August 05, 2023

10 Lidos to love

By Sophie Harpley
10 Lidos to love

Everywhere I've lived, there has been somewhere special to swim outdoors. There are few better ways to really unwind than a swim; immersed in water and nature, focused on the simplicity of your stroke, your breath, staying afloat. While mulling all this, an idea came to me: a quick story of my life through lidos!


I hope you'll enjoy some of the recommendations and that they might inspire a journey somewhere new for you. Let me know if you go! From London to Penzance and including a few detours. Join me on a trip down memory lane through swimming spots of Southern England...

Henleaze Lake, Bristol (1974)

Vintage charm - check. Mindful activity - check. Sense of escape - check. A reason to need a chic flask, dryrobe, the latest 'Wild Swimming' book or polkadot bikini - check, check, check and check. What is not to love about the Great British lido? Sophie Harpley gets her swimming hat on to find out...

Clifton Lido, Bristol ~ a stones throw from my childhood home. (Pic: Matilda Goad)



Bristol is blessed for swimming in at least three ways. Often dubbed the gateway to Wales and Devon, it's pretty easy to get to all kinds of beautiful coastlines. But closer to home (if you live there like I did until age 18), there are some unexpected gems too. Clifton Lido was originally built in 1850 and kept all of its avant garde charm during a 2008 revamp. Small and sweet, it's the perfect retreat in the city, complete with the best wood-roasted scallops in the poolside restaurant. For an even less discovered swimming spot in Bristol, I recommend Henleaze lake. Surrounded by lush green lawns and weeping willows, lies this beautiful 400-metre stretch of a lake. But there's a catch, its members only and has been since 1919! You'd better get friendly with the locals...

Ok, not a lido ~ but I've always wanted my own beach hut! Here we are exploring Kent.



I quite literally chose to study in Sussex for its proximity to the sea ~ that's how an 18 year old mind works. I wasn't disappointed and enjoyed 3 long hot summers on Brighton and Hove's pebbled beaches. I live in London now but continue to enjoy the ease of one hour(ish) train rides to the seaside in Sussex or Kent. Recent years have offered up new favourites including Rye, Deal, Whitstable, Broadstairs and Hastings.




When I first moved to London I was a Southern girl, living in close proximity at first to Wimbledon Tennis Courts and then, another move later, near to Tooting Lido. This one is a classic, along with several lidos in London, built during their Edwardian Heyday ~ including Brockwell Lido and London Fields. Their simplicity has not dulled the popularity of an urban dip through a whole century of swimming.

Hampstead Heath ~ my home 2013-2017



It has to be Hampstead! My home for five lovely years 2013-2017. The swimming ponds on Hampstead Heath are iconic and with good reason. It's a heavenly space to forget city cares. But best to go at an unusual time of day and not in the hottest weather, if you want the place to yourself. I loved my Heath strolls living here. Expect to see a lot of dogs, sometimes green parrots, and the occasional timeless British actress too. (Yup I saw you Helena Bonham Carter). Slightly off the swimming topic but I also loved Emilly's Walking Book Club that departed from Daunt Books shop and strode across Hampstead Heath to discuss their latest read. There are so many lovely things to do in Hampstead that I should write another post. For now here's a quick must-see list: Fenton House, Kenwood House, Keats House, 2 Willow Road, The Isokon Building, The Holly Bush Pub, The Spaniards Inn. Make a weekend of it!

East London Waterworks Park ~ coming in 2029 (artist's impression)
Valentine's Park Lido, first opened in 1924



Well, here I am in my current locale! While the best is yet to come, in the much anticipated 5.68 hectare rainforest, East London Waterworks Park, and another lido restoration in Valentine's Park. For now instead, the watery surprise has been a plethora of boating lakes. From Hackney's Victoria Park to Hollow Ponds and Fairlop Country Waters. We're never far from pedalo fun, perfect for 3 year old Flora.

Hollow Ponds boating lake, East London (2023)



Last but no means least ~ and the Cornish segment could have been first because I've been visiting this part of the country all my life. However it was only very recently I actually swapped the obvious sea swims for the more unusual art deco seawater lido in Penzance; The Jubilee Pool. With two pools; one geothermal and the other at natural water temperature (i.e, chilly), there was much fun to be had jumping between the two. Combined with sea views for miles, pretty rows of pastel-door changing rooms, and a cosy cafe to warm up in ~ it was a cherished afternoon with friends.

The Jubilee Pool, Penzance (2023)
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