Swimming at Parliament Hill Lido – a joyous experience in any weather!

Parliament Hill Lido, looking mean and moody on a Midsummer's evening

It’s usually at this time of year that most of us who don’t have easy access to the sea, flood to our local lidos to soak up the sun (sometimes) and enjoy the experience of swimming outside rather than in overly chlorinated indoor pools – the type that make my nose run for days afterwards and give me a tickly cough.

Here in London there are still quite a few of these outdoor pools/lidos despite the attempts of successive councils and governments since the Thatcher era to shut them down and flog off the land to the highest bidder (usually a property developer).

A few years ago I was involved in a small way in the London Pools Campaign which raised a lot of awareness and helped save numerous London Lidos from almost certain extinction. But there are still ongoing campaigns across the country to save lidos, most notably Saltdean Lido in Brighton which, shockingly, developers want to fill in and convert into 102 flats – you can sign the petition against this here.

Parliament Hill Lido: A beautiful 60m outdoor pool in the heart of north London

We love Parliament Hill Lido

Ironically many lidos have survived closure not because they are deemed to enrich the health of our nation, but because they are deemed to be of architectural merit. Fine in my opinion, especially if helps to save Saltdean – the UK’s only Grade II* lido.

Built in 1936 – around the same time as Saltdean Lido – the Grade II Parliament Hill Lido on the edge of North London’s Hampstead Heath is a more functional looking pool rather than a stunning beauty from the art deco age.

It has survived the years largely intact, only losing its diving area after a boy died in 1976. (Sadly, very few pools now have diving areas which is a great shame in my opinion).

It is a very large unheated pool (61m long x 27m wide), but it’s unusual stainless steel bottom reflects some sunlight to make it a teeny bit warmer than most unheated UK pools! The only thing is that the last 10m or so are very difficult to swim doing front crawl because it is so shallow you scrape your hands along the bottom of the pool.

The beautiful Saltdean Lido in Brighton is under threat from developers

Nevertheless when I swam with The Outdoor Swimming Society as part of their Midsummer Day Dip last Wednesday it was as close to a perfect swim as it could have been, given that it had been chucking it down most of the day and wasn’t the warmest of evenings.

Water temperature was a cool-ish 18 degrees and let’s just say that the budgies being smuggled had shrunken feathers by the time I got out the water 30 minutes later, shivering and shaking (should have really worn a wetsuit but didn’t want to seem a wimp.)

What I particularly liked was the pool’s stainless steel bottom which I don’t remember from my last swim there with the London Pools Campaign, but which Wikipedia reliably informs me has been there since 2005.

With lights in the pool too, it gave everyone a slightly ethereal glow which made for a beautiful swimming experience. The water was also also beautifully clean and clear – much cleaner than most outdoor pools I swim in.

But if I had to pick a highlight of the evening it wouldn’t be the swimming experience, it would be the company: chatting to people like Kate Rew from the Outdoor Swimming Society about the origins of ‘wild swimming’ – a term we both agreed was a bit naff – and Phil from the Art of Swimming about Swimtrek and its swimming holidays. In the end that’s what it is all about. Swimming and chatting with a bunch of people that enjoy the same thing. What could be better!