Some people say, ‘Oh, you can’t have an outside swimming pool in this country you must be mad’, and then proceed to build indoor pools in their homes or outbuildings. Regret only begins to sink in when that dank smell of stale chlorine begins to penetrate all rooms in the vicinity of the pool. In the gloomy winter months, when the cold weather creates streams of running condensation on the windows inside, sitting elsewhere with a good book is, frankly, more appealing. Now that global warming is reportedly promising longer summers, perhaps the age of the outside swimming pool is set to return. But making an outside pool attractive can be difficult.
The key factors are location and colour. How often does a glance through the glossy front pages of Country Life reveal a fine building whose setting has been all but destroyed by a shrill turquoise blue rectangle located immediately beneath the drawing room windows? Pools need to be sufficiently far away from the house to prevent their presence from overpowering all that surrounds them. In winter, when the water is dark green with algae and accumulated old leaves, the effect can be depressing at best.
In my experience, swimming pools need as much care and treatment as any other garden building or feature. Handled cleverly, they can become the centrepiece of an area of garden and can be attractive in their own right. My favourite outside swimming pool is located in Cornwall. It was designed to look like an ornamental fish pond in views from the house, with a stone edging of local slate and parapet walls low enough to sit on. Because the slate is quite dark in colour, the wall copings heat up nicely in the sun. A trickle of water flows from a small lead figure at one end, and the water pumping and filtration systems are hidden in a simple weatherboarded pavilion at the other. A leaning palm tree frames the view of the house, which, in turn, reflects well in the water. What, I wonder, could be nicer?
The pool itself is a low-tech affair, with light, rendered walls made with the same sort of mix of sand and grit found on a typical Cornish beach. The blue colour is therefore provided by the water itself, which looks just like the calm sea of the Mediterranean. As is so often the case, simplicity is the best solution. There are no fancy patterned tiles, no bubbling Jacuzzi tub, no white plastic diving board, no attempt to look professional. Just that lovely inviting water on a warm summer’s day. I realise that this sort of design will not be suitable for everyone. But for an historic country house in a marvellous setting, it is just the ticket. We once added heating to an outside pool in County Durham and received the ecstatic news from the owner that the whole family had swum on Christmas Day. So much for the weather.
For more, read Anna Tyzack’s article on natural swimming pools .
- Locate new pools with care.
- Turquoise blue is not a mandatory colour; look for subtler options.
- Outside pools require careful maintenance, the extent of which should not be underestimated.