Outdoor swimming frequently involves changing under a towel in a muddy car park before slipping into cold murky water followed by trying to drink over-brewed lukewarm tea while shivering vigorously. It’s all good fun of course, and usually free, which is why we love it.
But, sometimes, isn’t it wonderful to indulge in a bit of outdoor swimming luxury? This week I had just the opportunity to do so at the newly opened Thames Lido in Reading.
My first question was: am I going to a lido with a restaurant attached or a restaurant with a lido feature? It turns out that it’s neither. Instead, it’s a delightful hybrid. Whereas it’s unlikely you would go to your local pool just for a meal, you could – and people do – enjoy the restaurant at Thames Lido on its own. Or, you could just use the pool and facilities. The best option, however, is to swim and then eat, which is what I did.
This isn’t just any pool. Although it is on the site of the old King’s Meadow swimming pool, which originally opened in 1902 and was filled with water from the nearby Thames, it has been completely remodelled and modernised. Slightly smaller than the original, the restored pool is 25m long and 8m wide. It stands proud of the surrounding floor and is filled to the brim. Any water spilling over collects in the surrounding drain, passes through a UV treatment process and filters, and is then returned to the pool. That, combined with the lido’s “pre-swim naked shower” policy, ensures the water is particularly clean and chlorine levels can be kept low.
This is most definitely a pool for relaxed swimming rather than training. Think head up breaststroke and chat rather than head-down lung-bursting freestyle. Although one of the promotional pictures shows someone swimming butterfly, I didn’t dare try that myself. It would have shattered the serenity and splashed water on the restaurant windows. There are no lane ropes, flags or markings on the bottom of the pool. And there is certainly no pace clock. These are things I usually consider essential for a pool, but I didn’t miss them in the slightest. Thames Lido invited me to unwind, chill-out and swim calm, mindful laps, and that’s what I did. The water was a comfortable 27 degrees Celsius, although the advertised temperature is between 21 and 25 degrees.
It was, at first, strange to be swimming next to people dining. It felt a bit goldfish-like. But I stopped noticing after a few lengths. Following my swim I stretched out in the hot tub, then tested the ice bucket, funnel shower and steam room. This unaccustomed degree of pampering left me feeling surprisingly hungry, so I headed to the restaurant for tapas.
The restaurant with pool combination really works. Anyone who swims appreciates being next to water and the pool creates a calming atmosphere for diners. While I ate there were three swimmers in the pool, gliding up and down in a line. In a way, it was like watching fish in an aquarium or ducks on a pond; after a while you stop paying attention and it becomes part of the ambience. And the food was excellent.
The biggest downside to all this luxury is that it comes at an exclusivity-enforcing price. Non-members can use the pool and facilities between 1pm and 4pm Monday to Friday for £20. If you want to access the pool at a different time of day or over the weekend you would need to be a member or buy a swim and eat package, which start at £35. Given that, for those living close enough, a membership at £59 per month looks quite attractive. If you swim three or more times a week it will cost you a similar amount to a municipal pool.
Thames Lido isn’t for everyone and we know many outdoor swimmers will balk at the price and restrictive opening times. On the other hand, it does what it sets out to do very well. If you’re in or near Reading, set aside a few hours for some outdoor swimming luxury and enjoy it for what it is.
Thames Lido is around a 10-minute walk from Reading Station. Alternatively, it has its own car park and there is additional parking in a nearby NCP car park.
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