Taking a dip in balmy waters before tucking into a Mediterranean feast are activities not normally associated with the commuter town of Reading, but the new Thames Lido brings eating and exercise together in a refreshing and unexpected way.
Consisting of a 100-cover restaurant headed by celebrated Bristol chef Freddy Bird, a 25m outdoor heated pool, two saunas and treatment rooms, it’s the brainchild of Bird, Swedish developer Arne Ringner and architects Marshall and Kendon, who together revitalised the similarly derelict Clifton Lido in Bristol in 2008.
‘When we arrived on site in 2013, we found a pool filled with duck weed, rotten timber beams and brickwork covered with buddleia,’ explains Sam Kendon. ‘The lido had been abandoned for 40 years, and we spent most of out time restoring original features such as the decorative wooden bargeboards, tiles, floors and ironwork.’
Built as a Ladies Swimming Pool in 1902, the lido is entirely sheltered from public view, but small windows allow glimpses of boats and cyclists as they trundle along the Thames towpath nearby and tall trees on all sides provide backstroke swimmers with a delightful canvas of green. Ringner and his team stepped in as the Grade II listed building – one of oldest open-air municipal pools of its era – was on course to becoming a hotel.
A Spartan setting this is not. Swimmers and spa goers in blue robes tuck into wine, hearty rumps of beef, pork collars and ox cheek, all cooked in Bird’s charcoal grill and wood fired ovens; early morning swimmers can have hearty cooked breakfasts and coffee, and for the few who are there purely for the fitness rather than feasting, fresh juices and salads are served all day.
The creative trio that make up the ‘Lido Team’ may have no real passion for swimming, but they are always on the hunt for unloved British lidos in need of repair; ‘They are becoming harder to find,’ says Kendon, ‘from Penzance to Tooting to Brighton, these days lidos are rather high profile.’