Adventures in Open-Water Swimming, Part 1: Charlton Lido

During my slightly panic-stricken pool swim at my first triathlon a few weeks ago, I thought to myself: ‘Well, my idea of participating in an open-water triathlon was a bit ambitious!’ and put it right to the back of my mind. Of course, once I’d regained my nerve, climbed out of the pool and flown my way through the other two disciplines, smiling throughout, I had forgotten all about my pool-fear and was looking to the next event, open-water or not. Realistically though, I think I need to be feeling super-confident before I dip my toes, wet-suit clad, into a lake/pond/the sea, so have decided to embark on a series of open-water adventures over the next few months, taking on a different (hopefully) venue each week. To ease myself into this malarkey with at least some level of enjoyment, I will take ‘open-water’ to mean ‘without a roof’, so this will include the lidos of London.

We’re lucky in London, with many lidos having been either lovingly cared for or lovingly restored and, from where I live in South East London, I’m just a bus or bike-ride away from two. This morning I put a moistened finger in the air, felt the warm sun on my skin and decided to bus it over to Charlton Lido. I have been to Charlton Lido before, but that was last summer and was in the company of small children during the school holidays: it was busy, bustling and noisy, a very different experience to my calm and quiet swim today. Since my last visit, there has also been some extensive building work, and there is now an excellent gym, indoor changing facilities and even a lovely sun terrace and cafe to warm up in after your swim. I would recommend registering online so you can book in advance: this saves you money and – I’m guessing – time during busy periods. I paid just £4 for my lovely 50m pool-with-a-sky swim today 🙂 The new changing facilities are great, clean and unfussy, with the option of a pool-side cubicle if you prefer. There are lockers alongside the pool (these take 20p, which is not returned, so make sure you’ve got everything you need before closing), but I would say more lockers might be welcome as it gets busier.

The Pool

The Pool

(this photo makes it look a bit grey, but it was gloriously sunny!)

Charlton Lido is heated, but don’t expect it to feel like an indoor pool…ease yourself in gently, take a few deep breaths and keep moving! Once I’d followed those rules, I found myself doing something I don’t normally do: lying on my back, wiggling my hands and feet and sighing, I couldn’t resist looking up at the sky from the water, bliss! As you can see from the photo, there were lanes, but I decided to just swim outside the lane as it was quiet enough, and off I headed, pulling myself into the 50m expanse. This always feels slightly daunting, but I’m sure it makes for faster swimming, not turning every 25m. Something that added to my sense of joy at the experience was the sunlight pouring through the surface and creating beautiful shadows on the bottom of the pool. I was mesmerised by the ripples, the blurred shadows of other swimmers, the dancing bunting and the little concentric circles created by droplets from my finger tips. Not wanting this feeling to end, I pushed a little further until I had swum a mile.

Climbing out, I found that as soon as you exit the water, you need to jump into a hot shower or quickly wrap yourself in a towel before heading up to the cafe for a bit of post-swim warmth and refuel…



As I gathered my things and headed to the bus stop, I noticed that the pool had become busier, with bikini-clad young things sprawling out on beach towels, topping up their tans. On a hot day this really is Charlton-by Sea.



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