Adventures in Open-Water Swimming, Part 2: Brockwell Lido

On Thursday I decided I would head over to Herne Hill on Friday morning to get myself some laps at Brockwell Lido. When I woke on Friday it was slightly cooler and a little overcast, but I thought ‘Oooh, rain! Rain!’ imagining it might be fun swimming in an outdoor pool in the rain. As I made the journey after the school run, the clouds moved slowly away and the sun started to emerge. I stepped off the bus and was immediately stopped in my tracks by this beauty:



I then went up the steps to the promise of prosecco…

Nice signage

Nice lido signage

There’s a quite tantalising feeling as you approach the entrance and pass an old-fashioned turnstile exit, catching a glimpse of the bluey water. The chap on the desk was friendly and directed me to the indoor changing, where I found myself straight into conversation with a regular swimmer. I get the feeling there are lots of regulars here, with lots of camaraderie and jolly chatting going on. I talked about how I was embarking on a tour of London’s lidos, but had to cut short any detailed questioning by pointing out this was only number two! I did say that, although Charlton Lido is heated, it’s still pretty cold. A knowing look passed quickly across my fellow swimmer’s eyes as she relished the moment I stepped into ‘her’ pool…

The pool

The pool

I found the lockers at the edge of the pool (£1, returned) and sauntered slightly gingerly towards the steps. Up to my knees I went – gasp! – to my thighs – gasp! – to my waist – yelp! – and one, two, three, dunk! Well, it is most certainly colder than Charlton! This was, of course, the moment when my fellow swimmer chose to walk past, turning to me with a cheeky smile. Once I had bobbed about a bit and attempted to immerse my face, I noticed that everyone went through the same routine as they entered the water (this would make a lovely little film…). There were lanes marked out to one side, but these were being used by a club (I think it was the Windrush Triathlon Club, some wetsuit wearing going on), so the rest of us were resigned to a bit of lane-carving activity and much polite avoidance. I have noticed during my 50m pool swims that everything evens out a lot more easily over this longer distance, more time to move over and a generally more patient and respectful sort of environment. I did find the cold water quite a challenge, with my breath catching in my chest and shallow gulps stopping me putting my face in for a while, so a few breaststroke lengths before I could commit to full-face immersion.

When I did put my face in, I noticed the pool had a rough concrete surface, painted that lovely blue, with a brown line of dirt gathering along the edges and, as I approached the deep end, it suddenly came back to me that I once stood in the pool when it was empty! All those years ago, when I was an aspiring dancer at Laban, I joined a group of other dancers as we planned a performance in the then disused and run-down lido. How magical it was to climb down the steps and walk and move around in a space that had been invaded by buddleia and left forgotten and crumbling. And now here I was swimming in this space again. I carved my way through a mile of swimming, occasionally lifting my head to take in the clouds, the birds and passing planes.

The difference between water and air wasn’t as marked here as at Charlton, so I hung around a moment while two other swimmers finished in the two pool-side showers, oh the joyous feeling of warmth as the showers restore some colour to your limbs! Time for a brisk rub-down and a quick cossie-spin in the cool cossie-spin-dryer (I wish all pools had these, genius) and a saunter over to the cafe to try and reduce the blueness in my lips.

Cafe pom-poms

Cafe pom-poms

The cafe here is a bit swankier than over at Charlton, and can be accessed without a swim, so gets busy, meaning you are not always guaranteed a seat outside. This time I was actually happy to cosy up indoors and warm myself back up with some coffee and cake (I was shivering, really!).



And then to head home…but I can’t visit Herne Hill without popping in to the Oxfam Bookshop. Well, it is next to my bus-stop!


2 thoughts on “Adventures in Open-Water Swimming, Part 2: Brockwell Lido

  1. travellinghopefully says:

    When I read this, I thought oooh it reminds me of that lovely documentary about lidos I still remember from the 90s, I wonder if Adele has seen that lovely documentary about lidos, in fact I wonder if it’s out there on the internet. So I did some googling, and lo and behold, that lovely documentary about lidos was actually filmed at Brockwell Lido and it is finally out there on the internet (

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