Anna Hattersley runs Ashburton Swimming Pool on the edge of Dartmoor, after saving it from closure with a group of volunteers. Spurred by a love of adventure, she has created a lido hop across Dartmoor by bike.
Swim in a lido, hop on a bike; that is the essence of lido hopping. This route around the eastern edge of
Dartmoor is a great introduction. With five pools in fewer than 30 miles, this is an adventure for people who want to swim, eat well, and explore. To keep it green, extend your cycle to Okehampton
Station in the north and Totnes Station in the south. You can bag an extra lido in Dartington as your reward!
Your journey will follow the Dartmoor Way Cycle Route anti-clockwise, starting in the historic wool town of Buckfastleigh. Buckfastleigh Pool is the oldest lido on the route. People first swam here to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.
As I swam, whistles from steam engines on the South Devon Railway transported me back in time. However, unlike in Victorian times, the pool is heated, as are all five lidos on this route. Off-season Buckfastleigh offers cold water swimming and hot chocolates from the tuck shop.
In the summer, try aquafit and aqua-circuits or lounge on the sun terrace with an ice-cream. Nearby, you can time travel to the 1960s at the Valiant Soldier, go bat spotting or wave to the monks as you pass Buckfast Abbey.
Head east on the Dartmoor Way to Ashburton for a pretty swim in an ancient stannary town. Find the 21m pool down a narrow alleyway and leave your bike beside the sky-blue changing rooms with their shuttered wooden cubicles – then dive in. There is a large field for sunbathing and picnicking, with swings and benches, or you can book a game of tennis. There are tables under the pool shelter by the kiosk so you can even relax with a cup of tea on showery days.
Before rejoining the Dartmoor Way, try to catch a world class musician at Ashburton Arts or explore Ashburton’s many independent shops and cafes.
Lifesaving and dinosaurs
Next cycle through rolling country lanes to Bovey Tracey, where you might find the local cricket team playing on the field in which the pool sits. This is the first 25m pool of the route, and it has a three-metre toddler pool beside it. Local primary children designed the whimsical mosaics that decorate the pool area.
There are sun loungers, parasols, and picnic tables where you can relax with a paperback from the book swap by the entrance. They run inflatable sessions, a conditioning swim and lifesaving club, and open for festive swims.
For quality foods and crafts, explore Bovey Tracey. For kitsch, pop into The Jolly Roger for amusing life-size models of dinosaurs, film characters and Dartmoor otters. Back on your bike, head north through the woods of Parke and up the Wray Valley Trail, a former Victorian railway line. Next stop, Moretonhampstead.
Moretonhampstead Pool welcomes cyclists with six bike racks by the entrance. Head through the pavilion to the 25m pool that has a nice shallow end for children. Like all five pools, volunteers from the community run it and take good care of it.
On my visit, there were colourful hanging baskets, bunting and flowerpots. I only realised the significance of the swallows decorating the wall at the deep end when I swam backstroke. A flock of swallows danced overhead, and a volunteer said they swoop down to drink from the pool on quiet days.
After your swim, wander down the high street with its embroidered flags, pretty cottages, galleries, and cafes or imagine exploring the moor in one of the classic cars at the Motor Museum.
Cycle the final stretch to Chagford, where you will be grateful that you have two wheels rather than four in streets built long before the invention of the motorcar.
There is much in this picturesque town to lure you from your path but, once satisfied, cycle out into the countryside for your final swim.
Chagford Pool sits among fields and trees and is a delightful place to end your adventure. From the large patio area with its tables, navy parasols and toddler pool, you can watch the River Teign meander by. The river feeds this lido, and the water is UV-treated to keep it low in chorine. It is satisfyingly
unorthodox with its wonky shape; 33m at the longest point and 14-15m wide. This harks back to when locals dug the pool by hand in the 1930s to discourage children from swimming in the river and disturbing the salmon.
The community have run the pool ever since and fundraise with events such as their solstice midnight swim. When you have enjoyed your final dip, perhaps visit the Tea Shed where a cup of tea in a Chagford pool mug can be your trophy!
Plan your lido hopping here:
Lead photo: Cara Griffiths
This article is from the August 2022 issue of Outdoor Swimmer. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.