Libby Page’s book, The Lido, hit The Sunday Times bestseller list in the week of release and it seems it is the book to enjoy poolside this summer. The book is about the joy and importance a lido brings a community, here Libby explains there is no better place to be on a summer’s day.
On a warm summer’s day, there’s nowhere I’d rather be than at a lido. Whether stretched out on the decking with a book or plunging into the water that is a very specific shade of turquoise, the lido is the place to be.
Lido culture began in the UK in the 1930s, and one of the things I love so much about those that are still open today are the buildings that house them. Often squat, redbrick structures that hug their arms around the water, they are not always pretty but have a charm and a nostalgia to them that is very special. You can just picture the men and women in their old-fashioned costumes who swam there in the past.
“Often squat, redbrick structures that hug their arms around the water, they are not always pretty but have a charm and a nostalgia to them that is very special.”
As the summer approaches, it’s lovely to see those lidos that were closed for the winter reopening. To me, there isn’t much of a happier sight than seeing an empty pool being filled and imagining all the swimmers who will share the water over the coming months.
There might be some dedicated all-year-round swimmers who grumble at the crowds that the summer brings to the lido. But to me there is something incredibly joyful about seeing a queue trailing outside a lido on a hot day. Teenagers and families clutch towels and bottles of sun cream: how wonderful that this is where they want to spend their summer days. And with so many lidos across the country sadly lost or threatened with closure, crowds can only be a good sign, offering hope that these special places can still be hot destinations in the warmer months.
“There is something incredibly joyful about seeing a queue trailing outside a lido on a hot day.”
There aren’t many places left in our towns and cities where people from all backgrounds can come together for a fun afternoon at relatively low cost. You’ll find everyone at your local lido: the older lady in her floral swimming costume who swims here whatever the weather, teenagers showing off by jumping in the deep end, office workers making the most of the lengthening days by heading here after work. Whenever I visit a lido I get chatting to people either in the changing room or in the pool. There’s something about being stripped to near-naked that seems to break down barriers and encourage people to open up a little more. And swimming costumes or trunks are great unifiers too: in the water all markers of your outside life disappear and you are just a swimmer. I love that.
I live in London, so I’m very lucky to have a huge choice of lidos to visit. Brockwell (where my novel is set), Tooting, Charlton, Parliament Hill, London Fields… I feel so fortunate to have these swim spots on my doorstep. They are little oases in the big city that help me feel more connected to nature and to the seasons. I love swimming beneath the sky, watching the birds overhead and forgetting for a moment that I am in the capital city – forgetting everything in fact, apart from the feel of the water.
For people who might be too nervous to try wild swimming (me a few years ago, and many of my friends now), lidos are a great introduction to outdoor swimming. They are the gateway drug to more adventurous outdoor swims. I now love swimming in lakes and rivers, but the lido was an easy way to dip my toe in the water and fall in love with swimming. Lidos are accessible, and in many towns and cities are the real heart of the community. They are worth treasuring and fighting for. This year I will be doing my bit by trying to swim in lidos as much as possible. And what a happy way to spend the summer: by swimming through it.
Libby’s book The Lido is out now.