Posts Tagged ‘lido’

The bits of London you won’t find in a guide book

The other day, I had a day off and didn’t quite know what to do with myself. I decided to go swimming but wanted something a little more exciting than my local pool. A few people had suggested the lido in Tooting, an area I’m unfamiliar with. So I took the plunge and decided to get myself acquainted with Balham and Tooting. 

Each part of London is kind of like a little world of it’s own. There’s a distinctly different feel to Brixton than there is to Kensington, or from Richmond (where the bus I was on starts) than there is to Tooting (where the bus route ends). As soon as I got off the bus, I was in the teeming, bustling crowds of Tooting High Street. As opposed to the gentle quietness of Highgate, this was the busy, noisy sounds of life being lived in a small space. The shops immediately in front of me were an Indian greengrocers, a South Asian restaurant and (strangely enough) a ‘Caribbean and Bagel takeaway’!

Getting into the spirit of things, I grabbed some fruit at the greengrocers and was persuaded by the man at the till to buy some freshly baked naan breads. They were still warm so instead of waiting for a Naan Stop later, I got one out and munched as I walked. 

I got to Balham train station before long, where frightened locals hid on the platforms during the war. Some were killed and I was guessing that the big pictures outside were some kind of memorial to them, although I couldn’t find anything to confirm this. 



I was on Tooting Common before long, a lovely open space where children played rounders and mums/nannies with buggies looked glamorous and bored. On one section of the path which leads across the Common to the lido, there is an old by-law which says that one must hop. Just this section, mind you. As the law has not been repealed, and I didn’t want to be arrested, I got hopping. I mistakenly thought it would be a funny thing to do for ten seconds or so, but the section of path was quite lengthy. I guess now is the time to admit that I still had slightly sore calves from my vigorous dance mat session in Bognor Regis so my leg was pretty upset with me after quite some time of hopping. I checked for policemen and, as there were none about, risked my luck and walked the final section. 

I crossed over a road and plunged into thick trees and bushes. There is an unkempt attractiveness to Tooting Common. Like once a year, someone comes and has a quick tidy-up, just makes sure the paths are still walkable, then leaves it alone again.

It gives you the impression that you’re first discovering something unseen for centuries, just a small pathway to prove that people once walked here. It is mostly unpopulated too, so I spent the majority of my walk on the Common without seeing other people.

 All of a sudden, noises and splashes invaded my solitude. Through a fence I could see the blue of the lido. After finally working out the way in, I paid my £6 and picked one of the many colourful changing room doors to put my stuff in. This lido is pretty well renowned for being one of the largest open air pools in Europe. It is 100 yards long and 30 yards wide. There is a million gallons of (cold) water in it! When lots of outdoor pools were closed down, this one clung on, thanks in large part to the South London Swimming Club, who’s home is at the lido. They swim every morning of the year, even Christmas Day! 


Despite there being a lot of people there, only about half were in the water and all at the shallow end. I had the deep end mostly to myself apart from a few who were doing lengths. Lots of people were sitting around the pool on the benches or playing on the grassy area by the shallow kids’ pool. I approached a set of stairs and gingerly put a foot in, inhaling sharply when the cold hit me. The other foot went in. Down a step, up to my knees. More inhaling and telling myself to breathe slowly. Down again, thighs in. Cold! I paused here. I realised that if I didn’t want to spent two hours getting in, there was only one thing for it. I got out, walked to the side of the pool, and jumped! And it wasn’t as bad as I thought. It was cold, of course, but did not induce the heart attack I had feared it would. I got moving straight away, to warm up. 

I’ll do ten lengths, just a quick one. Maybe twenty if I feel energetic after just ten. I had forgot…. ‘just ten’ in my local pool took about ten minutes, maybe fifteen. Ten lengths in this pool was going to take waaaaay longer. By the time I’d done one length, I was panting a bit. I had forgotten about the 100 yards thing. But I had paid £6 so was determined to get my money’s worth. I powered up and down, doing backstroke to go faster at the top end, and breaststroke at the bottom, to avoid knocking out any children. Ten lengths later, I was a lot more breathless than I’d expected to be and went off to the showers, congratulating myself on ‘getting my money’s worth’ but hoping the rest of my walk wouldn’t be too energetic. 

Post-swim extreme hunger set in and I grabbed another naan bread, while sitting at the side of the pool, drying my feet and putting my shoes on. A man with a Spanish accent, pranced about on the edge of the pool, jumped (belly-flopped) in, looking to me for approval as soon as his head came back up. He then came over and attempted small talk. Given his unimpressive jumping style, I smiled politely but finished putting on my shoes and left. Back on to Tooting Common I went, and headed for a duck pond I knew was around here somewhere. 


One winter day, about five years ago, my friend Joe and I came to Tooting to look round and explore the Common. We found this duck pond, frozen over. I was checking how thick the ice was by pressing my foot on the surface. Of course it took my weight so I pressed a little harder, leaned more heavily with my shoe. Of course it then cracked and in went the foot, right up to the ankle. I was wearing mid-calf length boots and this little ‘dip’ left me with a freezing cold, wet foot, for the rest of the day. One of my less clever moments in life…!

There was also a little cafe, where Joe and I had sat, taking in the view. I forget what we ate/drank then, but to commemorate being back after so long, I got an ice cream. It seemed like the right thing to do. My ice cream and I then left the Common and walked back toward Balham train station. On the way there, I passed a massive apartment building called Du Cane Court.

According to legend, this was a landmark for German bombers during the war, leading to rumours about German spies living on the top floor and the building looking like the shape of the swastika from above. I walked around it to check the rumour and it seems to be a giant E shape. I’m not sure whether the rumour-spreaders ever went to the trouble of doing this because it honestly took me about ten minutes to figure out that it was not a swastika shape. Anyway, maybe they know something I don’t. 


Inside the foyer, there is an old-school glamour to everything. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d learned that it had been used in films. 


Shortly after this apartment block, I wound my way around some side streets to Wandsworth Common, the far side of which was Oscar Wilde’s one-time residence, the ominous-looking prison behind the high walls. More bored, glamorous mums/nannies were gathered in a huge circle, chitchatting. An ice-cream van played tunes loudly and there was a bowling green hidden away in a far corner. Around the edge of the Common, where I stopped to wait for the bus, was a restaurant called Chez Bruce, where Marco Pierre White first made his name in London. This is Bellevue Road, a total step out of what the rest of my walk has been like. Bellevue Road is fashionable, trendy and littered with young professionals, supping their lattes outside high-end delis and expensive bistros. A flower shop had spilled some of its goodies out onto the pavement and, in the spirit of summer and my walk, I bought a potted sunflower, which is currently enjoying its new home in a bigger pot, on my patio.



Revisiting North London

Archway and Crouch End are a stone’s throw from Highgate so I decided on Tuesday that a) it was time to pay back the kindly residents of Highgate the money I owed them b) that I’d like to be back in that part of London again as it was so lovely.


These areas have been described as Highgate and Hampstead’s ‘poor relation’ but I shunned this as posh nonsense. People looking down their noses at the lowly, slightly rougher areas on the other side of Archway Road. But there were ancient woods and spooky pools and interesting history to get my teeth into. So I set off, snacks in bag, swimsuit and towel under arm, to revisit North London. I couldn’t wait.


It started well. I left Archway tube station and headed straight up Archway Road to Archway Bridge, otherwise known as Suicide Bridge. It has been known as various things over the years, including the Bridge of Sighs (presumably for the same reason).


As I headed under the bridge and up the high street, lots of things were closed or a bit falling-down-y. One church looked a bit out of place, like the Pope had decreed that it must be built to look a bit like a cool casino, to try and attract more people, by convincing them it wasn’t really a church. I expect just inside the door, there were huge plastic palm trees. I didn’t look though.


I kept going and reached an amazing looking book store called Ripping Yarns, that I didn’t trust myself to go in. There was also a hairdressers called E. Scissorhands, which I thought was quite cool. It was around this time that I received a text message from BBC News. It said that the UK had won a gold in the men’s triathlon…. NO! NO THEY DIDN’T! NO! BECAUSE SOMEONE TOLD ME IT’S TOMORROW! I had planned to go tomorrow to watch it. If I had known I definitely DEFINITELY would have gone. Instead I was in stinky Archway, looking at closed down shops and odd churches. Damn! Damn it. I hate Archway. I hate the Lympits (as my cousin’s son, Theo, calls it). I can’t believe the Lympits let me down by being on the wrong day.

Ok, calm down, Laura. Stop freaking out. It’s not the Lympits fault. It’s yours, for not double checking what someone told you. Archway is lovely. Stop acting like a child. And stop stamping your feet and shaking your fists in the air. You’re in public. Calm down….

After I had regained my composure, I searched online and found out that the next free event is on Saturday, it’s the walking race. Most of the route is unticketed. I will go to that. Pheeewwwww! And that way I can get a photo at least, unlike the cycling, where I just got blurry colour streaks and crowds.

Shortly after my hissy fit, I turned off Archway Road into Highgate Wood and was plunged from slightly run-down high street into deep woods, full of animal sounds and tree varieties. Believe it or not, this wood has been here for hundreds of years. It was mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1087, as ‘Hornsey Woods’. (The Domesday Book, for those who are sure what I’m talking about, was commissioned by William the Conqueror after he had invaded England to find out who owned what land etc.)

Another amazing bit of Highgate Wood trivia is that a Roman kiln was found here recently! This is the section they have in the small cosy visitor’s centre. It was a kiln which had been in use between 140 and 160 AD which was, according to the blurb, the ‘fourth and last phase of the Highgate pottery sequence’… Don’t ask me what the first three phases of the Highgate pottery sequence are though.


Next to the visitor’s centre is a playing field where Rod Stewart used to play football as a young man. The current football team who play there are not doing so well though. In ‘Tree Top News’, the Highgate Woods newsletter, this season is described as one where ‘the wheels have come off the cart’….!


The woods have been carefully managed and have varieties of birds and bugs that are extremely rare in other parts of London, such as stag beetles (also bred with success on Putney Heath, a destination of another of my walks).

After trying two or three times to leave the park, I finally found a gate and crossed Muswell Hill Road and over into Queen’s Wood, which made Highgate Wood look like an open field. The trees were so tense. Apart from the pathways, I couldn’t see very far into the woods at all. I quickly descended from the busy, loud road, down to the dark spookiness of a deserted paddling pool, which has been fenced around for years apparently. What it is still doing there is a mystery.


Queen’s Wood is alive with tumbling raspberry bushes…


..and beautiful plants which I had never seen before and had no idea of the name of. The trees formed a solid canopy over me with small spots of sunlight breaking gently through. After wandering about marveling at this ancient woodland for a while, I headed out and onto my next point of interest, the Park Road Leisure Centre lido. In I went, paid my £4.50 and asked which direction went to the outdoor pool. The woman behind the desk didn’t seem that bothered whether I was there or not and mildly irritated that I should be asking her anything like the direction to the pool. When I got outside the pool looked huge! I got my camera out and took a few photos…


…when all of a sudden, from my right, a voice yelled “OI! STOP TAKING PHOTOS!” As though I were trying to break out of a maximum security prison unit. What? And who was this person without enough manners to come over and say “Could you stop taking photos please?” instead of yelling from the other side of the pool, as if we’re thuggish teenagers on the street or something. It really threw me, given that on my Highgate walk, everyone was nice as pie and super generous. I was only a few roads away from Highgate… what had happened?

And that’s when I understood what they meant when they described Crouch End as the ‘poor relation’. Ohhh…… That’s what they meant.


I put my phone away and went to the lockers, my lovely day of woodlands and history marred slightly by this unexpected rudeness. I changed and put 20p in the locker and got the key thing out. It was one of those which is attached to a bracelet which you can put around your wrist while you swim. As I tried to put it on, I realised it was broken. Dammit. I went back to the lockers, put the key in and waited for my 20p to come back out so I could put all my stuff in a different locker. But no, the 20p did NOT come back out. It didn’t show any signs of even pretending to come out.

This was going rapidly downhill. The Crouch End/Archway walk now had two black marks against it’s name, within the space of three minutes. It was annoying that it happened there, at the swimming pool. Usually that’s the best bit in my day. Especially on a day out and being in a different pool, it’s exciting. This swimming pool incident was not exciting.

Eventually I got in the (freezing) pool and started swimming. As it’s much bigger than the outdoor pool I usually swim in and there were no little markers between any lanes, I had no way to tell where I was or which direction I was moving in when I was doing backstroke. Hence I proceeded to swim all over the place like an idiot. You’d think I was allergic to straight lines or something.

In the following diagram, I am the one at the top, ready to set off from the side of the pool. The person below me is a man who can swim in a straight line and must have been very annoyed/amused having to share the pool with such a moron.

After my first right turn, I heard shouting and looked up (the blob on the picture) and the lifeguard woman was shouting at me, “Wrong way! You’re going the wrong way!”

“Thanks!” I shouted back, embarrassed and corrected myself. Just before I got to the edge of the pool, I checked again to see if I was going in the right direction. I was. So I leant back again and did a few more strokes to get to the edge of the pool. And a few more. And a few more again. Somehow, after checking my direction, I had turned widthways and was swimming across the pool instead of up and down it.

After this shambles of a length, I reverted to breast stroke for the remainder of my swim. At least I could see where I was going then. It was a really lovely pool actually. Shame about my first few minutes there being quite rubbish. As I left, I went to the woman at the desk and politely told her a made-up story about being a new resident in the area, I love swimming, I swim every day, I was looking for a new pool to go to every day, being yelled at by the lifeguards was not the nicest way to be welcomed, I had lost my 20p in the locker and while none of this was major or life-threatening and while I was not one to make complaints usually, I just thought I’d say that this had been a distinctly unpleasant first visit and I was quite disappointed. She said sorry and that she’d talk to the lifeguard but then again, she was the person who had been annoyed when I asked her how to get to the outdoor pool so I didn’t think she cared that much. “It’s ok, it’s not your fault,” I said, more graciously than I felt, and left to continue my walk.


I headed to Crouch End Broadway and found bakeries with lovely looking treats and more bookshops, which I didn’t go in. It was hard though. I stayed on this road past the clock tower and just kept going, passing a school called Coleridge Primary School! He was everywhere up here. I even saw an old old fountain with a quote from him on it. I passed Faraday House, as in Michael Faraday, the scientist. He used to stay in the area a lot too.

I soon found myself out on top of Archway Bridge and it looked much higher up than it had looked when I was down on the road, looking up at it. The view into London was amazing. Again, it doesn’t translate onto a photograph very well but here it is. You can see some of the tall buildings like the Gherkin and the Shard, that were in my photo taken from the viewpoint on Hampstead Heath.

After this, it was time to repay some of my debts. I crossed the bridge and continued down the road, coming out opposite Waterlow Park, which I had passed at the beginning of my last walk here. Turning right, I reached the bookshop in a minute or so. If anyone has forgotten, I bought some books in this bookshop which cost £23.95 but I only had £23.75. The woman wouldn’t let me pay by card, but said I could just bring her the 20p later. I didn’t get back to the shop before going home and haven’t been in North London again since. I felt pretty rubbish about promising to bring it back then not doing so. So I was back to keep my promise. As I entered the shop, the woman was sitting behind the desk.

“Hi, I was here about three weeks ago…” I started.

“O! And you’re back! How lovely!”

I was amazed. She remembered me. She knew exactly what I was talking about when I started to explain.

“Yes,” I said, “I’ve brought the 20p, sorry it’s taken so long!”

She was lovely about it, said hadn’t been thinking about it and thank you for coming by again.

After this, I headed down Highgate Hill and back to Archway station and home, to sit around thinking about how disappointed I was about missing the Lympits triathlon.