It’s pretty much the end of the summer holidays! Eva went back to school today, which meant Roo and I had a day to do something fun together without her. I was on annual leave for the latter half of this week and used yesterday’s day to comb Westfield for PE kit (I’m not blogging about that one. It’s too painful) so I wanted today to be actual fun, rather than just survival. Reuben’s only request was to go swimming and, by chance, a message from a friend on a church WhatsApp group reminded me that we had not yet checked out the new Jewel of Hackney – the state of the art Britannia Leisure Centre.
When I say Hackney, I mean the Borough of Hackney. Not that this sparkly new swimming pool is somewhere conveniently near Hackney Downs or anywhere else easy to get to from Chingford. In fact, it’s tucked right into the south-west corner of the borough, near the Islington border but again, not so near to church that we could just take a variation on our usual route there. The nearest station is Hoxton but that’s not particularly handily connected so I made the bold decision to just walk it from Liverpool Street and stop for brunch somewhere along the way. Which all worked fine, mainly because the boy wasn’t paying much attention to how far we’d walked and instead was busy walking me through a hypothetical battle for global supremacy between vampires and zombies. The vampires would win.
Anyway, we saw some pretty things along the way, like this tunnel of lights underneath Broadgate Circus:
The walk between Liverpool Street and our brunch spot took about 20 mins and was around a mile or so, which means it wasn’t a totally crazy idea with a long-legged boy. I’d spent a while researching brunch spots in the Hoxton and Shoreditch areas because a lot of the options were bound to be way too hipster for the likes of us. Anywhere that threatened to deconstruct a fry up was struck off the list but Muzzy’s Cafe on Pitchfield Street seemed like a likely candidate.
And it did indeed tick all the boxes! At £5.45, the “Little English” breakfast was good value and the bacon was exactly the right level of crispiness. The sausage was properly yummy too. Roo had the Sunshine smoothie and I had the fresh orange juice, both of which were good, and it was all very unrushed and unpretentious….which are rare traits in Hoxton bruncheries. My food photography has not improved, but you get the gist.
Now everyone knows you are not meant to eat directly before swimming because of your stomach falling out or piranhas or somesuch so it was lucky that we had almost an hour to kill between brunch and our booked swim slot at 12:30. I say “lucky”, I mean I planned it this way. Didn’t stop Reuben thinking I’d epically failed when I said we had to hang around Shoreditch Park for 45 minutes before we’d be allowed in. But there’s a substantially sized playground there, so he managed to occupy himself for that fallow time. It looks like it’s been quite newly developed, with challenging climbing apparatus and a “natural” play area.
The park also has a vast stretch of grass, which had plenty of dogs for us to coo over. And they’re well looked after, with these Pawstations:
So onto the point of our visit – the new pool. As with all Better centres, the facilities are good but the admin can sometimes be challenging. We’d prebooked but when we got there, there was quite a queue at Reception and someone telling us to just scan the barcode to go through the gates. That didn’t work, so we asked someone else who said that we needed a wristband for swimming, so had to join the queue. Which was all fine, but a sign or two with instructions would not have gone amiss.
The changing village is fairly large although I struggled to find a cubicle when we got out. Everything was pretty clean, except for something unsightly in the loos but there was a cleaner on hand to deal with that. Loads of available lockers and piping hot showers…so far, so good.
And then there’s the flume! At the point of showering, there’s the option to turn right for the Main Pool and Training Pool or left for “Leisure Water”. We figured that’s where the flume would be, so took the left option assuming we could come back to the Main Pool later. That assumption turned out to be wrong, and we were told that once we’d picked the flume side, we had to stay there. Again, it’s that Better level of admin where you find out rules as you’re dripping wet by the side of a pool as opposed to at the point of booking. No signs anywhere mentioned that it was only one or the other and I’m sure I read the Attendance Rules when I booked in case of these kind of shenanigans. Looking at the site again, I think because I clicked through from the picture of the slide it only gave me the option of the Leisure Pool booking but, as ever, booking with Better is all very confusing. There is a swimming pool on the Leisure side but it’s designed for toddlers so not really somewhere a 12-year-old can swim without bumping into a tiny one. At the same time, very few 12-year-olds would want to swim up and down the lanes on the other side without giving the flume a go. So it’s tricky if you fancy a bit of sliding and a bit of swimming. But I’m clarifying the rules here so that you read them before you’re on that poolside. To be fair to the lifeguard, she did say something about how he could do the swim test but he’d wandered off by then so we just spent all our time on the Leisure side, probably annoying anyone with a baby or toddler. Sorry about that.
But enough negativity! Because the actual Leisure pool was amazing. I only went down the flume once before concluding it was a young woman’s game but Reuben went down five times. It’s not quite like any other flume I’ve ever been on before. There are lights, sounds and images inside the flume and one bit in particular makes you feel like you’re going through a portal into another dimension. It’s like the opening sequence to Doctor Who but with a better budget and, sadly, no David Tennant.
While Roo repeatedly scampered up the steps to the flume, I relaxed in the toddler pool underneath it. There’s a tiled seat built into one end, with jets of water so it gives the effect of an underwater jacuzzi-sofa. Good for soothing those muscles after our long walk. There are also fountains of water on each side of the pool, which are fun to swim under, and a curious area that is very shallow and acts a bit like a shelf with a couple of inches of water above it. I’m guessing that might be for disabled access but I have no idea and there’s no explanation on the website.
There’s also a paddling pool for the very littlies, with lots of water play activities, and an area called Splash Pad, which had larger scale water jets and showers and a small slide. I don’t think Roo was meant to be in that bit but he did have a sneaky play with the water buckets just so he could tip a load of water into my face. Charming child. The showers that come off the Splash Pad are very hard – also good for aching muscles – and every so often, the giant bucket on the top tips over and we all get drenched. It’s fun.
We left after 45 minutes because I was paranoid about being late for school pick up on the first day back. Roo had to be frogmarched away from all the fun stuff and because we left while the next session of people were getting ready to go in, it was a bit of a challenge finding a cubicle each. So probably best to just use your full hour and then it’ll all work more smoothly.
On the way out, we grabbed a coffee and a Coke and a couple of shortbreads from the cafe, which has two counters and one of them is handily near the entrance to the changing village. We decided to get the bus back to Liverpool Street – or at least as far as Moorgate – so hopped on a 21 but my plan for a leisurely trip back was scuppered when the driver announced the bus was on diversion and wouldn’t be going to Moorgate. So we got out on the wrong side of Finsbury Square and had a bit of a schlep back to Liverpool Street while I tried to convince Reuben that I didn’t need to check Google Maps because I was 91% sure where we going and look, there’s that bit of wall where I once saw something unsightly in a Wasabi box.
Anyway, we made it back and it turns out that Liverpool Street has a whole new extra shopping mall bolted onto its western end nowadays. We didn’t have time to properly see what was there but there’s a list of shops here if you’re interested. At a glance, no sign of that school-uniform-and-teacher-gifts shop us City mothers so desperately need though.
So, a lovely day out with my boy and really excited to find a fun new pool. He definitely wants to go back, we definitely need to work on our route to get there. And Better definitely need to work on their signage. But, in the words of Loki and often quoted by Reuben, what did you expect?