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Field Journal

Tarlair Tidal Pool

Tarlair Tidal Pool Photo: Dora DC
In this small bay, the rugged rocks delineating the beach give way to the curve of smooth concrete lines. Neatly mirroring the sweep of the bay, they separate the still water of the pools from the constantly moving sea. A BMX flips; for a brief moment he seems to hang, suspended at the intersection of the empty expanses of seawater and sky, then he is gone.

We are travelling around the UK with a crew of urban athletes – a freerunner, highliner, BMXer and skateboarder – exploring abandoned locations. We ask them to look at these places with fresh eyes and imagine how they can bring them back to life. Our journey has brought us to Tarlair tidal pool, an old outdoor swimming pool near the coastal town of Macduff, Aberdeenshire. Framed on one side by a rock arch, the pools sit in the centre of a natural amphitheatre. Built in the 1930s in art deco style, the blocky geometric shapes of the boarded-up changing rooms and neatly defined pools are perfect for skateboarding.

We invited pro wakeboarders, expert at riding in unusual locations, to help bring the pools back to life. They’re busy constructing ramps to be floated out, and are considering a huge and risky jump over concrete blocks. Placed there as storm barriers, they are part of recent efforts to preserve the pools, but swimming is still banned and now people mainly come to walk their dogs. As the crew practise, local residents pause to share their memories. They paint a vivid picture of the pool in its prime. It was the thriving centre of the community, the place they learned to swim, worked their first jobs in the café, and even had their first snog.

Tarlair Tidal Pool Tarlair Tidal Pool
Photos: 1-3: Rich Raybutt // 4: Dora DC // 5: Sam McQueen

Over time, though, a local swim was replaced with holidays abroad or heated indoor pools and Tarlair was no longer the place to be. Now, not quite reclaimed by the sea, the pools are scattered with boulders that have stormed their way ashore, and the changing rooms are permanently locked. A local freestyle skater grew up practising tricks at the abandoned pool. He tells us a lot of the older generation felt a big part of their childhood was going to ruin, but he’d come here just to skate. Using the steps leading down to the water, he seems to dance on his board, flipping it up between his feet, then skating on around the water’s edge.

Despite the decay, the wakeboarders use the length of the pool to gather enough speed for a series of rotations, backflips, and grabs. After a spectacular crash they manage the huge leap from the top pool to the bottom, then call it a day. The crew set up a slackline and barbecue by the pool. A passing Tarlair resident stops to talk, remembering how busy it was. He says the locals tell you they’d like to see it reopened, but they wouldn’t really come; people don’t want to swim outdoors these days. As the sun sets over the sea, the crew pack bikes and skateboards away and our time here draws to a close. This place is a natural playground where change is constant. Like the people of Tarlair, we claimed it for a while; now it’s time to move on and let the sea continue its work.

Salt Street Productions visited Tarlair Tidal Pool while filming Britain’s Abandoned Playgrounds, a series of short films commissioned by Channel 4. Watch the series for free online at All4 Britain’s Abandoned Playgrounds.

Words by Anna Paxton
Instagram: @anna_paxton
Twitter: @annapaxton_




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