Kate Rew, founder of The Outdoor Swimming Society, and her team have put together a beautiful book. It combines coffee-table weight and quality with a genuine and infectious enthusiasm for swimming miles away from the chlorine and concrete of a typical municipal pool.
Having said that, of the 307 sites listed (108 described in detail), 106 (including the Serpentine) are lidos or similar. It could be argued that this is a high proportion for a book titled "Wild Swim", but even if you do not care for regulated swimming that still leaves you over 200 truly wild spots.
The book is illustrated throughout with professional-quality photographs. These tend to be arty rather than informative, but they do achieve what is no doubt the main aim of the book: To make you want to get out there and get wet. And it is probably more important to create and encourage that desire than it is to select a particular swimming destination.
The text is as good as the photography. Often the author comes across locals who have been swimming at a spot for years. She chats engagingly about the people she meets. Each conversational snippet gives us either something about the location or perhaps a new way off thinking about wild swimming. Kate is good at the little personal touches that can describe a place better than a more prosaic style.
Sample text from an old favourite of mine (Farleigh Hungerford AKA Stowford Manor Farm in Wiltshire):
After a swim you can amble barefoot up to Peter's farm for a cream tea surrounded by trailing pink roses. "Sorry no milk for a few days as the cow's had antibiotics" says a sign on the fridge.
Don't know if they still sell raw milk from that fridge - they did last time I was there. It tasted good and had a surprisingly yellow tint. The farmer - I thought his name was Philip not Peter - explained to us that this was usually the case in the spring when his cows were munching grass at its greenest.
There is only one map in the book, a double-page outline of Great Britain with the 307 sites marked numerically in coloured blobs - blue for sea or tidal pool, green for river or estuary, red for lake pond or tarn, orange for lido. The book itself is divided into these categories. I should have preferred the book arranged by region. This would save a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between the national map and the site description pages. Lidos, Tidal Pools, Triathlon Training Sites and "Festive Swims" are however each sub-listed by shire in an appendix. But Rivers and Lakes are not. Eh?
Some of the locations have OS grid references and/or post-codes listed for them, some do not. Maybe it is the harder-to-find sites that have the grids, you would need to spend a few years visiting the sites from the book's directions before you could say for sure. Meanwhile I should be inclined to trust to Kate Rew's judgement.
I am biased as I like maps, but I do feel some small location maps would have been helpful. After all, there is a fair bit of white space in the book. OS-style would have been best, but maybe that would have incurred licensing fees. I feel the book is not really complete in itself as a guide to swimming sites. You ideally also need a good collection of OS maps and/or access to googlemaps.
I almost gave the book 4 stars not 5 because of this lack of maps. But because the book is so good in every other way, I am happy to give it 5.
You will no doubt be also considering Daniel Start's "Wild Swimming". Briefly, Kate's book is bigger than Dan's (though has fewer pages), is hardback not paperback, has more professional photography. And yet at £11.24 compared to £14.20 is cheaper (or was when I purchased, prices do change on Amazon of course). Dan's book feels more amateurish, albeit charmingly so, with photos that remind you of your all-time favourite snaps of friends or family splashing about having fun. This does however help natural joy to shine forth from Dan Start's book.
I bought both books in one go to get over Amazon's £15 free postage hurdle, and am glad I did. I am happy to own both and look forward to many summers of fun. But if you buy only one of the two, Kate Rew's Wild Swim is better value.