Book review: A summer of lidos!

Two glorious new books on lidos in the UK


There is something absolutely delightful about community and crowdfunded publishing. It lets readers engage in a book before it is fully formed; it shows publishers there is an audience out there for a book; and it lets community groups publish volumes of interest to their audiences. There are two books out at the moment that have made their way out into the world via these methods: The Lido Guide and Celebrating Portishead Open Air Pool. If you ever swim in outdoor pools in the UK, these two books are straight up your alley. 

The Lido Guide, by Emma Pusill and Janet Wilkinson, is a small, beautiful labour of love that showcases all the different lidos around the UK. It is designed as a handy guide you can keep with your swimming kit, and take with you on your swim. As they explain in the introduction, Pusill and Wilkinson have written a book designed to make lido trips easier to plan and enjoy. Not all lidos are online. Many are staffed by volunteers busy with other things. As such, it can be difficult to find out opening times, costs, facilities, and even locations! This book does all that work for you. 

The book is organised by county, and listed alphabetically, showcasing English, Northern Irish Scottish, and Welsh, finally Channel Island outdoor pools. The authors define a lido as ‘a public outdoor swimming pool and surrounding facilities, or part of a beach where people can swim…’ They are flexible on this definition though and so include the Hampstead bathing ponds, much to my own delight, Waterside Pool, and Inverness Leisure centre too. The sheer number of pools listed in Devon made me want to move to the county immediately, if only to have the opportunity to swim so much!

The sheer number of pools listed in Devon made me want to move to the county immediately, if only to have the opportunity to swim so much! 

Each pool is showcased over a two page spread (Hampsted ponds get four), and provides an address, contact details including website and social media (if the pool has these), the length and width of the pool, who runs the pool (volunteers v companies v trusts), whether the pool is open year round, whether it is heated, the type of water (fresh or salt), if there is parking, and the situation on snacks and cafes (very important to swimmers!) As I perused the beautiful blue pages (the authors took gorgeous photographs of the lidos whenever they could), I was struck by the desire to undertake a lido tour of Britain. I’d start in the far north, at The Trinkie, and make my way slowly south, ending with a swim in Havre des pas bathing pool on Jersey. Anyone want to join me?

If The Lido Guide wet your appetite for a swim, take a deeper dive into lido life in Celebrating Portishead Open Air Pool by John Birkinshaw. Published by the Clevedon Community Press, Birkinshaw leads us through the history of the pool at Portishead, from its origins in 1962 to the present day. Such was the popularity of swimming in the 1960s that in the seasons 1962-1966, a total of over 678,000 people visited the pool! That is over 100,000 swimmers each year. Compared to the paltry 7000 who visited the pool in 2007, it is an extraordinary number and hints at the importance of lidos for community life. 

Birkinshaw delved into the archives of newspapers, Council minutes, and spoke to people who have visited the pool over the last fifty years. The result is a joyous and detailed read into the story of this pool. Portishead open air pool was threatened with closure in 2007/8, as the local council was trying to make savings. A community trust was established and by happy intervention of fate, the pool was given a makeover in Ty Pennington’s Great British Adventure. 

Since the renovation and under leadership from the Trust, Portishead open air pool has recovered. Innovative events (like a Christmas Day swim, or the Portishead Popsicle Cold Water Gala) help with fundraising and keeping the pool alive in the community. Last summer, over 48000 people visited the pool. 

Lidos need our support, if they are going to continue to survive and remain key parts of our communities.

Both The Lido Guide and Portishead Open Air Pool bring home one clear message: you need to support your lido, otherwise they will disappear from our communities. The Lido Guide will take you there, and Portishead Open Air Pool will show you the important history of these places. 

Lexi Earl