Today marks the first anniversary of Barefoot-em.com and a lot has changed in just 12 short months. When I look back at all the incredible places I’ve swum and things I’ve seen – a lido wedding, a dip in the Atlantic and photo session in an Edwardian bath house, just to name a few – I’m excited to see what the next year brings, but it hasn’t all been plain sailing – or plain swimming for that matter.
Just after I had the idea for Barefoot-em.com I booked a trip to Salamanca and decided to choose the hotel entirely on the strength of its swimming pool. What could be better for the first post on my new swimming blog than a pool with a view of the Old Town and Salamanca’s stunning cathedral in the background?! Well, I don’t know, because this was to become my false start and a big lesson about swimming and timetables.
Summer doesn’t officially start in Spain until June 15th and the pool didn’t open for the season until the day I left – two hours after I left, to be precise. I was devastated and no amount of pleading with the staff (who must have thought I was insane) allowed me access to that pool. Instead, I went off for a dip in the Garrido Municipal Pool, which had already opened for the summer. The Salamanca Parador remains to this day, the pool that got away.
While something of a disappointment, this episode taught me an important lesson about swimming pools and their timetables. You can’t just grab your swimsuit and rock up at a pool anytime you like. These resources, which are often well used by their communities, have strict timings and you have to be adaptable to fit in with them. For example, I had to get up at 6.30am to swim at Bramley Baths and have visited London Fields Lido three times because it’s open the lasted out of all the outdoor pools in the capital.
Other lessons I’ve learned over the past 12 months have included the importance of always packing a bikini. Never did I think that I’d squeeze in 45 minutes of lengths at Life Leisure in Stockport when my train was delayed for two hours on my way to visit my nan, but having a swimsuit in my bag made it possible. Nothing de-stresses me like swimming and even a rail replacement bus was not an issue after that.
In both Budapest and Spain, I discovered that swim caps are compulsory bits of kit and in the former prevent those who just want pics for Instagram from clogging up the swimming lanes. While I learned that I look terrible in a swim cap, it doesn’t matter too much as I’m not doing it purely for the ‘gram (although I do like posting pics of my swims there too).
Every swimming pool across the land has a different system for its lockers. Some accept new pound coins, others old pound coins and a few require trolley tokens. There’s custom tokens that can be bought from reception (my purse is full of these for my local pool) and fancy wrist bands that require synchronising with the locker in question. I always ask at reception what the system is before trying to decipher it in my swimsuit and try to include this useful information in my blog posts. Taking this one step further, I’ve now produced a handy guide to the locker requirements for many of the UK’s pools.
The biggest thing I’ve found out over the last year is just how wonderful the swim community is. We’re a diverse bunch of all shapes and sizes, with preferences ranging from dunking in the sea to doing laps in lidos and even the awe-inspiring triathletes and Channel swimmers. But what seems to be the same amongst all the swimmers I’ve come into contact with – at pools or online – is a willingness to raise others up. It’s an inclusive and supportive community and it’s just truly wonderful.
So, happy birthday to Barefoot-Em.com and a big thank you to everyone who has read along with my adventures in the last year. Also, shout-outs to those who have driven me to swimming spots, wrapped towels around me when I’ve exited the water and generally listened to me rambling on about my swimming plans. To celebrate one year of the site, the marvellous Good That Gav has made this fun animation of my logo. Check him out for all your animation needs. It’s so exciting to see the mermaid come alive and actually get to swim about. Enjoy and happy swimming.