So, a while ago – back when ‘Lockdown’ just sounded like a direct-to-DVD Steven Seagal movie – I
decided to go and photograph some derelict open-air swimming pools around the Isle of Man.
No, honestly, I’m fine. How are you?
They’re rather haunting places, and I think that was what prompted me to use black and white
photography. So while the pictures don’t stand much chance of being snapped up by the Department of
Tourism for a chirpy advert, I thought it might be fun to take a metaphorical deep dive into these former
Our first port of call has a charmer of a name. In Peel, we have Traie Fogog, which translates into
English as Periwinkle Bay. It’s almost too cute, isn’t it? Just toppling slightly over from kitsch to sickly. It
conjures up visions of a place where posh children foil smugglers’ plots in an Enid Blyton book. Maybe
we should stick with the Manx name, even if that sounds like a cigar smoker clearing their throat.
In the picture, you can see a wave forming a line across the mouth of the bay. This is the water hitting
the outer wall of the pool, which remains. Since the pool was closed in the 1950s on safety grounds (the
cliffs were eroding) I imagine that the wall has worn lower and the sea level has become higher.
Heading to Douglas, and here we have Port Skillion, which nestles just below Douglas lighthouse. While
Traie Fogog is still recognisably pool-shaped, nature has very much reclaimed this one. Apart from a few
stumps of wall, and concrete patches where people once dived, the cove looks pretty much wild. In the
late 19th and early 20th century, Port Skillion was a little resort in its own right. It had stalls and
amusements and even a funicular railway up to Douglas Head. Nowadays, there are evocative little
remnants, like the bits of the pool, dotted around the area. A bramble-infested scar up the hillside is
where the railway once climbed. There are flights of stone steps that lead nowhere. It’s all deliciously
When the pool was opened, it was strictly for gentleman bathers, but the fact that a public path ran within
perving distance, did not escape the attention of the local ladies. This produced an outraged letter to the
editor of the super-soaraway Manx Sun newspaper, dated 23 August 1884:
“SIR…I refer to the gross indecency of the dresses worn by men bathers. They are dwindled to almost
nothing. In old days, when men bathed with no covering, things were better; for women kept away, or
were ashamed to be seen near the bathing places. Now, however, Port Skillicorn, [sic] is thronged with
women gazing at the bathers. This being so, the dress worn ought to be decent. It should reach at, least
from the waist to the middle of the thigh,… It is also a mystery that women can be so lost to all sense of
modesty as to haunt what is in fact an exhibition of naked men. .. Faithfully yours A Manxman.”
Now let’s do what ‘A Manxman’ was wishing the hems of the Port Skillion bathers’ trunks would do, and
head south. Traie Meanagh (quite boringly, Middle Bay in English) is in Port Erin. This is the most intact
of the pools I’ve visited. I mean, it also looks like a war zone, but there’s quite a lot of the structure still
intact. Daringly, for 1899 when it opened, Traie Meanagh allowed mixed bathing. ‘A Manxman’ probably
had a canary before he could reach for his letter-writing pen.
Amazingly, this pool stayed open until 1981, decades longer than the other two. You could have
celebrated Bucks Fizz’s Eurovision Song Contest victory by taking a swim in Traie Meanagh if you’d
been making your mind up to do so.
These three are by no means the only open-air pools that once graced the Isle of Man’s coasts. All
conjure up an image of days when tourists were a tough bunch, unafraid of alfresco bathing, despite
random northwesterlies blowing a hoolie in a time before climate change had properly kicked in. Their
waterlogged, low-lying locations should protect these places from bland redevelopments. But I do think a
few more winter storms could wash away a lot of their form. So if you want to explore these relics of the
tourism heyday, don’t delay and dive in as soon as you can.*
*Again, when I say ‘dive in’ I obviously mean it metaphorically. Do not, under any circumstances, literally
dive into these long-abandoned baths. At least not without a stomach pump, a tetanus shot, and your
next of kin’s contact details tattooed on an accessible part of your anatomy.