun making customised maps for holidays and road trips. I decided to make a map of places where I would like to swim. This would enable me to plan trips around this activity, or find good places to swim when on the road.
I made the map by creating a spreadsheet of all the pools in the UK that I liked the look of. This came to 202 entries as of November 2017. I included addresses and phone numbers but not email addresses. I have listed sources below. In the future I would like to expand the map to other countries, but for now I have limited it to the UK. There are sure to be places I have overlooked, please contact me if you have a tip for a cool pool.
Types of pool
I have invented some categories for this database:
A lido is a pool that has some commitment to architectural aesthetics, an open air pool is more prosaic but fun and a leisure centre pool is a workaday pool that happens to be outside.
Refurbished old pool means a historic pool that has been done up, perhaps poorly, but where you can see echoes of its former glory.
Sea pool refers to a tidal pool on the coast, sea lagoon is a semi-natural structure, and swimming lake is a place where there are some amenities.
Historic pools have significant historical architectural interest. I have marked the ones I think are most beautiful with an asterisk. Historic Turkish baths, spa and pool means that it is less of a swimming site and more of a place for bathing.
Charlotte pool refers to otherwise unremarkable pools that have been important to me, or where I once enjoyed a swim.
I have only included one hotel pool because I wanted to prioritise pools that are open and accessible to most people, but there are no doubt many extraordinary pools in hotels that could be added to this dataset.
Likewise, I only have one water park and would like to expand this list to include more pools with slides and novelties.
Where pools state they are heated or unheated, I have said so. Some outdoor pools are heated in the summer and unheated in the winter, which is ridiculous. Where there is no data users should assume that the pool is unheated. Please note that even heated pools can be really cold.
Summer means roughly end of April to September, but check with the pool for opening hours.
Sociology of pools
Making this map brought up unexpected thoughts and emotions. Why are there many pools in some areas and no pools in others? I suspect my pools map is also a map of poverty and wealth, seaside economies, Austerity and the decimation of public services. I was shocked by the number of historic pools that have been left to rot and have closed. These are vital community assets. Occasionally they are rescued by heroic community groups. Some councils demolish historic pools and replace them with much cheaper and featureless leisure warehouses. Many historic pools have been parcelled off to leisure corporations.
Some pools are members-only, with a few it is possible to buy day memberships but the others are exclusive and take great efforts to keep out the riff-raff. I wrestled with whether or not to include these shameful places.
It would be great to expand the dataset with information about access, for example pools that welcome disabled people, trans people, or other groups who might find swimming in public a trial, or pools that have quiet sessions.
Whilst making this map I was saddened to find out that Oliver Merrington had died. He was a great queer community historian and owner of lidos.org.uk, a phenomenal resource which is now only accessible via the Wayback Machine. My map is dedicated to him.
I am the owner of this dataset, please do not use it without permission.
Gordon, Ian and Inglis, Simon (2009) Great Lengths: The historic indoor swimming pools of Britain. London: English Heritage.
Smith, Janet (2005) Liquid Assets: The lidos and open air swimming pools of Britain. London: English Heritage.
Thanks to friends for telling me about obscure local pools.