As I write this I am looking wistfully outside as the rain spatters the window creating random river flows down the glass. It seems a long time ago now since Aunty and I visited the Lido Ponty in glorious sunshine earlier in the summer. Outside swimming pools have had had a hard time over the past 30 years or so, and there are not many around anymore. Having grown up within 100m of the sea and sand they didn’t feature a great deal in my childhood, they weren’t needed. But I do have memories of Sunday School trips to Butlins at Pwchelli, or long sunny days at the Lido at Worthing when visiting my Grandmother in Sussex. But they have different memories for Aunty. The Pells Lido in Lewes was a big part of growing up. Back then the pols were unheated, but as kids we were a little hardier than I am now now, and I do like a little luxury now and again. Today the Lido Ponty is heated – hooray!
There used to be many outdoor pools in the South Wales Valleys but they are all closed and derelict now. Until a few years ago it wasn’t any different in Pontypridd. In a corner of Ynysangharad Park there was a derelict spot, a discarded piece of social history left to rot as the original baths faded from their glory days into a despoiled heap of overgrown and discarded buildings. Plants were growing through the changing rooms, and the paint peeled of the walls.
Originally opened on the 30th July 1927, the pool brought a touch of the Mediterranean into the coal fields of South Wales, providing a place for kids and families to play and meet. It stayed open until 1991, after which it became derelict. Then after a local campaign it reopened as ‘Lido Ponty’ in 2015 after a £6.3m restoration. It’s now a jewel in Wales’ crown. Boasting 3 heated swimming pools and is open all year round. You really have to go! You can book on line to make sure you can get in, though a percentage of tickets are always available on the day, but it’s first come first serve.
Now for a nugget of trivia. Lido Ponty was where a young Jenny James first found her talent for swimming at the age of seven, going on to forge a career as a swimming coach and a lifeguard, saving more than 100 lives. While working as a lifeguard at the Lido, Jenny also used the venue for her physical training in her early years. She entered the Guinness Book of Records after becoming the first Welsh person to swim the English Channel in a time of 13 hours 55 minutes on August 16, 1951, at the age of 24.