Favourite Pools: Swimming In The Snow At Hathersage Open Air Pool With Liz Byrnes

Photo courtesy: Liz Byrnes

Favourite Pools. What are yours? As the swimming-less summer of 2020 draws on, the team at Swimming World will take a look at some of the great pools we love the most, why and what makes them so special. We’d like you to join in the fun and memories with your own suggestions, either by leaving a comment or sending us a picture you took of the venue you’ve chosen along with up to 300 words on why the place is one of your favorites: editorial@swimmingworld.com

Today: Liz Byrnes Goes Swimming In The Snow At Hathersage Open Air Pool

My favourite pool is not one where champions have been made. Where dreams come true or are shattered. Where tickets to the Olympics are punched. And tears – of joy and sorrow – flow.

No. My favourite pool is for me the very embodiment of calm. For which the saying ‘the pool is calling and I must go’ could have been written.

That is Hathersage Open Air Pool in the Peak District, northern England.

Head out of Sheffield – a city of half a million people built on a once-thriving steel industry but now with a digital and entrepreneurial bent and the home of the ‘Full Monty’ film, actor Sean Bean – also known as Lord Eddard Stark in ‘Game of Thrones’ – and a thriving music scene courtesy of Pulp and the Arctic Monkeys among many others.

After 11 miles you’ll come to Surprise View – so-called because after bearing slightly to the right you are greeted by a spectacular, panoramic view to your left over the Hope Valley and the Dark Peak moorland.

Drop down and just before you reach the historic village of Hathersage take a left on Oddfellows Road and continue for less than a minute until you see the car park on your right and tennis courts on your left.

And there you are. Once you’ve parked up walk past the courts on your left and then the café before you come to a blue door.

Up the steep steps and there you are. Once you’ve paid, you’re there and as soon as I take that step every worry, concern or anxiety falls away, the place an oasis of calm.


Photo Courtesy: Liz Byrnes

Maybe it’s the simplicity of it but it really is like stepping into a void. To the right the changing rooms, cubicles which come without lockers so either leave your clothes in there or put your bag outside on the bench alongside the strip of lawn on which people sit on their towels or on one of the plastic chairs if you get there early enough.

On the far side of my favourite pool is the grandstand with room for a couple of hundred people overlooking the 30m pool, so too a bandstand.

Walk down the steps at the side of the grandstand and you come to a hatch where you can buy soft hot and cold drinks, toasted sandwiches, jacket potatoes and a cone of chips.

And there you have it. Well, almost, because one of the pool’s greatest attributes is its location, nestling in the valley and with panoramic views of the hills up to Stanage Edge – a magnet for climbers – and the village of Abney – mentioned in the Domesday Book – and the heather-clad Offerton Moor.


Photo Courtesy: Liz Byrnes

There is lane swimming and it draws open water swimmers, triathletes training for an event and former club swimmers alongside valley residents and city dwellers who have come out for the combination of fresh air, water and calm.

The pool opened in 1936 as part of the King George V Memorial Field which included the tennis courts, bandstand, playing field, a sand pit and a 100ft by 50ft paddling pool, now long gone.

So too were there diving boards at the deep end – also now gone.

According to the official website – hathersagepool.co.uk – it all came about thanks to a donation from George Herbert Lawrence, a manufacturer of razor blades, and he and his wife Elsie were present at the opening of the pool on Saturday 25 July 1936 by Sir Charles Clegg, who had been a footballer and then later both chairman and president of the Football Association.

Apparently “the weather was glorious, and there was a large turn-out to watch swimming and diving displays from groups including The Sheffield City Police”.

Sadly, Lawrence was killed on 13 December 1940 when he went to take provisions to his workers at the Laurel razor blade factory in Sheffield.

There was an air raid and the shelter in which he and his employees had gathered took a direct hit from a German bomb.

There are night swims to music – always popular and a sell-out – and to Christmas carols with warm mince pies to look forward to once you have nipped out of the pool which is heated to roughly 28 degrees.

I first went to what would become my favourite pool in 2001 with a friend who is sadly no longer with us. He would read the Daily Telegraph and drink cups of tea while I went in and out and up and down.

Then we would go for a drive and find somewhere with a suitably spectacular view to accompany our lunch.

Since then it has become a mainstay of my life. It’s not just about getting my laps in but also a place where I can step through the back of the wardrobe into my very own Narnia.


Photo Courtesy: Liz Byrnes

In January 2019 I had arranged to meet a friend there for a swim followed by a home-cooked breakfast at the café.

Winding up to the higher ground on the way there, a fleck of snow fell followed by another. And another. And more and more.

My phone went – would Faye make it or would she cancel? – but all I could think was ‘bring it on’.

Fifteen minutes later I found myself changing in the shivering cold, dashing along from the changing rooms with my flip-flops to protect my feet from the cold and slid quickly into the warm pool.

The steam rose off the water. The snow fell. And the hills were white. It was a magical, magical scene. Warmth in the water and nature all around, a scene that made the regional and local news.

It was truly soup for the soul.


    • Ha! It was one of the most beautiful swims I have ever had. And getting warm afterwards with a hot sandwich and coffee was glorious too.