All the swimming pools I’ve been in since April 2015 – the rest of the UK
You may be grateful to know that this series of all the swimming pools I have swum in since April 2015 is now finally reaching an end. Yep, I’ve catalogued, reviewed, provided historical context, and useless background information about swimming pools in Greater London, in Stockport and Tameside. Well now it’s time to do the rest of the UK. For there’s three. And rather nicely there’s one in England, one in Scotland, and one in Wales.
Don’t worry. It won’t take long.
Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Centre
It’s 2015 and we’re on holiday in the Brecon Beacons with our (then) two and a half year old son. The weather isn’t great one day. What do you do on holidays with a toddler at such times?
The swimming pool!
It was a half hour drive from our cottage near Crickhowell, to Merthyr Tydfil Leisure Centre, but when we got there we found a pretty modern six lane pool, with a smaller pool and a splash area featuring one of those giant mushrooms that water trickles over, making children all excited.
There was a little slide too. And a big water flume, sadly not operational during our visit. But then toddler and flumes tend not to be that good a mix.
It also had a strange quirk I’ve never encountered in any other council owned pool. We had to join. Join for free, but we still had to join. Even though we (at that point) lived in London.
I still have the membership card. Just in case we ever go back. Although if we do, what’s the betting I’ll forget to take it?
(Funnily enough, not long after I learned this, I found out my local leisure centre operator is also going to make everyone “join” before they can use the pool.)
The Blue Lagoon Water Park
I almost didn’t include the Blue Lagoon. As it’s not really a swimming pool. No. It’s a Water Park. Located not far from Tenby in Pembrokeshire, we visited in the summer of 2019 whilst we were holidaying in the area.
Prices aren’t the cheapest. Any person over the age of 4 pays £12.95 to get in during school holidays. Go during school time (even at weekend) and it’s a more reasonable £6.95. During busy periods it’s best to book ahead, which also saves you money. If you don’t, you may end up not being able to get in.
Inside you’ll find flumes, wave machines and multiple splash areas are your thing, then you’ll be good to go. Most of it’s indoors, but there’s also an outdoor jacuzzi area, and a lazy river thing. And a cafe and things. Lots of fun for children and teenagers.
Supposedly your ticket only lasts for three hours. Although whilst your ticket is marked with an entrance time, there were few clocks and they certainly didn’t have anyone checking tickets on the way out to see how long you’d been in there. Don’t take it as read that will always be the case.
Pricey, but a fun day out. Just don’t expect to be able to swim any lengths.
Keswick Leisure Pool
Another of your classic 1980s leisure pools, Keswick Leisure Pool consists of a wave pool, water flume and very splashing related activities. It’s also not a place for serious swimming. But when you’re staying in Keswick (as we often do), it’s a good place for a trip out.
And it’s a “A Great Day Out Whatever The Weather!” according to the advert in the window near reception.
I’d argue with that. For starters, sessions only last 90 minutes. As I type I’m looking at the swim timetable for Sunday. 09:00-10:00 Adults Only. 11:00-12:30 Aqua Splash. 13:30-15:00 Aqua Splash. 15:30-17:30 Birthday Parties. That wasn’t that dissimilar to the day we last went in October 2019. I’ve absolutely no idea how you’re supposed to make a day out of a 90 minute visit there.
The opening hours are presumably a cost saving thing. Presumably if you shut the whole pool for lunch, you can reduce the number of lifeguards you need. There’s other examples of cost cutting too. The flume is run by one lifeguard. They stand at the bottom. They send a person up, wait for them to wizz down the slide, land in the splash pool, and then send the next person up. But when you get to the top you find a big platform with a space for a lifeguard to stand. It looks like the flume is set up to be run by two people – one at the top, one at the bottom. But because there’s only one, you spend ages in the queue waiting for your go. My son spent ten minutes in the queue for a 90 second slide. He didn’t bother going down a second time.
The pool itself is also looking rather tired. You can tell by the rusting bits on the flume. And the fact that the tiling looks rather grotty. They have, at least, done up the changing rooms recently, which were recently refurbished. Well they threw some new paint on the wall or something. It’s not clear. There’s also no individual showers. And not enough showers full stop. Given the entire pool has to empty out after 90 minutes, you’ll be lucky if you get near any water when you get out.
The place is quite possibly on life support. Locals want a proper pool. The local council have noted the facility is at the end of its operational life. Decisions need to be made. Replace or refurbish. They’ve been saying that for a few years…
Hopefully one day Keswick will get a better facility. If the council want a model, perhaps they could look to Merthyr.
East Sands Leisure Centre
Finally to Scotland. St Andrews in Fife to be exact. We’ve been there a couple of times due to having family in the area, and pretty much every trip has involved a visit to the East Sands Leisure Centre at one point or other.
Opened in 1988, the pool area is basically a large square with a four lane, 25m pool running diagonally from one corner to another. The other two corners feature a small splash pool with a slide, and that bastion of 1980s swimming pools, a water flume. The main pool is not rectangular, but has a wider shallow “beach” area with a gentle slope to the pool. The pool layout is a curious design that – visually at least – doesn’t seem particularly space efficient. Could they have fitted in another lane if they’d laid it out non-diagonally? Without a tape measure, I can’t tell you.
As for the flume lands into a deep splash pool, although less confident younger swimmers don’t have to miss out as there are buoyancy jackets available to use. On our visits, the flume was only been operational for short bursts, although there was rarely a queue and everyone seemed to get a good dunking.
There’s an element of the era it was built in, about the place. Pale brown, bare brick walls. Yellow roof girders. A white corrugated metal roof. Large coloured balls suspended from the ceiling. The centre’s right next to the East Sands beach, yet for some reason the architect didn’t feel the need to put in lots of windows so you don’t get much of the sea view.
The bare brick effect also features in the changing rooms, coupled with rather elderly but functional stainless steel lockers. The facilities are mixed-sex, with private cubicles and rather well hidden single sex showers. But at least they’re there.
Although the pool could be bigger, and the giant balls suspended from the ceiling could – perhaps – do with a lick of paint, East Sands is a pleasant facility. Just put a few more windows looking out to the sea, and it would be spot on.