There’s new life in the old lido

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - WIL­LIAM COOK

Most morn­ings, if I’m not too hung-over, I go for a run around Ruis­lip Lido — 1.5km there, through Ruis­lip Woods, about 3km around the lido and 1.5km back again. It gen­er­ally takes me about half an hour. On my way, I see wood­peck­ers, egrets, spar­rowhawks and the oc­ca­sional Mun­t­jac deer. It’s hard to be­lieve you’re in Lon­don, at the arse end of the Metropoli­tan line, sur­rounded by bland sub­ur­bia — poet John Bet­je­man’s Metro-land.

Ruis­lip Woods is the largest slice of nat­u­ral wood­land in Greater Lon­don: 294ha of oak, beech and horn­beam, and the lido is its pearl. Peo­ple have gath­ered tim­ber from this scruffy for­est since God knows when. The me­dieval barn at Ruis­lip Manor is built from oaks that were saplings here 1000 years ago, when these wild woods stretched right across Mid­dle­sex, Bucks and Herts.

Nat­u­rally, Ruis­lip Lido isn’t quite so an­cient. It was built 200 years ago as a reser­voir for the Grand Union Canal, but the idea was a fail­ure. The canal was too far away and the reser­voir flooded lo­cal farms. For more than a cen­tury it lay for­got­ten, a gi­gan­tic pud­dle on the edge of Lon­don, un­til the canal com­pany had the bright idea of turn­ing it into a lido. They built a splen­did art deco pavil­ion, dumped some sand along the shore, and opened up the reser­voir for bathing and boat­ing. Trains and chara­bancs brought day trip­pers from the Big Smoke — a cheap day out for Lon­don­ers at an er­satz sea­side re­sort.

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