The historic Bath lido finally reopening after 20 years – The Telegraph

With Cleveland Pools set to open to the public tomorrow, our writer got a sneak peak at what you can expect
Wild swimming – it’s so in vogue. Said a respectable Bath gentleman, 200-odd years ago. Probably. Because, while millennials may think they invented the concept of jumping into outdoor water, the practice has been around for centuries. Indeed, it was so popular in the 18th century, the period became known as ‘the dipping age’. 
Well, in Bath, from this Sunday (September 10), a remnant of the ‘dipping age’ is making a comeback. And it’s magnificent.
Cleveland Pools is the UK’s oldest public outdoor swimming pool, built in 1815 in a secluded spot on the banks of the River Avon east of the city. Back then it was for middle class businessmen, who networked while doing their lengths; a ladies’ pool was added in 1827. The Pools operated almost continuously until competition from the new indoor leisure centre caused it to close in 1984. 
But after the site was put up for sale in 2003, and threatened with demolition, a group of locals formed the Cleveland Pools Trust (CPT); determined to save it and reopen it for public swimming. 
It’s been a tough battle, not only to secure the required funds (it cost £9.3 million) but to work with the incredibly challenging building site. The Pools are tucked behind a row of terraced houses, only accessible via a steep, narrow, pedestrian passage. While this isn’t a problem for most visitors – I walked there via the Kennet & Avon Canal and from next year, you’ll be able to dock at a river pontoon by pleasure boat or canoe – it made things tricky for the builders. Virtually all materials had to be transported downriver by barge from the local rugby club, before being unloaded by crane.
“There were so many problems,” admitted volunteer Nicky Robinson during my sneak peak at the pools yesterday. “Sometimes I wondered, are we ever going to get there? But when the water went in – well, I cried that day. It’s such a soulful place.”
She’s right. This is an urban location – just a mile from the city centre – but you wouldn’t know it. Trees tower on the river side, Bath-stone cottages hug the slope above; there isn’t a breath of traffic noise. As I gazed at the sparkling semi-circular pool and the beautifully restored Georgian changing rooms that curve like the city’s Royal Crescent, I saw Rob Taylor grinning even more widely than me. Rob, business manager of Fusion Lifestyle, is running the site. “In 35 years of running swimming pools I’ve never come across a place like this,” he told me. “It’s the heritage, the passionate volunteers, the herons and kingfishers. It’s a little oasis.” 
It’s appropriate that Britain’s oldest lido is in Bath – once known as Aquae Sulis. It’s a town of notable waters. There’s the natural thermal springs that attracted the Romans to settle here, their handiwork viewable in the excellent Roman Baths museum. There’s the modern Thermae Bath Spa, where you can soothe in the same warm spring waters, in a panoramic rooftop pool. There’s the leafy canal, an excellent way to walk out into the countryside. And there’s the looping Avon itself.
The river originally fed the Pools. It’s not clean enough these days, but still plays a crucial role. From April to September a water-source heat pump will be used to extract warmth from the river to raise the temperature of the Pools, up to 28C. In winter, when the pump is turned off but the Pools remain open, the temperature will drop to around 5C. I dove into an unheated pool that, thanks to the scorching weather, was a delicious 23.6C.
“In Britain 97 per cent of pools are heated by gas boilers,” explained Paul Simons, CPT’s Chair of Trustees. “If we used gas, that would be 150 tonnes of carbon going into the Bath atmosphere. Our source is free and renewable.”
This achievement has already been recognised. In June 2023, Cleveland Pools was a winner of the prestigious Europa Nostra Awards 2023, for its ‘outstanding heritage achievement’ and use of ‘green energy and a holistic approach to reinstate the site’s original function while adapting it to 21st-century standards’.
Sally Helvey, CPT’s Head of Talks & Tours, remembers the Pools in its 20th century incarnation; her grandmother brought her here. “Back then the water was very cold,” she recalled. “It was only open in summer. There was no demand for cold-water swimming. Covid has changed that.” The site has a children’s pool as well as the 25m-long main pool, and Sally is looking forward to bringing her own granddaughter for a paddle. 
She’s also looking forward to sharing the history. “It’s as much a heritage attraction as a swimming pool,” she says. “And we’re still learning. For instance, it’s possible the old ladies’ pool [now site of the interpretation room] was also a ritual mikveh bath for the Jewish community. There are still mysteries to be solved.”
So maybe the project isn’t quite finished. As well as those mysteries, there are more plans afoot: art exhibitions, heritage visits; maybe, one day, a footbridge over the river. But for now, it’s smiles all round. Some 32,000 people enquired about the free opening day tomorrow.“We’re delighted to save this piece of heritage and provide such a community asset,” said Paul Simons. “Twenty years ago, people said, we want our pools back. This seals that goal.” 
Swims cost £6 per adult; £4 per child and for concession; free entry for non-swimmers. Facilities include hot showers, snack kiosk, terrace, changing rooms and accessible toilets. For times and booking, use the Fusion Lifestyle website (fusion-lifestyle.com) or app; clevelandpools.org.uk
The Pools are a 15-minute walk from the city centre, 20 minutes from Bath Spa train station. Bus 734 runs to Forester Avenue, a four-minute walk. There is no parking at the Pools, other than two bays for disabled drivers. From spring/summer 2024 it will be possible to arrive at the river pontoon by Pulteney Cruisers or Stand-up paddleboard or kayak.
No 15 (01225 807015; guesthousehotels.co.uk/no-15-bath), on grand Great Pulteney Street, two-thirds of a mile from the Pools, offers doubles from £160pn room only.
For further information, go to visitbath.co.uk
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Originally posted 2023-09-13 06:30:05. Republished by Blog Post Promoter