Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Swimming with Seals” as Want to Read:
Swimming with Seals
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Swimming with Seals

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  273 ratings  ·  44 reviews
Victoria Whitworth began swimming in the cold waters of Orkney as a means of temporary escape from a failing marriage, a stifling religious environment and a series of health problems. Over four years, her encounters with the sea and all its weathers, the friendships she made, the wild creatures she encountered, combined to transform her life. This book is a love letter, t ...more
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published April 20th 2017 by Head of Zeus
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Swimming with Seals, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Swimming with Seals

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.88  · 
Rating details
 ·  273 ratings  ·  44 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Swimming with Seals
An enjoyable read, it reminded me of (view spoiler) Sidewalks, in that it seemed to digress so much as to be about nothing, yet at the same time everything was related to everything else, attempting to swim off the coast of Iona suddenly seems to be an allegory of her marriage - caught in a rip tide and grated along rocks until she manages to stumble grazed and bleeding on to the shore.

It is a book that is and is not about swimming, sometimes close to seals, in
Apr 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2017
Brilliant writing, Victoria Whitworth is the Queen of the tangent, this book covers so much, death, love, birth, history, religion, legends, nature...the list goes on. These subjects are broken up with short Facebook diary updates about her experiences swimming in the sea. This writing style works well, it ends one subject and allows her to smoothly move on to the next subject. Her writing is very honest at times, how she dealt with her mum's death, issues in her marriage and feelings on becomin ...more
Apr 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Wild swimming seems to be in vogue at the moment. I read Floating by Joe Minihane last month and have Turning by Jessica J. Lee to read and I am hoping to get my hands on a copy of Swell very soon. Victoria Whitworth’s book has slotted nicely in the middle of this aquatic series of memoirs that all can trace their source to the fantastic book that is Waterlog. As her marriage begins to crumble and she begins to suffer health problems that middle age brings on, she seeks company with others in th ...more
May 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Beautifully written account of a deepening connection to Orkney (and growing self-confidence) through wild cold water swimming. Nature writing history and memoir skillfully blended in this personal portrait of place.

"I may come here every day, but I have never yet come to the same place twice."

"I knew I had no future with someone who didn't feel the lure of the islands, their peculiar blend of Scottish present and Norse past, the volatile sky, the ever-present sea."
Jun 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley to read and review.

I've long wanted to visit Orkney and this very good book has made me want to go all the more.

Love this genre - a mixture of 'landscape', personal memoir and nature (way beyond just seals).

Victoria Whitworth is an academic and it shows - we leap from subject to subject with ease and I was always learning something new.

The leaping about could have made a disjointed book but there are themes running throughout
Apr 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Whitworth moved to Orkney where she took up wild swimming in the ocean. This is part memoir, part history and folklore of the island. I was more interested in the stories of the Picts and other previous residents of Orkney but this is a lovely little book.
Jun 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An ode to nature, Orkney and seals with intensely personal overtones

If you like clear, linear direction in your reading material, you may find this book frustrating or even bewildering but if you are happy to go with the flow of whst initially appears to be a stream-of-consciousness directed narrative, you will be richly rewarded. Where else, within the space of 60 pages could you read about topics as varied as Catholicism, plantar fascitis, mermaid and selkie mythology, an orca's metre-wide mou
Holly Beaumont
Oct 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful book - complex, rich, multi-layered. It is a slow unfolding, the pages swim with poetry and sensational descriptions of the Orkney land- and seascapes.

The short refreshing bursts of the swim diaries are set amidst longer reminiscences and meditations on death, life, memories and relationships. The author builds a patchwork landscape for Orkney, piecing together its people over time and geography. It is a book about identity, lost and found, the marks that we leave - both physical an
Karen Mace
Aug 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was Book 12 of my 20 Books of Summer 2020.

\This was a fascinating read as the author shares her thoughts on her love for wild swimming along with a considerable amount of background to the history, folklore and wildlife in Orkney. It also features her family and the background to the state she finds herself in now and how that the sea seems to call to her and helps her find a way to escape her problems with a dip in the sea,and her various encounters with the wildlife along the way.

I found
Dec 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm a little torn about whether to rate this 3 or 4 stars.

I really enjoyed the first two-thirds of the book -- reflections on nature, life and history in Orkney, her relationships with friends, family, spouse and OE/The Wanderer, the swims, etc.

I was much less interested in her poem "replying" to The Wanderer. It seemed ultimately like she wasn't sure how to wrap things up in this memoir, and things descended into a bit of navel-gazing (at least from my perspective). For me, her self-conscious
A Tiefenthaler
A pretty book with liquid language that I just wasn't in the mood for.
I wanted more water, more swimming.
The stream-of-consciousness writing started to drag me under.
Juliet Wilson
May 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nature
I went to the launch of this book a couple of weeks ago and was very impressed by Victoria Whitworth's presentation and the range of topics she covered in her talk. The book, which had its beginnings in a series of Facebook posts, is even more amazing.

Victoria Whitworth moved up to Orkney and found herself becoming more and more drawn to swimming in the sea, first with a group of local people (who call themselves the Polar Bears) and then increasingly by herself. She swims most days in all weath
Rachel Fryer
Apr 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2018, memoir
I really liked elements of this book; the wild swimming, natural history, Orkney. Some of the history and folklore was interesting, but some of it I wasn't familiar with enough to understand the jumping references. I then found it not so interesting. I was expectng quite personal writing, but the writer reveals very little over the book and mostly discusses hisotorical details. I struggled to decide on a rating as I did really enjoy parts of the book, but overall I didnt enjoy it as much as I ex ...more
Jun 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'm in a spate of swimming memoirs. This one, by Victoria Whitworth, is about how swimming in the sea around Orkney helped heal her body and strengthen her spirit. But it's much more than a therapeutic memoir: Whitworth is a medieval historian and she is full of fascinating information that only an academic would know - about history, folklore and archaeology - that take us way under the skin of her experiences. Wise and beautiful. ...more
Ellen Taylor
May 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Honest and heartfelt. This book deals with some incredibly heavy themes, all anchored by swims in the icy seas of the Orkney coast. Beautiful descriptions of the landscape, its history, and its importance across time.
Nov 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2018
A love story of cold water sea swimming around Orkney. The mythology and history become dreary.
Ruth Brumby
Dec 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Although this isn't the greatest book ever written, it really spoke to me. I loved her interest in words and stories and her reflections on our connections with landscape. The interweaving of her personal story and development with old writings and with descriptions of Orkney works very well indeed through most of the book, but I thought the ending didn't really bring it all together as intended. I was fascinated by the Facebook posts about swimming which punctuate the writing because they are l ...more
Evan May
Sep 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A lot of books get called "unique", but I have truly never read anything quite like Victoria Whitworth's 'Swimming with Seals'. It is, as the title suggests, framed by the author's experiences swimming in the North Sea, but this book comprises so much more than that. There is history and poetry and Whitworth's insights into what people are like (both herself, and others) that sometimes feels like a dissection - what is revealed may be difficult to look at, but it is undeniably real. You will com ...more
Sep 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I received a free copy via Netgalley in exchange for a honest review.
The author swims daily in the frigid waters of Orkney sometimes naked. A better title might have been swimming with the Orkas since she and her other wild swimmers sometimes felt they were being tagged by the Orkas and were at least a bit apprehensive of their presence. This book is about the psychological & physical healing of wild swimming, a topic I knew little about. It's beautifully written and includes background of the l
Yvonne Mendy-Harrison
Very brave writing, exploring oneself to the depths. Amazing knowledge and detail of history explained in depth whilst being able to maintain a running commentary of how it affects her own emotional self.... my worry was her loss of regard to personal safety... ‘no one knows where I am ... that I am swimming here... swimming in all weathers... the COLD!! currents... tides... being battered by the sea... one terrifying scare...I understand that need to throw yourself to the elements ... he ...more
Jan 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
So I liked about a third of this book, all to do with my personal expectations. I was looking forward to reading a personal exploration through open swimming, There is very little personal memoir or experience, more a lot of myth and local folklore. Had I picked up the book having looked for the history side of things I would probably have enjoyed it a lot more. But as it was, I skimread an awful lot and was left disappointed!
Farah Mendlesohn
Jun 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Disclosure: the author and I have been friends for twenty years; but I have never been known to give a good review to a book just because I'm friend with the author.

I adored this book: it is slow, elegaic, intense, painful and passionate. It's very much a book about searching inwards to find oneself when lost, and then finding the way markers outside oneself in the accumulation of awareness and observed life.
Alan Thomson
Nov 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant. I really like this kind of book and this one is done really well. I feel I have gained a good insight into the author and the author’s journey. The writing style carries the reader forward beautifully and the descriptions are lovely. I live on the Moray Firth and much of the book resonates with me. I love the historical perspectives and the word derivations. All in all a great read. Thank you to the author.
Aug 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
This is a great read- one of my favourites this year- well written, interesting, erudite, and entertaining. Definitely one of the better ‘swimming’ books. Everything is in here- life, death, joy, depression. Nothing is glossed over, and the realities of living is such an isolated place as the Orkneys are addressed rather than romanticised. It’s not bleak though, the rush of living blood courses through this book, alive and kicking. I’d recommend.
Aug 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
A linguistically and emotionally enchanting outpour loosely based on the addiction of sea-swimming, the author at the same time provides so many new ways of viewing the world - historically and geologically, etymologically, through death and nature, all with a particular focus on gendered and psychological insight, punctuated only by beautiful descriptions of the colours and feelings and beings of the Orcadian sea; if only all rambling thoughts were this coherent and eloquent.
Reese Taylor
Sep 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I’m not a swimmer but Victoria Whitworth took me swimming in the sea and back onto the Orkney Islands with strokes of history, biology, anthropology and mythology. Her story is personal and universal, warm and true. Beautifully written, this is a book for fellow travelers and anyone who thinks and feels.
Reese Taylor
Oct 29, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2019
An interesting delve into one woman's journey of sea swimming and coping, framed with very detailed passages about Orkney and it's origins, peoples, traditions and objects. Not what I thought I'd find but still enjoyable

Read by a roaring hearth, in bed and finished on a leather chair in the sun.
Jun 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley, biography
I received a free copy via Netgalley in exchange for a honest review.

I found some of this interesting, but unfortunately there was to much history and etymology that I was not interested in and found boring.
This would be great for people who know and love Orkney.
Nov 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book. Superbly written and a joy to read. Lots of history, folklore, facts, grief, loss, and cold water swimming with seals, birds and orcas for company. My only criticism is that I would have loved to read more about the swimming!
Jul 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An absolutely fantastic book that engages all the senses with its descriptive writing so that you experience everything the author does. A book to savour and the best one I have read this year (so far).
« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • At the Pond: Swimming at the Hampstead Ladies' Pond
  • The Outrun: A Memoir
  • Salt on Your Tongue: Women and the Sea
  • Why We Swim
  • The Salt Path
  • The Living Mountain
  • Marine Biology: A Very Short Introduction
  • Waterlog
  • The Wild Silence
  • Miss Benson's Beetle
  • Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience
  • Legacy: One Family, a Cup of Tea and the Company that Took On the World
  • Surfacing
  • The Nun's Story
  • From Russia with Blood: The Kremlin's Ruthless Assassination Program and Vladimir Putin's Secret War on the West
  • Burn
  • A Libertarian Walks Into a Bear: The Utopian Plot to Liberate an American Town (And Some Bears)
  • Magpie Lane
See similar books…
Victoria Whitworth is a historian and bestselling author of The Bone Thief and The Traitors' Pit. Having worked as a lecturer, tour guide, artist's model and teacher, she now lives on a smallholding in Orkney, where she writes full time.

She also wrote as V.M. Whitworth and Victoria Thompson.


News & Interviews

  Listen up, because our colleagues here at Goodreads have some excellent audiobook recommendations for you! Of course, the books they've...
8 likes · 4 comments