Cirencester Open Air Pool – a timeless dip

“Next morning in cloudy Cirencester, Betty, the lady at the turnstile of the heated outdoor pool, took my £2 as I crossed the little river on an old iron footbridge…I hastened into the deliciously soft, warm water and set about swimming my mile.”

Tom and I are very much among company as we hand over £4.50 each and walk along the side of Cirencester Open Air pool and into the breeze block changing rooms. The hot June weather has brought the locals out in their droves. There’s no chance of us having the water to ourselves like Roger did on his visit here during Waterlog.

No matter. Everything is just as pleasingly simple as it was back then, still full of ‘old–fashioned charm’ as my predecessor put it. The blue washed walls, the wire baskets and a single electric shower for those looking to warm up after a lengthy dip. The foot bath is dry as we walk back to the pool’s edge and leave our kit on a bench. The water is heated to a luxuriant 26ºC, far warmer than the nippy West Dart last weekend.

Like Chagford, Cirencester’s Open Air pool is naturally fed. The water here comes from a nearby spring and feels beautifully soft as I push off the wall of the shallow end, the shadow of my breast stroke cast long across the white–washed bottom.

Despite it being Friday lunch time, all of Cirencester seems to be at play. Older couples swim slowly and chat as they go. Toddlers in rubber rings and arm bands are tossed into the air by happy parents. Serious swimmers dodge the human flotsam, with no lanes to keep them in straightened order.

Swimming here feels like stepping back in time. The old barracks on Cecily Hill stand imperious over proceedings; picnic tables are scattered over the far side of the water, next to the ‘Tuck Shop’. There’s no fancy menu here and it’s all the better for it. This is a community run space and the locals appear to lap it up.

And why not? This is delicious swimming, especially when the sun hits my back. Tom, who’s driven me here in his Mini from Oxford, swims goggle-less and open-eyed, pausing at the deep end to talk about the weather.

We hop out after 20 fast lengths and dry off in the midday heat. I mention to Tom that I plan to swim at nearby Sandford Lido in Cheltenham later this summer as part of my Waterlog mission. Immediately ,he wants to go and go now. And so we dry off in the timeless changing rooms, pack up our wet things and head back to the car. The more swims I do, the more everyone who comes along on this journey seem to want to get involved. Channeling Roger’s spirit of adventure, we negotiate the one way system and head off for another lido dip.

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