If you’re going to swim in a lido then you might as well do it in style and Cirencester Open Air Pool has heaps of it. Not only does its heritage date back to 1869, but this unique swimming spot has a backdrop that’s hard to beat – a picture-perfect castle complete with crenelations, which contrasts perfectly with the vibrant blue of the pool’s water.
But a visit to the UK’s oldest public outdoor pool in continuous use starts way before you see this wonderful vista unfold in front of you, because you need to approach it on foot. There’s something rather lovely about parking your car a bit away from the pool and wandering up Cecily Hill following the signposts to this not quite hidden, but tucked away gem.
My visit coincided with one of the hottest periods of the summer and the first week of the English school holidays. Safe to say it was busy, but the staff were well-prepared for this and were running a tight ship with a one-in-one-out entry policy. We only had to wait 15 minutes for eight people to leave and we were in. When I say we, that was me and my dad. It was wonderful to have him join me for a swim, although I’m not sure he’d have been so keen if the pool wasn’t heated to a comfortable 27 degrees C.
Even more impressive than the calm and polite system of entry was the fact that the pool managed to maintain a lane for swimming lengths despite all the hullabaloo going on beyond the lane divider. Occasionally, a spirited child would venture into the lane and would be asked to head back amongst the families and leisure swimmers with their floats and jumping in antics.
This left a dedicated space to swim lengths and although everyone was of varying speeds, we managed to work it so nobody was left frustrated and unable to make good use of the lane. The pool is 28 metres, meaning it’s slightly longer than the average size and is a joyful place to enjoy swimming up and down on a summer’s day.
In the changing rooms, there is an ample supply of lockers, closed with a returnable £1 coin. Unusually, the showers are also coin operated, which means putting a 20 pence piece into one of the two boxes on the wall, helpfully marked left and right. I didn’t have to wait for a shower to be free, but I should imagine it’s possible that this might be the case on occasion. Having no idea how long a shower my 20 pence entitled me to I quickly washed my hair, only to find that the steady stream of water continued long after I’d finished.
I’m reliably informed by my dad that there was a discussion about this in the men’s changing room with everyone agreeing they’d like to have been able to turn the shower off manually. If there’s two of you (of the same gender) you could easily both get your hair washed and body rinsed off for just one 20 pence’s worth of water.
Cirencester Open Air Pool starts its season in May each year and remains available until September, with a number of sessions on offer. There’s dedicated lane swimming at specific times, adult-only periods and quiet swimming on a Sunday morning between 9am and 10am. This is such a lovely idea and is reserved for those who need to know the maximum number of people in the pool will be 16. The volunteers that run the pool have obviously put a lot of thought into the way it works and this was evidenced during our visit.
A swim costs £4.80 for adults and £2.80 for children and students, although there is a wide variety of concessions and group swim offers, so it’s worth checking the website. Refreshments are available at the poolside tuck shop, with ice lollies selling fast on the hot day we visited. There’s also various bits of Cirencester Open Air Pool merchandise, including reusable coffee cups and postcards. I’m wishing I’d bought a pin badge…