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Splash out this summer - Lidos
by Gavin Hadland
© Virgin Net Limited
28 July 2000

If you can't make it to the seaside on one of those rare events that is a hot, British summer's day, then your local lido might be the place to go. These outdoor swimming pools are fun for young and old, whether you fancy paddling, swimming or sunbathing. Often located in beautiful natural settings, these architectural gems can provide the perfect place for a summer splash.

Most lidos were built as a result of "public health and sport for all" campaigns between the wars. Reflecting the architecturally innovative designs of the time, these Art Deco pleasure pools have swung wildly in and out of fashion ever since. They were popular until the 1950s but faded in the 1960s with the advent of cheap foreign holidays. Many were demolished in the 1970s and replaced by all-weather sport centres. Nowadays, with the vogue for health, fitness and recreation, lidos are popular again.

Although some lidos have seen better days, many have been refurbished and are lovingly cared for by groups keen to preserve them for recreation or their architectural heritage. About a third of the lidos we rang have been used as film locations and some capitalise on the beauty of the Art Deco buildings by offering them as venues for wedding parties and other functions.

As many lidos are sited in cities they make great attractions for families who can spend half a day in the lido and the other half visiting the sights and local shops. Here's our pick of Britain's best lidos.

Alfreton Lido, Derbyshire

This pool is a fun place, popular with young adults for summer parties as well as the usual family clientele. The pool has a capacity of 133 people with plenty of room for sunbathing on the patio and grass areas. Recently refurbished changing facilities include family rooms, and there is a sandpit and adventure play area for smaller children. It's open every day of the school holidays, weather permitting.

Brockwell Lido, London

A wonderful 1930s Art Deco cafe marks this south London venue in Brockwell Park as special. Brockwell Lido can be hired for weddings, but all kinds of functions are catered for. For day-trippers, too, there's a lot on offer. As well as swimming there's music and drama for children, meditation and yoga. It's setting in a leafy park is a world away from the hustle and bustle of nearby Brixton. It's open seven days a week in the summer.

Charlton Lido, London

This hot spot in southeast London boasts a pretty location in a landscaped park. It is well maintained thanks to the efforts of members of the Charlton Lido Swimming Club who take over the running of the pool in the off-season period. They even break the ice for their regular December dips. During the summer, though, the local council runs the lido for the benefit of the public. The advantage of planning a visit here is that you can also hop on a bus to historic Greenwich and the National Maritime Museum, only two miles away. During the summer the pool is open every day.

Jesus Green Lido, Cambridge

Jesus Green Lido is one of the largest outdoor pools in Europe, ideally located beside the River Cam. Paved on one side of the pool and grass on the other, this lido is heaven for sunbathers. There's a children's play area, with tennis courts and bowling green nearby, so there's plenty to keep the whole family amused. The colleges and shops of Cambridge are a short walk away and more waterborne fun can be had with a traditional punt down the river.

Jubilee Pool, Penzance

This lido, set in an artificial rock pool in Penzance, offers stunning views of the Cornish coast. From the terrace overlooking the pool you can gaze across Mounts Bay to St Michael's Mount and the rugged, green countryside of the Lizard peninsula. This Art Deco pool built in 1935 is near the promenade and the main sights of the town. There's a cafe and a range of inflatables are available for fun in the water. It's open seven days a week in summer.

Saltdean Lido, Brighton

This is a real children's pool, complete with slides, sandpits, a climbing frame and a baby pool. Floats are provided for fun and frolics and, at weekends, there's a bouncy castle. The 40-metre pool is good for swimming, but stretching out on sun-loungers on the balconies seems the most popular activity here. Brighton is readily accessible for Londoners and is usually busy. It offers good old-fashioned pier amusements and more sophisticated attractions in the form of the specialist antique and bric-a-brac shops in the Lanes area of the town.

Sandford Park Lido, Gloucestershire

Set in a four-acre site, Sandford Park Lido is a delightful outdoor pool. As one regular said: "You walk in and you could be anywhere in the world." The pool is beautiful and the grounds tranquil and well-maintained. Visitors can play volleyball and table tennis if they don't fancy a dip. What's more, the delightful countryside of the Cotswolds and historic Georgian Cheltenham are not far away. It's open every day and there are some early-morning swimming sessions.

The Serpentine Lido, London

This pool in London's Hyde Park is great for little children as there is a paddling pool for juniors, a sandpit, swings and a slide. A children's entertainer performs between 2.30pm and 4pm every day during the summer. Adult bathers can swim in the lake - the scene of the legendary Christmas Day dip. The pool is open seven days.

Tooting Bec Lido, London

Trees on Tooting Bec Common, in southwest London, surround this neat and tidy pool. Ever popular, Tooting Bec Lido attracts 2,000 visitors a day at the height of summer. There's a paddling pool with squirting toy animals, which smaller children will love, and it boasts a cafe with original 1930s decor.

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