A one-off weekend in London gave us the chance to try Tooting. A quick foray down south on our tour of UK lidos, looking for the best in coffee and tea nearby.
The trains don’t really toot anymore like they used to, but it felt somehow appropriate that our first sight of the pool came across the railway bridge. I wonder how many commuters see the lido in the morning and wish they were having a gentle swim rather than starting another day in the City or West End…
Tooting Lido must be one of the oldest surviving outdoor pools in the UK. It was built in 1906 after a local reverend pushed the idea as a way of getting 400 local unemployed men back to work. He surely wouldn’t have imagined it still being there over 100 years later.
The South London Swimming Club saved the pool from closure in the 1980s and although it’s only open to the general public in the summer months, there’s apparently someone from the SLSC swimming most days even through the winter.
They’re a friendly bunch, though a promised photo of the lido never materialised, even after reminder emails, so we have had to resort to Wikicommons for this pic (by a guy called Nick Cooper), because Tooting Lido have a strict ‘no photography’ policy. (If anyone from the Lido or the SLSC reads this and has access to the photo archive, I’d love to hear from you still…)
I’d swum in Tooting Lido once before, and remembered it as being very very long and very very cold. It’s certainly unheated, but the 17 degrees water temperature felt OK on a warm day. And it is 100 yards long, so quite an effort to do a length if you’re used to the modern 25m pools.
They claim to be the largest lido in the UK, second only in Europe to a pool in Poland, apparently. Though since I first mentioned this, people from Jesus Green in Cambridge have questioned whether their pool is not in fact larger.
Whatever the case, it is a fantastic place for a swim, and well worth the slightly complicated journey on public transport to get there!
You can catch the bus right in front of the lido, but it’s about a mile’s walk back to Tooting Bec tube station, which is where our first choice for coffee in Tooting is to be found.
Nazish’s Kitchen in Tooting Bec Road is a great little place for coffee and cake. I should stress the cake first because baking is what got Nazish Omar into this line of business (and made her leave her career in international banking!).
The Union Hand-Roasted Coffee was good enough for me to want two cups (I had just had a tough swim after all), but it was the cakes that people kept coming in for. We stuck to a simple banana bread, but people were filling their cars up (literally) with boxes of sponge cakes, macaroons, and one guy looked as if he was collecting a dozen ceremonial cakes for some sort of big event.
This lady has quite a reputation locally it seems, and I love the way she has achieved media coverage in publications as diverse as Vogue magazine and Asiana (‘for the Asian bride who wants more’!).
The best thing about meeting Nazish herself? The fact that she’s still learning as much every day as she did in her former banking job. A sentiment we can totally relate to in the Fancy a Cuppa? team.
I couldn’t find many celebrity connections to Tooting. Thomas Hardy lived here in the late 1870s (there’s a blue plaque on a house we walked past in Trinity Road); then 100 years later it rose to further fictional fame via Citizen Smith and his ‘Tooting Popular Front’.
Its place in history and in space is guaranteed now via the Tooting Crater on Mars. Yes, apparently, the guy who discovered this crater came from Tooting, or his Mum did or something like that. So, you never know, people may be living on the other Tooting before too long.
But. to finish off our day, we were after more earthly pleasures, so were delighted to come across Flavin’s Tea Room in Trinity Road.
It’s a bit further than we’d have liked from the lido, but well worth the hike.
The loose-leaf tea is top quality and the home-baked cakes irresistible.
Twin sisters Helen and Miriam run this place, at the back of a sweet shop (mind you, you can also take your tea on the terrace out the front). It’s another great story of people being passionate and creative about what they do. On a hot day in July, they were serving up a Pimm’s-style drink as an alternative to tea, very tempting for the Mums about to pick up their kids from the primary school across the road.
This tea room’s bread-and-butter client is the Mum who has just done or is about to set off on the school run. So, unlike many of our venues, it’s actually quieter in the holidays than term-time.
But it’s by no means all girls in here. And while we had our cream tea – with delicious scones and clotted cream – a bevvy of builders came by for a brew too.
So, a successful time in Tooting. Great swim, good coffee, top quality cakes and some excellent loose-leaf tea. It was a bit of a trek from one end of Tooting to the other, but well worth it in the end.
Video to follow soon.