There’s not many things I’d get out of bed for at 6.30am on a Sunday morning, but a swim at Bramley Baths is one of them. This stunning Edwardian bathhouse dates back to 1904 and is still open to the public due to the commitment of the local community and it was pleasing to see it being so well used by those who live nearby.
Waiting outside for the doors to open at 7.30am were two men who obviously swim at Bramley Baths regularly. I overheard one say that he’d taken up swimming after being diagnosed with type II diabetes and the other saying it fills his time now that he’s retired.
In that hour between 7.30am and 8.30am, around 20 people came to swim, a fantastic turnout on a Sunday morning in April. As I was leaving, a member of staff was preparing a large box of plastic eggs for an Easter egg hunt for the kids later that day. This place has been serving local residents for over 100 years and is still full of life.
While it’s wonderful to see Bramley Baths being so well appreciated by its users, it’s important to recognise that this is no regular leisure centre. It’s a facility that allows you not just to swim and get fit, but to step back in time and enjoy period features unlike anywhere else.
The reception desk is housed within an evocative oak ticket booth and you’re welcomed into the building with vibrant stained glass and original tiles everywhere you look. The changing rooms are laid out around the edge of the pool, with lockers interspersed throughout the arrangement. These are operated using a supermarket trolley token, but if you haven’t brought one with you, then the friendly receptionist is happy to lend you one from a bowl behind the counter.
It’s always a special experience to swim in a beautiful place, whether it be one created by nature or inside a building constructed generations ago, and Bramley Baths has got to be up there with the best. The intricate railings that frame the pool and glimpse of the foundry chimney through the central skylight add to the sense of history, but the two stained glass windows at either end of the building are truly exquisite.
These semi-circular windows feature swallows sweeping across the upper section in a way that mimics a swimmer gliding through the water. Further down, lily pads float above fish whose bubbles have been immortalised in glass forever. The final whimsical touch is a fairytale castle set off to the side.
Swimming up and down, it didn’t seem like the pool was particularly short, but I was getting through my lengths faster than usual. No, my fitness hadn’t suddenly decidedly to improve spontaneously one Sunday morning; the pool at Bramley Baths is actually 22 metres long – slightly shorter than the regular 25 metres.
A swim at Bramley Baths will set you back £4.65 per adult and £2.50 for children. If you’re not lucky enough to be staying in Bramley because your best friend just moved in a 12.5-minute walk away from the baths, then the numbers 91, 49 and 80 buses from Leeds stop on Broad Lane.