A Love Letter to the Lido

I thought of the Lido again this morning, as I woke up with my hair sticky against my neck after another hot and restless night. I thought of that moment of standing on the edge of the water, literally dipping a toe in and instantly regretting it as the icy shock made me question my life choices and ponder the preferable option of a coffee from Fitzbillies instead. I quickly learned to never hesitate when visiting this outdoor pool. Plunging in is the only way to fly, even if all of your internal organs scream in unison when you first hit the water. It’s worth it.

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I’ve never regretted a trip to Jesus Green Lido. Even when the season rolled towards its end and the temperature of the water would be so low that I would emerge after a 30 minute swim with blue lips and the feeling that I would never know true warmth again, I would spend the day in the most amazing mood. An indoor pool has never been able to come close to replicating that feeling. It feels so soulless somehow, like the roof prevents the magic from hitting the water. I like hearing the trees rustle when I swim, sweeping away fallen leaves and the occasional disgruntled insect and bobbing bird with my broad, clumsy strokes (a natural swimmer I am not). I like feeling the breeze on my shoulders as a squirrel scampers across the grass, all accompanied by the low hum of traffic from Chesterton Road, mixing with the birdsong. I like squinting into the low sun in one direction and feeling the relief between my eyes as I change direction for another 91 metres.

Yes, you heard that right. For anyone who doesn’t know, Jesus Green Lido is 91 metres long and just 14m wide. It’s one of the longest outdoor pools in Europe, designed in such a way as to mimic the feeling of swimming in its neighbour, the River Cam. The deepest part of the pool is in the middle, something I find oddly reassuring (after a tiring length it’s pleasant to be able to place your feet on the bottom, regardless of which direction you’ve swum in). The changing huts are comfortingly retro, made from wood with a sizeable gap at the top and bottom, and there is something freeing about the unabashed way my fellow female swimmers use the communal showers and chat about the weather. When you’ve seen each other in minimal amounts of form fitting lycra, nudity suddenly seems like a very minor next step (something the Brit in me has generally felt uncomfortable with, but strangely not at the Lido).

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With Covid-19 having shut the lido for much of the 2020 season, when I heard that it was opening again, I didn’t feel excited. I felt sad, as I knew that due to my discomfort around the pandemic I was going to miss the entire season. I’m not ready to get on a train again to get there. I’m not ready to be near so many people. And I’m not ready to see the lido in such a different way. I’m not ready to book an hour-long slot for my swim like some strange forced fun and spend the entire session with one wary eye on my belongings on the side of the pool due to the gloriously old-fashioned basket room being closed. I’m not ready to rush. Jesus Green lido was made for lazy social swims (only one third of the pool is usually reserved for “fast” swimmers), relaxing under the surrounding trees and generally experiencing a feeling of nostalgia for simpler times.

So instead I’m looking forward. Jesus Green Lido will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2023, and what a glorious celebration that’s going to be. I (hopefully) have many summers left in me to set a stupidly early alarm so that I can be in the water by 7.30am. And in the meantime I’ll reread one of my favourite books, The Lido, by Libby Page. I’ll browse the lido collection by artist Lou Taylor and maybe treat myself to that brooch at last (or even better, that silk scarf). I’ll google “1930s lido” and fill my boots with fabulous images and feel a moment of sadness for those that have been long since filled in. If there is any risk of the pandemic bringing about the closure of Jesus Green, I will play whatever part I can in ensuring this doesn’t happen. I would happily donate the £5-£10 a week I usually spent on my swim to the Lido if it needed it, as it’s given me so much happiness that extends far beyond this.

Maybe I’m romanticising Jesus Green Lido. But this is a love letter after all.

A Fit Trip to Heppenheim

Ok, so let’s make this clear – I don’t go on holiday just to work out as much as I do at home. I feel like that would defeat the point somewhat. However, if there are chances to try out some new things as I visit my friends G & J and stuff my face with pretzels and Süsse Frühstück at Muse Chocolat (one of the FINEST breakfasts you will ever find), then obviously I’m going to try them out.

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Not the Süsse Frühstück, but the waffles from Muse Chocolat. Yes, we went there twice in three days. Don’t judge me.

For those of you who don’t know, Heppenheim is a small town near Heidelberg, which is a University city twinned with Cambridge. Heppenheim is also overlooked by Starkenburg Castle, which is a fun hike up the 295-metre-high Schlossberg Hill if you’re so inclined (we weren’t on this trip, but we’ve done it before and it’s a gorgeous walk). Heppenheim is also the birth town of Sebastian Vettel for the F1 fans among you.

My friends G & J moved to Heppenheim a couple of years ago, and they’ve been discovering the fitness opportunities it has to offer ever since. The newest addition to the town is the Venice Beach gym, which opened last year and is only a 5 minute walk from their house (the lucky blighters). This new gym is frankly gorgeous – it’s a huge open plan space with massive windows that offer views of the hilly landscape, a glass studio for classes off to one side, a women’s only gym space and the most opulent changing rooms you’ve ever seen. J and I did a total body workout class which included weight based exercises and an aerobic routine using a step. It was super easy to follow, and the instructor was the ideal balance of tough but pushing you with a smile on her face so you can’t really hate her.

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Yes, that’s a chandelier in the changing room.

At the other end of the age spectrum, something that has been going in Heppenheim for some time – since 1931 to be exact – is the glorious open air swimming pool. This is the sort of thing that I would kill for round here if only we had the weather to justify it. The set up has a 50-metre swimming pool, a non-swimmers’ pool with slide, teaching pool with a 25-metre slide and a paddling pool for children, and it opened for the first time for the season the weekend we visited. Admittedly getting in to the pool for the first time was like doing the ice bucket challenge all over again (hello 2014!) but once we were in it was just awesome. It’s made me want to think about trying some more outdoor swimming this summer, but whichever venue I make the effort to get to, it won’t quite be the same as a 6 or 7 minute drive around the corner.

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Not as warm as it might look…

Regular readers of this blog will know that for the last year I’ve been falling in love with bouldering, and G & J have not one but THREE bouldering centres within a half hour drive. Their favourite one is actually the closest, and that is Studio Bloc in Pfungstadt. This place is HUGE – around 3 or 4 times the size of Rainbow Rocket in Cambridge, and it is an absolute climber’s dream. This place is serious – it even has its own shop within the centre where you can get all of the climbing gear you need (including expert advice on your shoes) and all of the necessary accessories. We spent a happy 90 minutes here, and we still didn’t come anywhere near to trying all of the routes we were capable of. Sadly my hand gave out after one particularly ambitious reach tore a callus off my hand (TMI?) but I cannot wait to go back there next time I’m visiting.

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Well hai there…

We were only there for three days, and there were other things I would have liked to try including the Neckarau parkrun near Mannheim (a 30 minute drive away) and a visit to Heidelberg to take the 315 steps up to the Castle, something we’ve not done for a few years.

If you’re considering a trip to Germany I’d thoroughly recommend basing yourself in this area and visiting Heppenheim for the day. It’s well connected by train, has some great places to eat (we visited Back und Brauhaus in nearby Lorsch) and let’s face it – you’re not going to get bored! Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to message G & J and see when they’re next up for some overly energetic visitors…