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Dip into London’s most interesting swimming pools

Posted at 3:15 pm, May 17, 2014 in Fun London
RAC Club

For her book on swimming in the capital, Jenny Landreth splashed her way round London’s most interesting pools. From a pub garden to a former church, she tells us about a wealth of unusual places where people dive in.

A pool with a retractable roof
The Berkeley Hotel

I don’t normally frequent pools where there is a selection of newspapers to read. Here they offer the Daily Mail, and Hello magazine, so I’m probably not their regular sort of customer. Or is it client? Whichever, take time to admire the fantastic view high above Hyde Park and, when the roof is off, upwards. The pool is pillared and has mosaics in the style of a small but splendid sunken Roman bath – it’s not really a place for training, more for lazing. Get access as part of a day pass to the spa. Knightsbridge or Hyde Park Corner. www.the-berkeley.co.uk

RAC Club swimming pool

Old-fashioned splendour
Royal Automobile Club

Set in the heart of Pall Mall, this is privilege – old-boy, establishmenttype privilege – to its core. It’s so posh that the Queen may have learned to swim here. (Back then she’d have needed a daughters or wives ticket, but women are allowed in on their own now.) One of the few Grade II-listed pools in London, it is marble-lined and 26.3 metres long.The changing area has dark wood panelling and it’s how I imagine old boarding schools to be. Collar a member to get you in. Green Park or Charing Cross. www.royalautomobileclub.co.uk

The spot for a contemplative crawl
Virgin Active Repton Park

The pool is in a converted chapel in the grounds of Claybury Asylum, now a gated housing estate. It sits in what was the central nave, surrounded by brick arches and stained-glass windows. It’s a most discombobulating experience, scampering around in your bathers in a church – but the swim is a calm and restorative experience. Grange Hill or Hainault. www.virginactive.co.uk

Stunning river views
Canary Riverside club

This is a fabulous view. Right on the riverside with a huge glass frontage, this infinity pool appears to meld seamlessly into the Thames. It’s part of the Virgin chain, and the pool room is a great wood box with rounded pillars and loungers. It featured in ‘Skyfall’, apparently – pretending to be in Shanghai. If you want some modern low-key chic, this is the place. Westferry DLR. www.virginactive.co.uk

Energy base, University of London

In the buff
Energy Base,
University of London

If size matters, this is the largest pool in central London – at 33.3 metres long and 11.5 metres wide. The thing that really marks it out, though, is it offers nude swimming for two hours every Sunday lunchtime, on a drop-in basis. The pool is part of University of London Union’s sports provision, and it’s in a brute of a room. The Beatles did a photo shoot here in the 1960s, larking round on the now disappeared diving boards (except Ringo, who couldn’t swim). Goodge Street. www.ulu.co.uk/energybase

A plunge with a pint
King’s Oak Lido

Drinking and swimming do not normally mix (for obvious reasons), so there are not many pools in pubs. But this one, right on the western edge of Epping Forest, is in the grounds of the King’s Oak. It’s a 1930s lido with a tiered fountain at one end and there’s room to lounge round the sides. The changing facilities are garden sheds, by the way. Tarted up, but sheds nonetheless. Once a public lido but now private, it offers day or season passes. Loughton. www.kingsoakhotel.com

Tom Daley’s training pool
London Aquatics Centre

Hallelujah, the angels sing: this is the cathedral of swimming. Highly anticipated and now open to the public – and wow, is it worth visiting. Proper legacy stuff, it is a piece of stunning architecture for the people, with masses of beautiful curved and polished concrete, plus two (yes, two) 50-metre pools – the competition one under a ceiling the size and proportions of a whale’s underbelly, with the lights as barnacles. Masses of glass, too, so light floods in. And at the end, those famous diving boards, rising organically from the floor. Visit to look, stay to swim. Stratford. www.queenelizabetholympicpark.co.uk

‘Swimming London’ by Jenny Landreth (Aurum Press £12.99) is published on May 1.

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