Tidal salt-water open air swimming pools

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Compiled by Oliver Merrington
Waterbeach, Cambridge.

Devil's Point, PlymouthA number of British seaside resorts have tidal pools which fill up with seawater at every high-tide. When the tide goes down, the sun heats the water and makes an ideal swimming pool for children and adults, without the dangers of waves or unexpected currents. Some resorts provide life-guards, but they are usually unmanned.

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Several of these tidal pools are featured in Kate Rew's book "Wild Swim" published in 2008.

For 10 of these pools, see Alexandra Buxton's feature in The Guardian on 26 July 2003.

The UK's only Art Deco fully-filtrated sea water open air swimming pool is at Stonehaven on the Aberdeenshire coast in Scotland; it is 50m long and is heated to 84°F. At Penzance in Cornwall, The Jubilee Pool is another Art-Deco sea-water pool, re-filled a few times a year at high-tide. Other seawater pools exist at Lymington and Gourock. [There are brine pools at Nantwich and Droitwich.]

Who owns all the tidal pools? - may surprise you.

Index to tidal pools on this webpage

Brixham: Shoalstone Pool, Devon
Bude: Sea Pool, Cornwall
Cape Cornwall Pool
Guernsey: La Vallette Bathing Pools, Channel Islands
Ilfracombe: Tunnels Beach, Devon
Jersey: Havre des Pas Swimming Pool, Channel Islands 
Langton Matravers: Dancing Ledge, Dorset
Margate: tidal swimming pools, Kent
Newcastle: The Rock Pool, Northern Ireland
North Berwick, Scotland
Perranporth: : Chapel Rock pool, Cornwall
Pittenweem Tidal Swimming Pool, Fife
Plymouth: The Hoe tidal pools and Devil's Point, Devon, (with 6 photographs)
Polperro, Cornwall
Porthtowan Tidal Pool, Cornwall
Portreath, Cornwall
Port Skillion, Isle of Man
Portsoy Open Air Pool, Aberdeenshire
Rosehearty, Aberdeenshire
St. Andrew's Castle swimming pool, Scotland
Tarlair Pool, Aberdeenshire
Treyarnon Bay, Cornwall
Westward Ho!, Devon
Whitehead, Northern Ireland
Wick: The Trinkie Outdoor Swimming Pool, Scotland
Some others

See also other pages on my www.lidos.org.uk website:

Where is my nearest lido? Grab a map and go to my the A-Z index on the homepage.

Brixham: Shoalstone Pool

Shoalstone Beach, Berry Head Road, Brixham, Devon

"The English Riviera's only open air 25m sea-water swimming pool - and its FREE! It's supervised by lifeguards, and you can hire sunbeds and deckchairs." Alexandra Buxton writes "This recently restored pool is mostly used by local families. Peggy Beer, 83, lives nearby and swims in the pool most days. Views across Torbay are magical at high tide. It is a real gem, beautifully kept and worth a big detour to visit. Charming suroundings with office and little changing rooms. Very friendly lifeguards."

Coventry University PhD student, Peter Chapman, was so fascinated with this area of Devon that he created an exhibition of photographic images and video footage called 'The Pool Project' which was on display at the university in 2004. Peter is also a part-time lecturer at the University.

Further information, opening hours, etc. in Travel Guardian feature (July 2003).

Torbay Council webpage

Bude: Sea Pool

Summerleaze beach, Bude, Cornwall

Alexandra Buxton writes "Three cheers for the Thynne family, who in 1930 put up half the money to make this oval pool with its sunbathing terraces."

Its size is 290 x 140 feet (approx. dimensions, as the pool is not symmetrical) with an area of about 3,500m³. The volume is about 4000 m³ or 880,000 gallons, depending on how much sand the sea washes in [figures from Andy Hoines]


North Cornwall information webpage about Bude Sea Pool.

For further information, opening hours, etc. in Travel Guardian feature (July 2003).

Another photograph

Alexandra Buxton also mentions Sir Thomas's Pit (or Tommy's Pit), a rock pool at the far end of the breakwater under Barrel Rock. It was constructed in 1859 by Sir Thomas Acland as a bathing place for men only. Bathers paid the custodian tuppence a swim and were fined a penny if caught swimming naked. It's also in Kate Rew's book "Wild Swim" (p. 62) as a sandy-bottomed pool.

Cape Cornwall Pool

Priest's Cove, St Just, Cornwall

Priest's Cove is at Cape Cornwall, a mile and a half from St Just, near Lands End. Ros Luxford writes: "Here there is a pool which was constructed amongst the rocks about 50 years ago. It is still in use today and is maintained by the Cape Slipway Association and the National Trust. It measures approx 10 metres by 7 metres."

Guernsey: La Vallette Bathing Pools

La Vallette, Havelet Bay, St Peter Port, Guernsey

The Bathing Places at La Vallette were constructed in the 19th century. The first pool to be built was the Horseshoe, completed in 1859-60. In 1862, a plan was put forward to build a Ladies Private Bathing Pool. It was built by public subscription, the St. Peter Port Douzaine and the States of Guernsey. It was extended to its present length in 1947. In 1876 female bathers demanded a second pool, that was to be a Public Ladies Pool, and this was built 10 years later.

La Vallette
Photograph: Eleanor Ghey

Recreation Committee webpage;
See also the Guernsey Alternative website
and Old postcards (then and now).

Ilfracombe: Tunnels Beach

Ilfracombe, North Devon

IlfracombeA network of tunnels (hence the name) lead to unique sheltered beaches and a Victorian tidal bathing pool - a safe pool available from May to September. The pool is exposed for three hours either side of low tide. At its deepest it is 8 ft deep and very safe because you cannot get swept out to sea.

Alexandra Buxton writes "In 1823, the Ilfracombe Bathing Company hired a team of Welsh miners to dig tunnels through the cliff, to link the town and two coves for secluded swimming for ladies and gentlemen. Seawater was heated in giant boilers (still to be seen) and pumped into a bath house (now apartments) for health-giving seawater baths. Today, the tunnels are being renovated and updated by new owners Jamie and Zoe McLintock. One of the original three tidal bathing pools has been restored, with others to follow." See their website

Further information, opening hours, etc. in Travel Guardian feature (July 2003).

Jersey: Havre des Pas Swimming Pool

near Roseville Street, St. Helier, Jersey, Channel Islands.
Pool office: 01534 728782.

The sea water swimming pool at Havre des Pas is reached by a tiny boardwalk and is filled by seawater every day. The semi-circular tidal pool was opened in May 1895 by the Jersey Swimming Club, and has been restored to its Victorian splendour, complete with iron railings and lamps. Changing facilities and a cafe were added in 1927 and are in an art deco style.

The pool is managed by the States of Jersey and admission is free. There are lifeguards from 10am to 6pm, from May to October. It has a separate pool for toddlers, a cafe, changing rooms and lavatories. See the States of Jersey webpage.

The Polar Bears Swimming Club (affiliated to Jersey Swimming Club) is based at the pool and swim throughout the year. They have a Christmas Day swim every year.

See also this message to the Lidos Yahoo Group, and the Travel Guardian feature by Alexandra Buxton (July 2003).

Photo: Elias Kupfermann
Havre des Pas

There's another tidal pool in St Helier's Bay near the causeway to Elizabeth Castle. See Kevin Lajoie's kite photo from 2011, with his raked sand doodle.

Langton Matravers: Dancing Ledge,
near Swanage, Dorset

Dancing Ledge This pool is in a disused Purbeck stone quarry (SY 997768) and is owned by the National Trust. It can be reached from Durnford Drove, a lane running south from Langton Matravers or via the coast path. Spyway Farm (NT car park) is half a mile away.

Mentioned in John Betjeman's poem, Hearts Together. The limestone quarry at Dancing Ledge is so-called because the stone cut out of it is the same size as a ballroom dance floor. Popular for sport climbing.

Alexandra Buxton writes: "a little pool cut into the rocks, blasted out by masters of a prep school at Durnford, for healthy sea bathing. It's a real scramble to get down to the ledge and the pool from the cliff. The last 15 ft or so is sheer almost vertical rock, so many people don't make it. The reward is an icy cold swim in the clear water held by a roughly hewn pool studded with limpets and barnacles. If you linger until the tide turns, the waves will come crashing and bounding towards you, to swallow up the stillness of the rock pool, until there's nothing left but leaping sea."
It is also a popular rock climbing site.

Featured in Kate Rew's book "Wild Swim" on pp. 28-29.

More pics on this website about the geology.

Margate: tidal swimming pools

There are two tidal swimming pools in Margate. One is in the Town Bay, the other in Walpole Bay - see map. A cliff railway [1912] once served the nearby Cliftonville Lido (long since closed) and some parts of it are still visible. It ran down a 45 slope behind a brick retaining wall parallel to the cliff face.

Walpole Bay pool, built in 1900, can be reached via a recently-restored lift from the clifftop, and has lifeguards on duty from June to September. There is further information, opening hours, etc. in Travel Guardian feature (July 2003).

Newcastle: The Rock Pool

South Promenade, Newcastle, County Down, Northern Ireland.
Tel: 028437 25034

There is an outdoor pool "used mainly by us locals. It is known as the Rock Pool, as it is built into the rock of the harbour. As it's an unheated sea water pool, it is usually cold enough to freeze the most unreachable body parts!" Built about 60 years ago, the pool is cleaned every few weeks.

The Rock Pool website, has photographs.

Further information, opening hours, etc. in Travel Guardian feature (July 2003).

North Berwick

The outdoor salt water swimming pool here was originally paid for by members of the North Berwick Swimming Club, and opened in September 1900. It is now closed, and has been converted into a car park.

But Janet Crook and Stephen Page, write: "There is a small rectangular concrete tidal pool, which the kids still play in despite the cold, and worse, the jellyfish!!"

Perranporth: Chapel Rock pool

On the southern side of Perran Bay, by Chapel Rock there is a natural tidal seawater swimming-pool. It is featured in Kate Rew's book "Wild Swim" p. 55.

Pittenweem Tidal Swimming Pool

East Neuk, Fife
Small pool with concrete terracing up cliff; unsupervised.
"From the very top of the West Braes there are steps leading down to the outdoor swimming pool and large stepped bathing areas. Several years ago there were two blocks of swimming huts which have now unfortunately been taken away. The pool is not kept up to the standard it once was, with diving boards and a raft in the middle, but is still is a pleasant spot on a sunny day to sit and relax."

John Cunningham writes "On the shore just opposite the putting green a huge swimming pool was constructed, taking advantage of the natural layout of the rocks, complete with water chute and a high diving board."

There may be another old outdoor sea swimming pools at nearby St Monans.

Plymouth tidal pools

are now on a separate webpage. These include those below The Hoe and the one at Devil's Point.

Polperro, Cornwall

The rock pool at Chapel Rock is well described by Bob Tarr, webmaster of www.polperro.org.

Porthtowan Tidal Pool
St Agnes, Cornwall

Porthtowan beach, located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, has a car park, cafe and toilets. Facing the sea go up the cliff path to the right of the beach, and you will find some steps down to the pool.

This rock-encased sea-water swimming pool is featured with photographs in Kate Rew's book "Wild Swim" p. 56-57 - see this extract (complete)./P>

Portreath, Cornwall

Portreath, near Redruth, Cornwall

Alexandra Buxton writes "On the east side of the beach is a man-made swimming place, formed by adding a retaining wall to a natural rock pool, where until the 1970s the local school held weekly swimming lessons. On the west side of the beach are Lady Basset's Baths. Six bath-shaped pools, hewn from the rock at different levels to catch the tide, they were created around 1800 for Lady Frances Basset, whose father believed in the healing powers of cold seawater. One bath is inside a cave and was reached by a metal ladder.

Websites: part of Heart of Cornwall, and
Travel Guardian feature.

Port Skillion, Isle of Man

Browns Guide of 1906 describes:
This famous bathing place is a small rocky creek just inside the Head, and is so sheltered from the tidal waves. Concrete walls have been built across it at different levels, thus forming swimming basins of considerable area and of varying depths. The swimming or plunge bath is about 80 feet long, with an average breadth of 60ft. The depth graduates from 2 feet to eight feet, at its deepest end. The pool contains upwards of 176,000 gallons of the purest sea water, which is renewed every day, by the tides. From platforms constructed at the extremities of the creek " headers " may be taken, and glorious excursions made out into the free waters of the bay ; and few more delightful or invigorating exercises can be imagined than a swim across the southern bay to the Conister Rock. These commodious bathing places, with the necessary dressing-rooms and other fittings, as well as the roads to and from them, have been provided by the liberality of Mr. R. Archer, at a cost of between 2,000 and 3,000, and they are kept by him in complete order and efficiency. They are free to all ; but a nominal charge is made by the attendants for the use of dressing-rooms and towels.

It was damaged in a storm in 1932.

From A Manx Note Book by Frances Coakley

Portsoy Open Air Pool
on the Moray Firth coast, Scotland

"In a village on the north Aberdeenshire coast 7 km W of Banff is a pool flushed by the sea in an idyllic setting. Run by a local swimming club (with changing facilities and great wee tearoom, open June to August), take advantage of it on any sunny day. Its 50th anniversary was in 1996. Long may it chill us out".

The sea-water swimming pool was made by building a concrete wall parallel to the coast and joining two rock spurs together. It is possible to park on the beach next to the swimming pool. Nearby, to the east, the rocks are of serpentine. Seals can often be spotted lazing on beaches in this area, and bottle-nosed dolphins further out.

Photo: Geological Society of Glasgow.

Rosehearty, Aberdeenshire

Apparently has an open-air sea-water swimming pool.

St. Andrew's Castle swimming pool, Fife, Scotland

"Right off the beach is a large area sort of walled off with a short stone wall, rectangular in shape, and running right up on the sand. It's no more than a few feet deep at the end. At high tide, it's submerged and flushed out. At low tide, the stone wall is above the water level and holds a shallow pool. It would even get warm by the end of the day. It looks like the castle probably had a staircase or walkway all the way down to the beach just for this pool, which might have been used for washing or bathing."

"Step Rock in St Andrew's Bay where suspected witches were 'swum' was used as a swimming pool until 1978. The witch swimmings that took place there involved the right thumb bring tied to the left big toe and vice versa before the suspected witch was 'swum'." The castle was founded in 1200 A.D.

"This area is known as the Witches Pool and nestled in the rocks (sandstone) there is a small cave. Continue around the point above which used to be the local bathhouse. Above can be seen a drain and below a trough with a short portion of old wall above - all the evidence of the old bathhouse. Just around the rocks, one comes to a seawater bathing pool, and a small pool, once reached from the house above. This house was once part of St Leonard's School, but is now part of the University." [quotes are from an anonymous webpage on the Fife Coastal Path].

The little 'Castle Bay' is a lovely sheltered spot and there is a retaining wall forming another small seawater swimming pool.

Tarlair Pool, Aberdeenshire

Tarlair Open Air Swimming Pool is on the northern coast of Scotland, near Macduff, Aberdeenshire. It was first opened in the 1930's, built in Art Deco style though modified over the years. Latterly it was operated by the Banff and Buchan District Council and closed in 1996. In subsequent years there have been open air concerts and a youth forum. At present the only users are the Macduff Model Boat Club, who use the pool every Sunday and on Wednesday evenings during the summer. [Information from Aberdeenshire Council].

An evocative photograph by Iain Mason (a.k.a. Zelandeth Fulayanth)

Treyarnon Bay, Cornwall

Treyarnon Bay is in North Cornwall, between Padstow and Newquay, and has a tidal swimming pool in the rocks.

Adrian from Treyarnon YHA writes: "We have a small tidal pool directly opposite the Hostel, on the right-hand side of Treyarnon Bay. Approx size 10m x 5m - one side raised with concrete. It's mentioned in the 1947 YHA Guide entry for this Hostel and I suspect its been here in its current state since the 1930's when the building of holiday homes really kicked off".

The first documented British surfing took place at Treyarnon Bay in the very early 1960's. Stuart Charles was a lifeguard at Treyarnon Bay then and was part of the group who first rode the waves on their wooden boards. He says: "Surfing was very different in those days, the boards were huge and weighed a ton, it was a struggle simply getting them down to the water!"

Westward Ho! Devon

This pool has been in existence for at least 120 years and was renovated in Spring 2003. "Safe swimming can be enjoyed in the ornate sea water pool beside the beach."

Further information, opening hours, etc. in Travel Guardian feature (July 2003).

Whitehead, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland

Rodney Champion writes: "there is an outdoor tidal swimming pool which is still used occasionally, although it does need some repairs carried out to the railings. The pool depth is from 4 ft to 12 ft. At one time it had 2 diving boards. The pool was built in the 1930`s and was owned by Whitehead Council, and then Carrickfergus Borough Council. It is now owned by Whitehead Glasgow Rangers Supporters Sports and Social Club. The club is currently [2003] trying to obtain some grants to carry out repairs. "

Wick: The Trinkie Outdoor Swimming Pool

The Trinkie is a natural sea water pool which is painted yearly. There is a road that runs down to it and on a hot summer's day you will find families having picnics and swimming here. The pool lies on the outskirts of Wick past the old coastguard station.

This outdoor pool cut into the rocks was the swimming pool for many a hardy Caithness generation. Still cleaned out each year by volunteers and painted white it is still a cold dip even in summer. Old pictures show throngs of people swimming there in the summer months.

Alexandra Buxton writes "On a hot day, as many as 100 people swim and sunbathe at the Trinkie. Trinkie is the Scottish word for trench: the pool was created about 70 years ago from part of a quarry. It owes its continued existence to the Sutherland family, who as "Friends of the Trinkie" scrub and paint it every year. "The swimming season in Scotland is very short," says Iain Sutherland, who learnt to swim in the Trinkie. "There are only about 10 weeks when you don't pass out with hypothermic shock getting in."

Further information, opening hours, etc. in Travel Guardian feature (July 2003).

Another photo: The Trinkie in winter

1. Others:

Scolpaig, North Uist, Scotland - tidal pool featured in Kate Rew's book "Wild Swim", pp. 54-55.

Blue Lagoon, Abereiddy / Abereiddi, Pembrokeshire, Wales
Grid ref: SM796315. Not strictly a tidal pool, more a old sea-filled quarry with a narrow channel to the sea - the quarry remains are the property of the National Trust. Featured with photographs in Kate Rew's book "Wild Swim" on pp. 16-17 or read it here.

2. Others, now closed:

Who owns the tidal pools?

After some web research I have concluded that they may all be owned by The Crown Estates, but some may be leased to a local council for example, for day to day management.

Here's the gen extracted from www.crownestate.co.uk:

"The Crown Estate owns around 55% of the foreshore (defined as the area between mean high and mean low water) and approximately half of the beds of estuarial areas and tidal rivers in the United Kingdom. It also owns the seabed out to the 12 mile territorial limit, including the rights to explore and exploit the natural resources of the UK continental shelf, excluding oil, gas and coal.

Generally The Crown Estate does not sell the freehold of the foreshore, except in a few exceptional circumstances. Instead, The Crown Estate grants leases or licences, of which there are over 2,000 all around the coast. The largest leaseholders are local authorities, ports and harbours and conservation bodies. Leases for control of conservation or amenity, which do not permit development of land, are granted normally to these bodies. Through such regulating leases, they may control day to day activity and use of undeveloped tidal land".

Seaside architecture is well described in Chapter 6 of People's Palaces by Lynn Pearson.
See also her Database of Seaside Architecture.

Oliver Merrington, first compiled in July 2002.
Updated March 2009.