A cache of 500 skeletons and various other force majeures have foiled the long-overdue opening of The Castle Centre. But while constructive chaos continues all around, Elephant and Castle's £20m new leisure centre is finally here, and it's been worth the hold-up.
A big, lustrous reception area and cafe overlooks the main pool, every sharp edge seemingly smoothed off with a sci-fi curve. The silver and aubergine palette works too; there's a rare stylishness to the building.
The pool itself measures up at a pretty standard 25m long, but has the width for six lanes and feels all the more capacious for it. Its cool white-teal colour scheme is reflected in the temperature of the water — good and fresh. Let's keep it that way, please.
One catch to watch out for: presumably due to anticipated popularity, weekend swims are ticketed and capped off at the hour. While most swimmers probably don't spend more than 60 minutes in the water, no one likes to be rushed, and the rule will feel a bit despotic to some.
There may be another reason for that ticketing system — the poolside sauna and steam room. A luxurious sight in London's public swimming pools, and included in the price of a swim, these lend a touch of the European, although they're already being used in a very English way — people sat there sweating their backsides off in swimming shorts. The architects could have done with bulking these rooms out — they're already quite full mid-morning on a Monday — but accept them as a bonus and you can hardly grizzle.
Little luxuries continue in the changing rooms, with separate power showers where you can (oh boy) adjust the temperature of the water. And the jet is far enough away from the back of the cubicle door to keep your towel dry. Someone must have had the clever idea of talking to some actual swimmers before drawing up the blueprints.
Elsewhere, The Castle Centre has a kids pool, fitness suite, dedicated indoor cycle studio and sports hall. For anyone who uses Elephant and Castle as a spoke for getting to and from work, this may be your new regular pit stop — and you'll probably grow to love it.
The Castle Centre, 22 Elephant and Castle, SE1 6SQ is open daily. Various price apply. Southwark residents swim free all day Friday and on Saturday and Sunday afternoons: sign up here.