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The Story of Swimming [Hardcover]

Susie Parr
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
RRP: £25.00
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Book Description

10 Nov 2011
In recent years, wild swimming - a movement that has inspired people to plunge into river, lake and sea in search of natural or challenging swimming experiences - has become extremely popular in Britain. But this phenomenon is only the latest episode in a long, fascinating and hitherto untold story. Passionate outdoor swimmer Susie Parr sets out to trace the social history of bathing in Britain, from the earliest references in Roman and Anglo Saxon literature to the decline of British seaside resorts and traditional bathing clubs in the late 20th century. 'The Story of Swimming 'reveals discoveries in medieval and Elizabethan literature and tells how medicinal sea-bathing flourished in the 18th century, leading to the rise of elegant watering places such as Brighton and Scarborough. The book examines the role of bathing in the Romantic Movement and in the works of a line of literary swimmers from Wordsworth to Iris Murdoch. It explores the political aspects of swimming too: when the masses descended on Victorian seaside resorts, class-based conflicts centred on bathing were played out on the beaches of Britain. Over the centuries, swimming has even reflected changing perceptions of the role of women. Each phase of this extraordinary story is captured in different swimming experiences across the British Isles, from Orkney to Tenby. Comprehensive and lavishly illustrated with woodcuts, engravings, cartoons, paintings and photographs (some by acclaimed photographer, Martin Parr), 'The Story of Swimming' is a must for everyone who enjoys bathing out of doors.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Dewi Lewis Media Ltd (10 Nov 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1905928076
  • ISBN-13: 978-1905928071
  • Product Dimensions: 24.8 x 28.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 283,964 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


A fascinating social history. An essential read for every wild swimmer. --Kate Rew, author of 'Wild Swim' and founder of The Outdoor Swimming Society.

An intriguing investigation of water's influence on the psyche and society. - --Daniel Start, author of 'Wild Swimming' and 'Wild Swimming Coast'.

In this magnificent book about outdoor swimming part cultural history, part journal Susie Parr recognises the way water changes and stays the same, exerting its power and pull through time. This is a chronological story and a personal exploration of an 'addiction' to swimming. The book is the size of a large stepping-stone, with a picture of a demure, naked, 18th-century swimmer (Thomas Rowlandson's Venus) attempting an improbably decorous stroke on its pale blue cover. The glorious illustrations stop one in one's tracks: there is a comically urgent photograph of helicopter pilots bustling into a bitter Shetland sea on Boxing Day (re-enacting an ancient cleansing ritual). There is a spooky mermaid scarecrow, wrapped in a green fishing net a strange catch smiling through eyes like black beetles, her chest studded in shells. There are Donald McGill's saucy seaside postcards (once graded 'mild', 'medium' and 'strong') and there are bathing belles galore it is touching to look back through the years at their holiday faces. And there is a wonderful photograph of Susie Parr on Raasay beach, arms wide open, about to step into the water. This and many of the book's most striking pictures are by her husband, Martin Parr first-rate photographer and confirmed landlubber. But the book should come with a warning: do not let its illustrations keep you from the fascinating, meticulously researched, beautifully written text. This history fresh and salty connects one to every swimmer who ever swam. It also makes one glad to be a swimmer now. Swimmers of yesteryear swam heavy: Roman soldiers sometimes swam in armour. An Elizabethan gentleman strolled into the water with a knife to pare his toenails and a hawk showily balanced on his wrist. Victorian women wore hats, coats, shoes and corsets into the briny. How wonderful that nowadays we don't need much more than determination and a towel. A particularly absorbing chapter is devoted to the romantic poets who saw swimming as an encounter with the sublime. Parr's dripping dramatis personae includes Shelley (who could not, to his chagrin, swim and eventually drowned). But he was a persistent bather and once caused a stir pitching up at a dinner party naked, malodorous and with seaweed in his hair. Parr is entertaining, too, about 'Lord Byron, Noted swimmer and poet' (as he is remembered on a plinth in the Bay of La Spezia). As well as swimming the Hellespont, he would jump into Venetian canals to avoid 'compromising' situations. And, one suddenly realises, Byron's was a swimmer's poetry: fluent, rhythmical, long haul. For Swinburne, the affair was with the sea itself. Its slap and tickle was translated into luxuriously masochistic verse that was promptly banned. It is pleasing, too, to discover that Jane Austen who mocked romanticism loved bathing (I like to imagine a dainty breaststroke). Today's 'wild swimming' is indebted to romanticism. And Parr interviews a variety of inspiring cold core swimmers (she suggests, unconvincingly, that her own swimming is more tame than wild). They believe, as swimmers have for centuries, that cold water is good for the health and a time-honoured cure for depression. And she explains 'anticipatory thermogenesis', the mind-over-water ability to boost one's body's core temperature before an icy plunge. For anyone not tempted to try out anticipatory thermogenesis this December, there can be no lovelier way in which to swim vicariously than through this book. I plan to dip in reregularly until spring. --Kate Kellaway, The Observer, Sunday 4 December 2011

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
This book covers the history of swimming in the UK from earliest recorded times (Romans onward) to the current revival in open water swimming. It is full of wonderful illustrations and photographs and includes a number of short pieces about the authors favourite swimming places. I'm sure many wild swimmers will recognise how the author feels about swimming in open water. Great Xmas present for your wild swimming friends.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully produced and written 12 Nov 2011
By dprs
This is an absolutely beautiful and fascinating tour of swimming history, from the Greeks and Romans, through the Romantic and Victorian ages, to wild swimming today, mixed with Susan Parr's own stories of wild swimming. It is a large format book printed on very high quality paper and with many illustrations and wood cuts throughout - as well as some quirky collectible Martin Parr photos. Meticulously researched, it allows us to better understand our relationship with water and nature. Superb.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just what I was looking for 25 Jan 2012
This book popped up as an Amazon recommendation for me and I bought it immediately because it was just what I was looking for. I have been trying to research into the history of swimming in this country to form a deeper understanding of how swimming teaching has developed into it's current form in Britain. Susie has done so much work for me in this beautiful book that I feel it may be unnecessary to look further. I am still relishing it, dipping in and finding so many little gems in it's pages. I congratulate her wholeheartedly and recommend it to those who love the outdoors and love swimming from A-Z.
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