The Lido @ Tarlair - by Duncan Harley

Macduff was for many years a popular holiday destination.
The big attraction of course was the lido at Tarlair. 

In the inter-war period, around 169 such pool complexes, often known as lidos, operated at coastal resorts all around the UK, and the Tarlair Lido is one of only a very few remaining examples.

Commissioned by Macduff Burgh Council, Tarlair Lido opened to the public in summer 1930, in partially completed form. Funding came via public subscription and from the government’s Unemployment Grants Committee, a 1930s-style job creation scheme.

In 1935, the town council secured a £7k loan enabling completion of the ambitious project. Unlike the Stonehaven heated outdoor pool, Tarlair relied on the vagaries of the sun to warm the salt water. The main pool boasted a diving board and a chute, and there were paddling pools, a restaurant, sandpits and a large boating pond.

The man in charge of the proceedings at Tarlair was known as the Pondmaster. Swimming lessons could be arranged through his auspices and the Pondmaster was in charge of the health and safety issues of the time.

An eyewitness to Tarlair’s glory days, Inverurie-born Anne Strachan has mixed feelings regarding the attentiveness to health and safety of the Tarlair Pondmaster however. As a child in the late 1940s she, along with her family, made the annual pilgrimage to Macduff by train, before walking the mile or so to Tarlair.

We went every summer holiday and took the train from Inverurie,” she recalls. “My Uncle Dan would be in charge. He carried the pillowcase full of sandwiches, plus the small paraffin stove to heat the kettle. One year the stove must have leaked, so there was nothing else to do but eat the paraffin and cheese sandwiches."

"Another year, I nearly drowned when I came down the chute" continues Anne.

"I surfaced underneath a blow up dinghy. Your family were supposed to look out for you, but mine took not a blind bit of notice! I don’t think there were any lifeguards on duty in those glory days.”

Tarlair’s popularity waned in the latter part of the 20th century. Closed to swimmers since 1996, the lido has been on the National Buildings at Risk register since 2008 and is now Grade A-listed. The site owner, Aberdeenshire Council, recently completed a £300k refurbishment designed to stabilise the structure.

Full reinstatement is likely to cost a further few million and campaign group Friends of Tarlair is actively fundraising with the intention of restoring the historic lido to full working order.

There have been various attempts over the decades to reinvent the Tarlair complex as a viable commercial concern. In the 1980’s, with Woodstock firmly in mind, the pool was used as a concert venue and the pop group Wet Wet Wet famously landed by helicopter on the local golf course before performing before a crowd of several thousand.

Bizarrely, in more recent years there have been proposals to convert the pool to commercial use as an Art Deco lobster hatchery.

Duncan Harley is author of The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire and the forthcoming Little History of Aberdeenshire.


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