Brockwell Lido – ‘healthier and happier days’ at south-east London’s prime swimming spot

“The London County Council led the way in the lido boom, with its open-air pools in Victoria Park, Hackney, Brockwell Park and Tooting Bec.”

Brockwell Lido only receives passing mention in Waterlog, Roger Deakin skipping the south London lido on his tour of the capital towards the end of the book. However, it crops up during an interesting passage about the decay and revival of lidos, centring around the Jubilee Pool in Penzance. Brockwell was shut in 1990, only to reopen in 1994, a couple of years before Roger set off on his ‘swimmer’s journey through Britain’.

On a hot, late summer day, Roger would doubtless be impressed by Brockwell Lido’s enduring popularity. Striding across the park, the queue snaking out of the entrance and neatly down towards the clunking exit gates is testament to just how much people love spending a hot day by a cold pool.

The security detail may be a touch over the top, men wired up and mouthing into walkie talkies not quite fitting in with the free and easy vibe of outdoor swimming. But there’s a real festival atmosphere around the lido itself once we stump up our somewhat hefty £5.65 entry free and clear the not exactly hygienic changing rooms.

Tramping out across the paving slabs, it’s great to see that the owners of Brockwell have realised that days like today, with the temperature in the high 20s, are not just for those who want to dive bomb and pootle around in the shallow end (as fun as that can be). There are four dedicated lanes for those looking to do laps rather than simply cool off. It’s as if Brockwell Lido’s operators had read the letter from the Swimming Times which Roger quotes in his lido-focused chapter. “Couldn’t we have a roped off lane for fellows to be able to train without having to fight through a morass of people fooling about?”

The water is pleasingly cool in the heat and once into my stride I’m positively warm as I bob along doing my rather rudimentary breaststroke. Occasionally I’m overtaken by some more hardcore, triathlon types. Sometimes I hear the shrill of a whistle and catch kids sprinting along the pools edge before diving in to escape the lifeguard’s attention. But more than anything, despite the crowds, Brockwell remains an oasis of calm when you’re in the water. There’s space for everyone, reflecting the joy of lido swimming which Roger touches on continually throughout Waterlog.

The listed, art-deco design might not have the same ramshackle charm of Tooting Bec Lido or the illicit delights of Hampstead mixed ponds, but Brockwell is proof positive of our ongoing enjoyment of cold water swimming.

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