'Roger Deakin is the perfect companion for an invigorating armchair swim. Engaging, thoughtful and candid' Telegraph Waterlog celebrates the magic of water and the beauty and eccentricity of Britain.
In 1996 Roger Deakin, the late, great nature writer, set out to swim through the British Isles. 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 suicide 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.
This is a personal journey, a bold assertion of the native swimmer's right to roam, and an unforgettable celebration of the magic of water.
Roger Stuart Deakin was an English writer, documentary-maker and environmentalist.
Educated at Haberdashers' Aske's and Peterhouse, Cambridge, where he read English, he first worked in advertising as a copywriter and creative director.
In 1968 he bought an Elizabethan moated farmhouse on the edge of Mellis Common, near Diss where he lived until his death from a brain tumour, first diagnosed only four months before his death.
Deakin was a founder director of the arts/environmental charity Common Ground in 1982.
In 1999 his acclaimed book Waterlog was published by Chatto and Windus in the United Kingdom. Inspired in part by a short story by John Cheever, The Swimmer, (Burt Lancaster was in the film), it describes his experiences of 'wild swimming', swimming in Britain's rivers and lakes and is both a campaigning work and poetic odyssey. Wildwood, appeared posthumously in 2007 and in November 2008, Notes from Walnut Tree Farm - a collection of writing taken from his personal notebooks was published to high critical appraisal.
The subtitle - 'a swimmer's journey through Britain' - made me cautious. Round-Britain narratives all too often generate a lot of hot air about the state of the nation or dwell ponderously on scenes presented (in a common slippage) as typically 'English', usually nostalgic for a rural past that is fast disappearing.
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's journey through the rivers, lakes and seas of the UK in search of wild swimming is at times melancholic and nostalgic but ultimately celebratory. It's infused with the feel of water on skin, the exhilaration of looking at the river bank from out in the flow of the river.
It's a love letter to swimming and wild water and the people and places that Deakin discovered.
How I wish he was still around to write more books like this and 'Wildwood.'
Cuando era niño tenía una relación complicada con la natación. A los cuatro años me metieron en una academia que no se caracterizaba por enseñar a los niños "por etapas" y quedé un poco traumado y sin aprender nada. Fue más la idea del trauma porque el asunto de no saber nadar se arregló sólo seis meses después, cuando mis tíos me enseñaron en una piscina de un hotel en Ixtapa con el sol poniéndose en el pacífico (nada más qué imagen!). Luego me alejé de nadar más que nada por body image. Y luego crecí y la idea loca que había albergado muchos años de tener aventuras en lugares que sólo soñaba (ríos rápidos! cuevas! cañones!) la empecé a hacer con resultados de harta felicidad. Y luego me fui a vivir un país que tiene la posibilidad de hacer eso mucho más cerca. Hoy nado casi todos los días aunque sólo sé hacer un crol nefasto que salpica agua y, me imagino, me hace parecer una marsopa herida. Pero bueno.
Perdón que esta reseña parezca que estoy a propósito haciendo que se trate de mí. Pero al final de eso se trata a veces valorar un libro: ¿Qué fue lo que este libro me dijo? Y toda la perorata anterior viene a cuento porque esta memoria / literatura de viajes es la biblia de los nadadores. Y no sólo de los nadadores ingleses. Sino de cualquiera que se precie de haber entrado en comunión con el agua en estado salvaje o domesticado (aunque Deakin prefería claramente la primera).
Deakin, al emprender esta travesía por ríos, canales, marismas, estuarios, golfos, ensenadas, estanques y lagos se metía a nadar de forma casual y despreocupada, y a la vez me imagino con ciertas características de un adicto (entre ellas, la de salirse de compromisos, de ir a dos pozas en el mismo día de forma febril, de hacerse pasar por kayak y nadar por rápidos y de meterse a un cañón sin arnés ni cuerda). El porqué el autor lo devela en las primeras páginas del libro y no hay que ir más allá. Su primer manifiesto sobre entrar en comunión, en hacer metamorfosis con el agua conquista lectores a la primera. Bueno, conquistó a este lector y pobre nadador. Éste es un Walden firmado en la primera página, y sin decirlo, Roger Deakin se convierte a lo largo del libro en una especie de apóstol de la natación y del derecho en echarnos al agua donde nos dé la maldita gana.
Lo único que recomiendo de este libro es no leerlo de tirón como lo hice. Tiene tanta información, tantos lugares y tantas anécdotas que más vale comérselo (nadárselo?) a bocados. Creo que así se saborea más y en mi caso me habría evitado forzar la lectura.
Eso no es lo importante. Lo importante, para mí, es verme reflejado en estos recorridos. En fusionarme mentalmente con Deakin y estar en él en sus correrías. En esa sensación de asombro e insignificancia al ver lo que llamo "el agua que canta" en una excursión, pero también en imaginarme la forma de describir mis pocas pero memorables experiencias. El cañón de mil cascadas de roca caliza y agua aguamarina. El remanso del río donde puedes flotar con la corriente en medio de un cañón. El río de aguas termales en un bosque lluvioso que sientes que te va a salir el dinosaurio en cualquier momento. El nadar detrás de la cortina de la catarata y ver hacia arriba el agua cayendo asaeteada por mil rayos de sol de la tarde. La garganta en la que caen cascadas de decenas de metros una tras otra. El overdrive de mi corazón al entrar a una poza fría como el carajo. El sentir cómo mis penas y mis preocupaciones se desgranan, se disuelven, se deslavan largo tras largo en la alberca cada tarde.
A wonderful journey through various outdoor swimming spots in Britain, including seas, rivers, lakes, canals and more. Roger Deakin writes about his experiences swimming with such fantastic descriptions that you feel like you're there with him. Inspiring and makes me want to get outdoors and swim. My only wish for this book would have been some photos of the places he visited.
Roger Deakin is clearly an eccentric, but also an endearingly down-to-earth man. He has his own moat in which he swims regularly, with great humility and joy, and it is out of this joy that he hatches the plan to swim his way around the country. He sets off, dipping his way in and out of lidos, lakes, rivers and estuaries in a zig-zagging course that sums up the spontaneity both of the quest and of the person undertaking it.
I kept waiting for the episodes to become repetitious. After all, swimming is just...swimming, isn't it? Context and temperature might vary, but surely there is not a lot else to say. On the contrary, Roger Deakin's odyssey gathers momentum and meaning as it goes. He achieves this partly through glorious and tirelessly fresh descriptions of each experience, but mostly through the way in which he invites the reader into the privacy of his mind, where the real journey is taking place.
The biggest challenge he sets himself is to swim a stretch of treacherous sea between two Scottish islands. But on arriving at the jumping off point he recognises the enormity of the danger in which he is about to place himself and changes his mind. Good sense, the desire to survive, prevail - a fact that made me like Roger Deakin all the more. Instead, he wends his way back southwards, via a dip in his beloved moat, to a stretch of Norfolk coast where he swims as an autumn sun sets, finding a peace which I found myself sharing, and which lingered long after the book had been closed.
This is a wonderful book celebrating the joy of outdoor swimming. Over the course of a year, Deakin travelled around the country, swimming in lakes, pools, rivers and lidos. He enhanced his accounts with snippets of history, geography, politics and lyrical descriptions of the natural world. This makes for a fascinating and informative book that champions the right to enjoy the outdoors and rejoices at the experience of swimming in all temperatures and all kinds of water.
This is one of the most engaging and readable nature books I have read. So many episodes stay in the mind, with my particular favourites being those where Deakin traces the history of swimming clubs in the area.
This has some lovely moments - Deakin's love of wild swimming is infectious and his descriptive prose often beautiful - but I found myself frustrated by the overwhelming, almost reactionary, nostalgia of the book. Deakin is constantly pointing backwards to better times - freer, braver, simpler times - with a kind of simplicity that bothered me by the end. At one point he waxes lyrical about the way that mains water has ruined our connection to nature, which tipped me over the edge. Having clean water on tap seems like a pretty decent option to me. The whole book felt like it was yearning for a time that never really existed, or at least only existed for certain people.
****(*) Het was Robert MacFarlane die me op het spoor zette van dit boek. In zijn boeken schrijft hij vaak over natuurmens Deakin die hij erg bewonderde. Toen ik afgelopen lente in Norwich in de boekhandel "Waterlog" zag liggen, heb ik dan ook geen moment getwijfeld. Het boek beschrijft dus werkelijk wat de titel zegt, de schrijver doorkruist Groot-Brittannië langs de beste zwemplaatsen, hij zwemt in zeeën, in meren, waterlopen, kanalen, mondingen, ja zelfs in zwembaden buiten en binnen, zo verkent hij zijn hele land. Het boek is boeiend geschreven, in een zeer mooie, rijke taal en is vooral zeer aanstekelijk. Je krijgt gewoon zin om in de natuur te gaan zwemmen, dus als iemand een tip heeft voor een zwemvijver in het Aalsterse... (ik mis een kaart van Groot-Brittannië in het boek, daarom niet de volle 5 sterren)
Mmm. Have to say I was a bit disappointed with this one for two reasons: - Not enough talk about swimming itself - Not an actual trip around the UK. The vast majority of the book is south of Birmingham with a few detours to Wales, Scotland and Yorkshire. The Lake District merits just one sentence (he couldn't be bothered to go because it would be full of walkers) and absolutely nothing else for the whole of the North West of the country. One stop in Northumbria. Yorkshire represents everything, apparently. I really don't understand how you can claim to "swim through Britain" without even going to Windermere.
As a Northern open water swimmer myself, I'm sure you can see why it got my back up. I was really looking forward to reading about places I might actually be able to get to. Oh well, guess that means there's a gap in the market ;-)
Overall there's a lot of great writing here with some really fascinating history and observation on each locality. There was just way too much of it down South which really unbalanced the book for me.
Roger Deakin pensó en la primavera de 1996, mientras se daba un baño en el foso de su casa de Suffolk, que sería una gran aventura recorrer toda la geografía de Gran Bretaña a nado. A partir de ahí comienza su recorrido por las aguas de playas, ríos, canales, marismas, gargantas, pozas... Le lleva varios meses, mucho coraje y empeño cumplirlo.
Acompañarle ha sido una auténtica delicia. No sólo por las maravillosas descripciones que hace del entorno y de sus propias sensaciones mientras nada, sino porque consigue trasladar al lector la sensación de libertad que supone moverse en el agua.
Author heads off on a leisurely and whimsical tour of natural swimming spots in Britain, plunging into rivers and ponds and lakes and, at one point, a stream that disappears into the ground.
On the one hand exhilarating, and on the other hand strangely saddening vignettes of a vanishing way of pre-industrial pollution life, the book is just slightly too long to wade through, ho ho, in one go, but nevertheless a great book to...dip...into.
What a ridiculous, wonderful thing to do- swimming round Britain for a year. You get the feeling he's amphibian; he'd come round to dinner, pop off to the loo and you'd find him an hour later just paddling in the bath.
He seems to take such joy in swimming alone, but at points seems profoundly lonely too. It's a treat to slip into the icy water with him through his writing.
+ it's massively encouraged me to do more cold-water swimming. Thanks Roger.
I picked this because it's about open water swimming which I also enjoy. The first part seemed a bit slow and woolly but either it improved or I got used to it and I found the second half more enjoyable. Overall I'm glad I read it, lots of lovely descriptions of the British countryside
In 1997 Roger Deakin, environmentalist, film-maker and keen swimmer, embarked on a journey through Britain, swimming in rivers, lakes, outdoor pools and the sea. The book he wrote about it, Waterlog, has become a classic of the nature-writing genre. I first heard of it when I read Robert Macfarlane's The Wild Places, which is in part a memorial to Macfarlane's friendship with Deakin, last year, and picked up a copy a few months ago.
Waterlog's subtitle, 'A Swimmer's Journey Through Britain', suggests a linear progress through the country, but in fact Deakin follows a meandering course, concentrating mainly on the West Country and East Anglia, close to his Suffolk home. He makes one visit to Wales, spends some time in the Yorkshire Dales and swims off the west coast of Scotland before returning south again with only a brief stop in Northumbria. Huge areas of the UK are left unexplored, including (sadly for me, at least) pretty much all of the lakes and waterways I'm most familiar with (bar a brief dip in the Windrush near Burford). Nevertheless, it's a fascinating book. As well as describing his swimming experiences, Deakin writes thoughtfully about the history, natural history and cultural importance of the bodies of water he swims through, and his beautiful descriptive prose left me longing to visit the places he describes (although not to swim, except in the few outdoor pools and lidos he swims in; I love swimming, but as a short-sighted person of a nervous disposition, and one who once nearly drowned in Walden Pond, I'm happy to be a pool-based swimmer and to experience nature by walking, or maybe occasional paddling, instead).
However, for me, Waterlog does suffer somewhat from being an example of what Kathleen Jamie, in her London Review of Books review of The Wild Places, dubbed 'the Lone Enraptured Male'. Yes, occasionally Deakin talks to locals: the last eel-fisher in Ely, an artist working in the Medway estuary, a farmer and cider-maker in the Somerset Levels, but with the exception of a woman referred to only as Judith whose family own an old mill in the Avon near Evesham and swim there all summer, all of these are male. Sometimes he quotes other writers who have visited the same waters, but just about all of them are male too, and most of the time the only voice we hear is his. And his voice is a voice which, quite unconsciously, sees the world as being about men and doesn't really consider women at all (the most egregious example of this comes towards the end, when he mentions a prep school which once required boys and girls to swim naked together up to the age of 12, and describes the acute embarrassment of the older boys struggling to hide their arousal while the by-then-pubescent girls changed, without ever seeming to pause to consider that it was probably pretty embarrassing for the girls as well) and which takes a distinctly male attitude towards the sensual experience of outdoor swimming, with the water he's swimming in subtly characterised as female in a way that made me cringe a bit (the most obvious and explicit example comes when he is swimming his way across Norfolk and enters the River Wissey "feeling like a philanderer of rivers, with the water of the Little Ouse still in my hair", which was an actual full-body wince). I did still enjoy the book, but this stopped me loving it as I might have done.
This is Roger Deakin's first book and I read it on the strength of the posthumously-published "Notes From Walnut Tree Farm". I didn't enjoy this one as much, probably because the subject - wild swimming - isn't one I'd remotely care to undertake. Also, I was given the impression in the opening chapter that he would be swimming solely in rivers, canals and lakes. Whereas, in reality, he spends half the time in either the sea (which is fine, I suppose) or else open-air swimming pools and lidos (which hardly fit my definition of the word "wild"). Sadly, he totally avoided the Cumbrian Lakes and Scottish Lochs - I'd have thought a dip in Loch Ness would have been obligatory. I did really enjoy the chapters which dealt with areas I was familiar with, such as the north Norfolk Coast and River Waveney and, as with "Notes From Walnut Tree Farm", I found his knowledge of local history, flora and fauna to be amazing.
Beautiful and subtle, this is a gorgeous hug of a read. Wonderful descriptions of English countryside, small towns and a range of swimming holes. Just makes you want to get up and go exploring (and swimming!).
Like a lot of people, I got into outdoor swimming last year when it was the only kind available. My usual venue is the man-made swimming lake in Beckenham, and I kept up my visits through the winter until lockdown put a stop to it.
I learned of this classic from an open water swimming documentary, and grabbed it as a 99p Kindle deal a short time afterwards. I love travel books, and this one is bursting with quaint places, quirky characters, wildlife and lore. I'm not sure I'd swim in many of the spots Deakin chooses, especially unaccompanied and without telling anyone my plans, but it's wonderful escapism.
I really wanted to love this book. Swimming around the UK...I mean, it should be perfect for me. It came highly praised as well, by authors I admire and respect.
But, I really found it a slog. First up, it wasn't much of a UK swim, more, the south east of England and a few wee trips elsewhere in summer. And the prose, it leaps all over the place and felt very disjointed at times. Some of his asides and comments felt very jarring as well.
There were some beautifully observed passages, there were some interesting facts and places. But not enough to make the rest of it flow together.
Subtly Deakin encourages you to think about swimming, to this point I have a cunning plan to swim again (once I get a new swimming cossie) especially as there is a place in this book mentioned that is easy at the moment to go to.
I love this book! The author decided to swim around Britain, in fens, marshes, lakes, rivers, even some public baths. Sounds pretty tedious? On the contrary; it is beautiful. The descriptions of the actual swimming are various and evocative. Mr. Deakin is one of those rare people who can connect things that are apparently unconnected. Did you know that George Orwell wrote “1984” in an isolated and primitive cottage on the island of Jura, off the west coast of Scotland? In fact Orwell almost drowned in the local fearsome whirlpool at Corryvreckan. Did you know that the penguin house at the London Zoo was designed by Berthold Lubetkin, who also designed some modernist flats in London during the 1930s? The penguin pool was one of the first structures to use reinforced concrete in curves and spirals. (Unfortunately it no longer houses the birds, due to an outbreak of foot infections when the concrete was resurfaced with a new, irritating surface.) Mr Deakin visits both sites and many more. This book is full of such interesting trivia. It is not a book to rush through - a slow float is just perfect. Nothing exciting happens, but it is glorious. British nature writing at its best!
If Roger Deakin were a superhero he would be Aquaman. Probably a real slippery handful should you have been in his company and casually passing any body of water, as he would more than likely have jumped into it and swam off like a dolphin.
He was so obviously taken by water, he breaks down in tears at the end of one chapter when witnessing the state of the Fens near Bury St.Edmunds. There is much poetry in the otherwise simple descriptions of canals, whirlpools, eddies, lakes and marine biology.
His eccentricity could have had him placed in a lunatic asylum in another time if not for our enlightened allowances for such behaviour (his swimming mania). Good for him and good for us, because we get to read about it.
This one took a while, and progressed in fits and starts, which usually doesn't indicate anything higher than a 3* for me. Additionally, as much as I adore travelogues and outdoors-type books, I'm not much of an outdoorsman, and definitely not much of a "wild swimmer" - a crippling phobia of deep/open water ensures that's not a hobby of mine. All that being said (and it's a lot to be said) this was incredible. Beautiful, entrancing, frightening, enchanting in equal measure, it struck chords in me that I didn't know existed. A wonderful book, a bit ponderous at times it's true, but one that speaks to the beauty of the world (not just Britain) and the things we can find both in it and ourselves if we just take the time to look.
In many ways, this is a perfect book. The writing is superb and the personality of the author comes through clearly anyways we might not typically see in “nature writing“. Deakin does what I would love to do but simply cannot. That is, repeatedly immerse himself in fresh, frigid waters. Oh, believe me, I have tried. The cold waters are not for me. But Deakin brings an appreciation and a life to them in a way that even us warm water swimmers can appreciate. Not to mention, the beauty of the British Isles. The only thing lacking from this book is a series of maps showing us where he went and what sections he swam. I found myself continually tapping the Google machine to see where he was and this was quite annoying. Every chapter in a book like this needs to begin or end with a map. Five stars. This is well worth your time.
What a lovely book to start the year with. If you love wild swimming or just appreciate Roger Deakin’s nature writing (intelligent, wandering, joyous and often with dry humour) you should read this. It’s a swimmers journey through Britain where Deakin explores our rivers, seas, ponds, waterfalls, lochs and lidos with appreciation and a ‘frogs eye view’ to the world.
“…This was water straight from the mountain that sends your blood surging and crams every capillary with a belt of adrenaline, despatching endorphins to deep into the seats of pleasure in body and brain, so that your soul goes soaring, and never quite settles all day.”