Review: Swimming London by Jenny Landreth

Swimming London by Jenny Landreth, published by Aurum Press, £12.99 paperback. All images: copyright Luisa Martelo

Swimming London by Jenny Landreth, published by Aurum Press, £12.99 paperback. All images: copyright Luisa Martelo

I’ve been a fan of Jenny Landredth for some time. For those of who don’t know her it’s worth checking out her excellent blog, Swimming Round London, which is a fantastically funny read.

It’s basically a review of virtually every swimming pool in London: good and bad (I think the bad ones are best). But what’s great about the blog isn’t always the description of the pools themselves but the personal stories she tells along the way and the little quirks that each pool has.

Sadly these personal stories have been cut out for the book which is basically a Greatest Hits of the blog, but written in a less whimsical, slightly more serious way. That’s not to say there aren’t humorous and interesting anecdotes (there are), but this is a coffee table book (albeit not a very big one), rather than a personal blog so space is at a premium.

What Jenny succeeds at with this book is picking the 50 most interesting places in London to swim: pools, lidos, lakes and rivers. Places that offer something a little different to the standard uninspiring municipal pools of the 1970s and 1980s where you may take your kids on a rainy Sunday (though usefully there is a small children’s section at the back for those who like waterslides etc.)

The wonderful steel based Parliament Hill Lido in Gospel Oak, North Londong

The wonderful, steel based Parliament Hill Lido in Gospel Oak, North London

Loving the lidos

Outdoor pools feature quite prominently, including those that are heated such as David Lloyd in Finchley where I swim several times a week and the brilliant Oasis in Covent Garden, as well as unheated Lidos such as the enormous Tooting Bec Lido and the recently refurbished Grade II listed Hllingdon Lido.

But that’s not all. Jenny also finds more intrepid places to swim, such as The Serpentine in Hyde Park – a particular summer favourite of mine – and the West Reservoir in Stoke Newington which I’ve yet to check out. These are places on the bucket list of any serious outdoor swimmer.

Thankfully, however, you don’t need to don wetsuit or brave ice cold waters to find somewhere interesting to swim from Jenny’s Top 50. There are plenty of architectural delights to be savoured with your head out of the water rather than staring downwards at the dark blue tiles. Refurbished Victorian pools with a rich history to tell, such as Ironmonger Row Baths and Kentish Town Sports Centre both make the cut for their sympathetic restoration.

Amazing art deco pools

Then of course there are Art Deco delights such as the stunningly beautiful Marshall Street Baths, now Leisure Centre, which was built on a 17th century plague pit (don’t let that put you off your swim as you glide past the sumptuous marble lined walls) and the RAC Club on Pall Mall where the Queen is rumoured to have learned to swim (apparently Buckingham Place didn’t have its own pool at the time). Both are glorious Grade II listed buildings and need to be as admired as much for their architecture as their swimming facilities. There’s even a pool in a converted church which sounds amazing (Virgin Active in Repton Park).

In short there’s something here for everyone, from the casual head-up breaststroker to the wetsuited, polarised lens goggled Triathlete. And while – rather annoyingly – you may not be able to get into all of the private ones and those in central London hotels without staying there (a high price to pay if you already live in London), there are still plenty where us great unwashed can go too.

In summary, Swimming London really is a great book. It’s absolutely perfect as a stocking filler for the swimming obsessive (seems odd that it was published on May 1st). My only slight criticism is that I think it would have worked even better as a bigger coffee table book in order to make the most of the beautifully inviting pictures. Also there doesn’t seem to be any obvious order to the book which makes finding particular pools in London quite difficult.


Swimming London by Jenny Landreth, published by Aurum Press, £12.99 paperback. All images: copyright Luisa Martelo