It was known as England’s Blue Lagoon and its tranquil turquoise waters really did resemble those of an exotic watery paradise, but the popular swimming spot located near Buxton, was actually a flooded former quarry and its alluring contents were almost as toxic as bleach. That didn’t seem to bother people who came here from all over the country for a quick dip, so authorities had no choice but to dye it black.
Seen from afar, the Blue Lagoon at Harper Hill looked like the perfect place to cool off on a hot summer day, but as the saying goes, appearances can often be deceiving. Not only was this abandoned quarry full of trash, dead animals and human waste, but its waters had a pH level of 11.3, almost as toxic as ammonia (11.5pH) or bleach (12.6pH). The shoreline was lined with warning signs stating the dangers swimmers would be exposing themselves to – skin and eye irritations, stomach problems, fungal infections, etc. – if they entered the water, and yet for decades they chose to ignore these warnings, bewitched by the beauty of the lagoon. The attractive color of this place was caused by the surrounding limestone walls which leached calcite crystals into the water, turning it turquoise, and the high alkalinity came from calcium oxide, a by-product of the quarrying process left around the site. Fearing for their children’s safety, locals asked authorities to restrict access to the lagoon, but because it was located on private property, they couldn’t stop people from visiting. So they decided to make it less attractive instead.
Photo: Colin Day
Last month, just as locals were getting ready for the swimming season at the Harper Hill lagoon, the council finally took action and dyed it black. With the illusion of an exotic vacation close to home gone, tourists turned back as soon as they laid eyes on the new unattractive pond that was once called the Blue Lagoon. Today the site looks like an ordinary flooded quarry, but it’s not yet clear if the dyeing is a permanent solution or if the calcite crystals will turn the water turquoise again in time.
Photo: Colin Day