There’s new life in the old lido
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.