The Lost Pool of Dunbar




LOCATON: Dunbar, East Lothian, Scotland

WORDS: Gareth E Rees

During a research trip to Scotland this Summer I stopped off at my friends’ house in Dunbar, a coastal town 25 miles east of Edinburgh. It’s famous as the birthplace of John Muir, the explorer who created the USA’s national park system. In the late Victorian era it was a golfing holiday hotspot, famed for its blustery health-restoring air.

eye-smallerWe walked to a ragged cove of red sandstone, overlooked by the castle ruins. A rain shower moved across the empty sea. A chalk eye glared at me from a cave.

Hard to believe, but this was once a hugely popular open-air swimming pool in the halcyon days of the great British seaside holiday. Every July and August the population of Dunbar doubled its population of 5,000 as tourists flocked in from all corners of Britain.

This cove beneath the ruins echoed with laughter. Kids whizzed down slides and grown-ups tumbled from diving boards. Behind them, great foamy geysers spurted as the sea slapped against the walls of the lido.

Here’s a family home movie of the pool from 1965.

Seeing those images of the open air pool, there’s a sense that we’ve gone backwards somehow, that a future was lost in Dunbar. Or perhaps Dunbar’s past was a future which happened in a parallel universe.

In the 1960s and early ’70s the pool hosted diving competitions, swimming galas and an annual beauty contest.

Here’s footage of Miss Dunbar Bathing Beauty Competition in 1972:

For the full retro tour, a 1970s film called Dunbar – an A1 Resort catches the town – and the pool (15 minutes 30 seconds) – at the end of their tourist heyday. The beauty pageant footage at 16 minutes 20 seconds combines chilly looking women in bikinis with Benny Hill-speed jazz.

Or for an alternative perspective…

Here’s a brilliantly nightmarish take on the above footage:

To look at a great archive of photographs of the pool, pay a visit to the Lost Dunbar website:

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Gareth E. Rees is author of Marshland: Dreams & Nightmares on the Edge of London. His work appears in Mount London: Ascents In the Vertical CityAcquired for Development By: A Hackney Anthology, and the album A Dream Life of Hackney Marshes. His essay ‘Wooden Stones’ appears in Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography.


  1. Ronnie Smith

    Fantastic brought back do many childhood memories ,,,,

    • admin

      Must have been amazing in its heyday. Cheers for stopping by, Ronnie!

  2. Keith Davie

    Me too Ronnie.
    Have a look on SCRAN Dunbar for an old photo of you and I at beauty contest 1965.

  3. Norman Alecock

    I wonder if this is the same pool that my mother Elsie Catherine Mccall and her sisters swam in when they were young(1920/1930)? Great Grandfather used to have the now closed racing stables in Dunbar.

    • admin

      Yes, I believe so! Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Keith Davie

    Your mother and her sisters would have bathed in the older outdoor pool which is situated at the north end of the promenade. You can still see evidence of the whitewash on the rocks there.

  5. Keith Davie

    Just been watching the video Dunbar A1 resort.
    Noticed someone very familiar……… my now wife Sheena Macdonald and her young sister Tracy.
    They are watching the parade and can bee seen slightly right of centre at the 10 minutes 43 seconds into the video.
    Must be around 1971 I guess.

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