An immersion into one of the last remaining tidal lidos in the country.
If anything has come from the last year, it has been a deeper appreciation of the sea. When activities were restricted, many in Cornwall turned to cold water swimming, immersing themselves into the icy blue water, giving a sense of freedom, exercise, health and wellbeing benefits as well as a safe place of solace. For those lucky enough to live in Bude, its tidal pool provides year-round shelter from the waves and a community facility that has stood the test of time.
Built in the 1930s, half-funded by the Thynne family and the other half by Bude Stratton Urban District Council, Bude Sea Pool is set behind Summerleaze beach. Built in the golden age of the lido, when foreign travel was limited, this part natural and part man-made pool and its surrounding sunbathing terraces have become an iconic feature of the town. It has provided a free, safe haven for bathing for nearly a century but its history hasn’t always been straightforward.
The early 90’s brought fears that North Cornwall District Council might close the pool on public liability grounds or cease to fund its upkeep. A number of petitions demonstrated the pool’s importance for residents and visitors alike, and during the early 2000s the Council drained, cleaned and equipped the pool with new safety rails, rostering on extra lifeguards so that the pool could continue to open. However, there were growing concerns for the pool’s future and in 2010 Cornwall Council ceased to fund its maintenance and operation and the threat of demolition loomed.
Such was the importance of the pool to the people of Bude and its visitors, that the Friends of Bude Sea Pool (FoBSP) was formed to keep the pool operating, taking over its management and the raising of funds to support its future. FoBSP is a registered charity and relies on the support of friends, donors and local business sponsors as it receives no public funding. £40,000 is needed every year just to keep the pool open and free of charge for everyone. A start-up grant in 2012 enabled FoBSP to take over the pool’s management and make immediate, emergency repairs to the steps. Since then, there has also been a three-phase repair of the sea wall to ensure its survival. In 2015, permission was granted to build The Hub, which was completed a year later and houses an office, store, changing rooms and a community room, which proved a valuable local asset during non-Covid times.
As Chairman of FoBSP explains: “The stalwart volunteers that look after the pool out of season need praising. In all weathers, they can be found removing sand and stones deposited on the walkways by the surf the previous night. They pressure wash the algae that builds up over time, maintaining the handrails and building. These are just some of the challenges they face daily.”
The ongoing support for Bude Sea Pool comes from a variety of sources, from sponsored events to merchandise and FoBSP also benefits from business sponsors and private and legacy donations. Much of the yearly cost of upkeep comes from the annual emptying, clearing and cleaning of the pool as well as battling ongoing repairs caused by the ravaging sea water.
Today the pool is hugely popular, continuing to provide a safe swimming environment. Measuring 91m long by 45m wide, it’s created under the curve of the cliffs in a conservation area. A dip in the pool is a unique experience, its sheltered waters a stark contrast to the Atlantic breakers beyond its protective walls. April temperatures stand at a chilly 11 degrees but a more balmy 18 can be achieved in the summer months.
The volume of water in the pool depends on how much sand the sea has washed in and changes with every tide; you might even find yourself sharing your swim with one of the shoals of fish that sometimes get washed in. Today the calm waters are used by endurance swimmers, triathletes, kayakers, and surf lifesaving clubs; while beach hut enthusiasts and sunbathers also love to make the most of this unique amenity. The pool’s iconic beach huts hark back to a bygone era. Invoking the glamour of the 1930s, ‘hutters’ tend to rent these annually and use them in all winds and weather.
With foreign travel still restricted, Bude’s Sea Pool has been a blessing in disguise. Topped up twice a day by the incoming tide, its walls provide a tranquil lagoon away from the Atlantic breakers, offering safe swimming for both locals and visitors alike.