Town hopes to bring back outdoor swimming with re-opening of tidal pool

It was known for its sunbathing decks, tearoom and midnight swims under floodlights, which gave way to dancing in the nearby Art Deco pavilion until 3am.

Now, plans are taking shape to restore Saltcoats Bathing Pond to seize upon the renewed interest in outdoor swimming while helping to revitalise the West Coast seaside town.

Once considered to be Scotland’s finest outdoor pool, Saltcoats, which opened in 1933 on the site of the town’s old salt pans, could attract up to 2,000 people a day.

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It closed in the late 1980s after people were drawn to new heated baths at Auchenharvie Leisure Centre – and warm summer holidays on the Continent. The pavilion was demolished with the pools then left to the mercy of the sea.

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Long days of summer swimming that simply drifted away

Irene Campbell, who was born and raised in Saltcoats, is leading the plan to open up the tidal pool and is working with architect Chris Romer – Lee, an expert in tidal pools around the world, on bringing a contemporary outdoor swimming space to the town once again.

Ms Campbell, 57, an NHS manager, was taught to swim at the pool more than 50 years ago by her mother, Mary, the former bathmistress.

Ms Campbell, who remains a keen swimmer, said she started to really feel the loss of the site during lockdown, when indoor swimming pools remained closed to the public.

An aerial shot of the pools which closed down in the 1980s after more than 50 years. At their peak, more than 2,000 people used the pools every day. PIC: Three Towns Explored.

She said: “During Covid, people would have been able to swim outside easily and safely at Saltcoats if they could have got in there, but the pool is really not in good condition.”

Instead of creating a new building, the first phase of the plans involve simply creating access points to the water once again.

Ms Campbell said: "We are now looking at building entry points to the water, something really contemporary, something architecturally attractive. We have been looking at examples from Scandinavia. I think to have something that looks really good would be good for the community and good for Saltcoats.

"Saltcoats was once a popular seaside town that had all these facilities. Now I think we have a real opportunity to get people to come back again.”

Plans are being drawn up to bring back access to the pool, which was lost following demolition of the pavilion and walkways, through a series of platforms and steps. PIC: Contributed.
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A feasibility study is being carried out for the site after £20,000 was secured through North Ayrshire Council. It is hoped to drain the pool over the next couple of months to have a “really good look” at the condition of the pool.

"I’m really optimistic that it is all work that can be done,” Ms Campbell added.

Mr Romer-Lee, director of London-based Studio Octopi, whose other current projects include the restoration of the pavilion at Tarlair Pool in Aberdeenshire and a proposed new floating tidal pool on the River Thames, said the plan was to bring access back to the much larger of the two pools at Saltcoats.

Midnight swims were a popular draw at the tidal pool, where bathers swam under floodlights. PIC: Contributed.

He said: "The old original pavilion and the terracing would have allowed an easy transition into the water but now there is around a two metre gap. So were are looking at adding in little steps and platforms that would allow everyone access.

"It’s also about creating a destination, something unique for North Ayrshire and something that taps into the tourism heading to Ardrossan & Isle of Arran.”

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