On the edge of the tide

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There is a place on the coast, a place that is almost forgotten.  It lies in the shadow of the promenade and you might never notice it was there.  The zig-zag of steps leading down to it is unobtrusive and ends abruptly on the rocks.  You might wonder why there is a staircase here at all.  But look before you and you will see a bowl scooped neatly out of the rocks.  Peer into the foggy water, choked with bladderwrack, and you might notice flagstones at its base.  Look closely at the walls and you will see rusted metal rings driven into the rocks.

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Table Rocks is an accident of geology: a natural pool filled by the tide.  It was opened as a swimming pool in 1894, when it was 20 feet long.  In 1908 the rocks were blasted to extend it to 70 feet.  Steps were cut to lead down to it.  A rope rail was threaded through the iron rings.  A changing hut was built that was later swept away by gales.

Old postcards show the pool thronged with people, the spectators clad in formal suits, hats and long dresses.  This was a time when English seaside resorts were booming, but swimming in the sea wasn’t as easy as it is now and there were concerns about its safety.  Still, swimming here must have been a thrilling experience, with the waves booming against the rocks only a few metres away.  My mother swam in this pool, though I never did.  It was used until 1971, the year I was born.

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Just along the coast from Table Rocks, another pool lies abandoned.  Tynemouth open air pool was specially built in 1925.  It lies on the edge of the beach, snuggled into the cliffs and was filled by the tide.  My grandfather helped to build this pool, often working at night between the tides.

These places are remnants of another age, before people abandoned the seaside resorts to take their holidays abroad.  Swimming became very popular in the inter-war years and in the 1930s a craze for sun-bathing developed, so in the twenties and thirties more than 200 lidos were built in the UK.  It wasn’t until the sixties that indoor leisure centres took over.

In the early nineties the pool closed, forgotten by all but the hardiest of swimmers.  The pavilion was demolished and its rubble pushed into the pool.  Covered by sand and rocks to make it safe, it was hoped that it would develop into a rock pool landscape, but it never worked.  There is a stark beauty to its dereliction.  The way the sea air has weathered the old barriers in rust, framing the sea beyond.  The abandoned stairs climbing to nothing.  The cracked steps haunted by ravens and gulls.

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But when I see what has become of it, there is a sadness too.  For I remember what this place once was.  It had none of the comforts of indoor pools.  The temperature of the water was that of the frigid north sea.  Its taste was salt.  The changing rooms were no more than concrete cubes.    But swimming here, you could feel the sun and the air on your skin.  I have been here when it buzzed with people, sprawled on the steps, splashing in the pool, frolicking by the fountain.  And I have been here, cocooned at high tide, when it was almost empty.  One of my last and most vivid memories is of swimming alone, the last person in the pool as a lightning storm rolled in.

Swimming in the open air pool aged about 9

But perhaps there is a future for these places after all.  Outdoor swimming is becoming popular again.  A group of local people are seeking funding to re-open Tynemouth open air pool.  I hope that one day I will swim in it again.

84 thoughts on “On the edge of the tide

  1. It always befuddles me when such charming places seem to (apparently simply) fall out of use.
    The idea of a place being “you might never notice it was there” is magical — as are your words, always. Mega hugs!

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  2. So silly we are. Sunbathing in fashion – sunbathing out of fashion. Outdoor swimming in fashion – outdoor swimming out of fashion! Good that the sun is still shining and the Ocean is still wild and free regardless of our ideas and trends.
    Hope there is money and enthusiasm to restore the swimming pool to its old glory. Thank you for this wonderful excursion.

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  3. You’ve been lucky to enjoy this kind of pool, Andrea. The fresh air, the salt and the sun are far better than indoor pools which smell of chlorine and stale air.
    I got to visit Saint Augustine in Florida and there is an old building, quite outstanding in fact, which used to be a hotel with a stunning indoor pool. Things have changed over the years and the pool is gone. But for people who have known it they can still see it through their memories. And they are even talks of ghosts. For these places that change still carry the stories of the past, I think.
    Great photos to accompany this post, Andrea.
    It would be awesome if the pool re-opened. For kids especially.

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  4. I really enjoyed this post, Andrea. The history behind the pools and your family ties to both…incredible. It is sad that the pools no longer exist.As for your photographs, well…they’re just amazing.

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  5. I can see why you say there is a sadness there, considering the history… But I enjoyed learning more about the pools and even how your mom swam there before you were born. It’s fun to think about our parents being out and about before we were born 😉 Great photos too, Andrea!

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  6. It reminds me of swimming in the North Sea off the coast of Norfolk when I was a child and it reminds me of how playful the seaside made my father. Generally speaking he wasn’t but I remember him writing silly things in the sand and then running away from us. It was as if his whole being relaxed and someone sillier and lighter was allowed to emerge.

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  7. What a thrill it would be to swim in a salt water pool like that; I do hope you’ll get to have that experience again soon! And I just realized that when you were 9, I was 8; no wonder we’re so often on the same wavelength (oh dear, that pun just sort of happened…) ^_^

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  8. That’s fascinating, Andrea. I much prefer swimming in outdoor pools and like the idea of them being filled with salt water. I hate the utilitarian feel of indoor pools, the acoustics, the stink of chlorine — not my sort of thing at all. It’s wonderful lying on one’s back floating and looking at the sky. I agree with you that there’s a beauty in those old neglected structures. People like their comforts too much these days with their heated pools and changing rooms. They’re missing out on the elements. Too soft by far. …Hee, hee, what an old dragon I sound!

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    • It was a great experience swimming under the sky and yes, we must have been hardy! There used to be another outdoor pool in the middle of the town that started as a reservoir and that was where my poor mother had to learn to swim – at least I had the option of a heated pool for that 🙂

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      • I used to swim in the sea for 10 months of the year (albeit on the south coast). There’s something very exhilarating about cold water. Outdoor heated pools are okay when you’re in them, but you feel the cold ten times as much when you climb out of them! I apply this theory to when having showers in our unheated bathroom. If one has a hot shower, then the bathroom feels freezing when one’s drying oneself. But if one has a cold or tepid shower, there’s little difference, and one’s teeth don’t end up chattering!

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  9. Very cool to read about. I thought the water might be cold, but then wondered if, since it was separated from the sea and in it’s own container, if the sun heated it.

    After swimming in bath water in the Gulf of Mexico, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to swimming in Lake Michigan. Brrr.

    People love to swim outdoors here, but in the north, there is not much summertime to do so. In Florida, we used to do it for about 8 to 9 months out of the year.

    Thank you for sharing this. It’s a shame those sea-pools didn’t last even 100 years, but who knows what the future holds.

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  10. I used to love the outside sea water pool at Clifton, Bristol, and we used to go there a lot when I was a child. I think it has been refurbished and is very different today! Thanks for bringing back the memories, Andrea. 🙂

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  11. Hi Andrea. I’ve stopped in to publish and read awhile. Lovely words and photos – I wish to be there. One day perhaps I will visit. If you ever write a travelogue, I will be certain to read it. I remember you are Pisces. Happy birthday whether belated or upcoming 🙂 May I reblog this in early April when I make my next visit to WordPress?

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  12. Fantastic post, I love the melancholy of derelict places like this, it is a shame that these days a lot of people favour holidays abroad all the time, there is something to be said for the traditional British holiday and all its traditions. Formal suits by the pool should come back in fashion as well!

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  13. In Vancouver BC there were a few of these kind of swimming pools too that looked exactly like the one at Tynemouth. One in an area called Kitsilano has been modernized and includes an outdoor summer theater called Showboat that has been in operation since 1935. Probably not as many people go abroad on west coast of Canada as they do in England, as it is so far from anyplace except USA and Mexico. lol. How interesting that your granddad helped build these and sad that they are now abandoned.

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  14. I was a fish growing up. I was lucky enough to live in a house with an in-ground pool in the backyard. I remember how much time my father spent keeping it clean, and my sister and I would help with the “vacuuming” and scooping out all the poor little dead mice from the filters. That was the worst! But man, did I love having a pool in my own yard.

    I don’t live too far from the ocean now, so that’s where I go for a swimming fix. But I’m a wimp and I can’t handle being in that water until August!

    I love those pics of the abandoned pools. I really hope that the funding is granted to re-open Tynemouth. I think that would be special.

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    • Thanks Kate. I would have loved my own pool although it obviously had its downsides! The sea is cold all year round here and the pools were no exception although they are looking at the possibility of geo-thermal heating if Tynemouth did re-open.

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  15. Nice pictures and memories Andrea. These abandoned lidos and baths have an air of pathos all right. There are several along Ireland’s east coast – Blackrock, Dun Laoghaire etc and there are periodic attempts to modernise them and bring them back into use.

    And as a child in Birmingham outdoor pools and lidos were always crammed during the summer months though, as you say, the water was freezing. Without exception those places have long since gone.

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  16. It’s been a long time since I’ve done any swimming, but when I was growing up, outdoor city pools were still very common. Now, I still see them, but they’re more at the neighborhood level where I live, and there are many more indoor facilities. For me, swimming and the outdoors go together.

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  17. Beautifully written and just a magical concept of tide filled pools by the sea. Coral Gables, Florida has a stone pool but it is filled with chlorinated water. But, as a kid I found swimming in the stone pool exciting. I think I took Jr. Lifeguard training there in the 7th grade. I would have loved your seaside salt pools. An interesting post ….great text and photos!

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      • Here in Florida being warm all year round most pools are outside, even big Olympic Sized ones. Not stone of course though. I avoid indoor pools because the air always seems to have too much chlorine, everything so chemically!! But the chance to swim in salt water with the pounding sea within ear’s reach…heaven!!!

        PS: I raised my kids on swim teams and swimming is my sport of choice (even though my shoulder complains now)…so many pools!!! Thanks again for the wonderful view and information.

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  18. I hope your dream of swimming in the pool again will come true. I could feel the nostalgia and loss. The pictures didn’t make your words come alive, your words made the pictures come alive.

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  19. Interesting, Andrea, witnessing the changing of times and how they still warm us with fond memories. Hopefully, it will come full circle and come alive again. Thank you for sharing this with us.

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  20. Andrea what a precious memory. I have plenty of memories of outdoor pools by the ocean. Thankfully there is one in the next seaside town and we Aussie’s love the outdoors. But I can imagine the water temps would be a challenge. I hope they reopen it. I hate the smell of indoor swimming centres. Its much better outside. Love the photo of you.

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  21. Great piece. Excellent photos capture the sadness of the passing of more innocent days and ways. I always remember going to swim in the open air pool at Pittenweem in Fife – an old holiday haunt of my family for a few generations. But, boy ….. was it cold! 🙂

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