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.
We 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:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gareth E. Rees is author of Unofficial Britain (Elliott & Thompson, 2020) Car Park Life (Influx Press 2019), The Stone Tide (Influx Press, 2018) and Marshland (Influx Press, 2013). He is the vocalist and guitar player in a number of bands: Pett Level Sounds, Black Arches, and The Dirty Contacts.