Waterlog: A Swimmer's Journey Through Britain Paperback – 18 May 2000
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"A delicious, cleansing, funny, wise and joyful book, so wonderfully full of energy and life. I loved it" (Jane Gardam)
"Highly entertaining...Waterlog is a book about a cold, wet subject written with a warmth and passion it surely deserves, but has rarely had before" (Guardian)
"A wonderful and romantic tale told by a true English eccentric...think Ratty, think Mole, think three men falling out of a boat...enchanting" (Michele Roberts Financial Times)
"A travel book like no other, it is rich and deep with insights on modern Britain" (The Independent)
Roger Deakin set out in 1996 to swim through the British Isles. The result a uniquely personal view of an island race and a people with a deep affinity for water. From the sea, from rock pools, from rivers and streams, tarns, lakes, lochs, ponds, lidos, swimming pools and spas, from fens, dykes, moats, aqueducts, waterfalls, flooded quarries, even canals, Deakin gains a fascinating perspective on modern Britain. Detained by water bailiffs in Winchester, intercepted in the Fowey estuary by coastguards, mistaken for a suicude on Camber sands, confronting the Corryvreckan whirlpool in the Hebrides, he discovers just how much of an outsider the native swimmer is to his landlocked, fully-dressed fellow citizens. Encompassing cultural history, autobiography, travel writing and natural history, "Waterlog" is a personal journey, a bold assertion of the native swimmer's right to roam, and an unforgettable celebration of the magic of water.See all Product description
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Waterlog slips into this mode once or twice, but I was pleased to find that this book is not about 'Britain' (or 'England') at all. On the contrary, it brings a modern and cosmopolitan sensibility to the subject of swimming - specifically wild swimming (in places not made convenient or safe for recreational immersion), although he does visit purpose-built facilities too, from village pools to municipal baths in the city.
Deakin writes very effectively about the sensual and convivial experience of swimming, especially the intimacy with wildlife that it can afford. He also makes a passionate case against those private and public bodies that make spontaneous, non-profit swimming an option for only the most daring and enterprising individuals. The meandering course of his journey - which defiantly refuses to conform the conventionally-planned tour - is richly flavoured with a wealth of trivia and anecdotes about swimming in unusual places.
The narrative is punctuated by several epic projects, which required careful planning and assistance (West Loch Tarbert, the Medway estuary and - considered, but eventually abandoned - the Corryvrechan whirlpool) but what matters most is the intensity of the moment: 'The great thing about an aimless swim is that everything about it is concentrated in the here and now; none of its essence or intensity can escape into the past or future. The swimmer is content to be borne on his way full of mysteries, doubts and uncertainties. He is a leaf on the stream, free at last from his petty little purposes in life.'
Again and again, his descriptions lift you out of the ordinary. If he occasionally yearns for the era of Pullman coaches or wistfully evokes a billiard room or quotes Thomas Hardy, this is a Britain that is mostly seen through an international lens. The song of the wood pigeon is compared to Charlie Parker playing 'Peanuts'. In the Helford River in Cornwall Deakin's reference points are the Louisiana bayous and the Limpopo. The Little Ouse reminds him of the 'lush palm groves of the Draa Valley south of Marrakesh.' In Malham, he writes, 'I could have been in California.'
And of course the inspiration for the whole thing was John Cheever's story about a man making his way home from a party on Long Island, furtively dipping in all the pools along the way - an exercise he duplicates most closely at the book's end as he joins up all the swimmable water between his house in Suffolk and the sea at Walberswick, twenty-five miles away
Deakin is described by Wikipedia as "a writer, documentary-maker and environmentalist". Clearly an adventurous character, the book describes his experiences of wild camping, swimming and exploring places as diverse as the Yorkshire Dales, Cornwall, the Scotland Islands and Essex. This is not a book of superfluous words, but compelling details, coming together to create one of the finest books I have read in recent years.
when he passed away. This book inspires and and urges you to seek out and experience the magical and spiritual elements of our wonderful land. Living in South Devon i have Dartmoor on my doorstep as well as Cornwall and have enjoyed some of the locations Deakin mentions in his book. I am planning on further trips into Cornwall and would urge anyone who has thought about swimming in the plunge pool or small rocky cove or bay to do it! It is a fantastic experience, very spiritual.
The book is also humourous and his descriptions are delightful.
I thoroughly recommend Rogers book to anyone who has a yearning for the outdoors and seeking the quaint and out of the way places.
Deakin obviously loved his subject. The book is rich in anecdote and history both social and natural. It is never dry and never pretentious. One of the many joys is the description of the other water-lovers, tarn-lovers, lido-enthusiasts and sea-freaks whom Deakin encountered on his travels.
Am now itching to read WILDWOOD by the same author.