A city oasis
Let’s start with the good stuff: this is a 25m outdoor pool right in the heart of the West End and it’s only £4.25 to get in. You don’t get many proper-sized pools in the city centre (lack of space); and public, heated, outdoor pools are few and far between anywhere in the country. It also has quite a bit of outdoor space for general lounging, AND a cafe selling Twisters.
What a lovely thing to do on a sunny evening, I thought. But as with almost any idea inspired by a rare burst of sunshine in London (see also: picnic in a park, pint in a pub garden, trip to the zoo, visit to Kew Gardens etc) every single other human within a 5 mile radius has had exactly the same idea, and probably turned up a crucial 10 minutes earlier.
In short, it was packed. Moments before I arrived a mob of Speedo-wearing enthusiasts must have descended on the Oasis Sports Centre like a pod of seals being pursued by a hungry killer whale.
I had to queue for 10 minutes before I was even allowed in because there were already 42 people in the pool by 6:15pm. I’m sure the queuing rule is new. I came here on a particularly scorching summer’s day in 2000 and every inch of sun-baked decking was occupied by well oiled gay men in colourful budgie smugglers; and there were so many people in the pool that if someone jumped in another would just pop right out like a wet bar of soap.
The place is a little run down in that typically British, public service kind of way, all broken toilet seats and discarded hair bands. But that’s probably a blessing: I’m sure the prospect of a plague of verrucas dissuades at least 50 people per day.
In winter months or very early in the morning this place is a lot more like the oasis it claims to be: calm, quiet, and refreshing. It may also be fine if you go after 7pm. I certainly wouldn’t recommend a rush-hour trip. It’s like being on the M25 on a hot bank holiday, only there’s two-way traffic in every lane and you’re much more likely to get kicked.
Nevertheless, swimming under sky is always so much nicer than swimming indoors, and we are very lucky to have open access to such a great public space.
The centre also has plenty of other things going on besides the outdoor pool. There’s an indoor pool too, a gym, and classes in everything from meditation to boxing. Definitely worth a trip – just choose your moment a little more wisely than I did.