Considering I could only manage an awkward doggy paddle until the age of 11, my ever-growing love affair with swimming outdoors has taken me (and those who knew me as a water-hating youngster), as something of a surprise. I’m not sure where my need to swim in cold water has come from, but I do know that although it existed before I read Roger Deakin’s Waterlog, it has become an abiding necessity in my life since reading the late naturalist’s undoubted masterpiece.
Deakin published Waterlog in 1999, at a time when the very idea of swimming in rivers was regarded as something bordering on insane. The book follows his jounrey from early spring swims in the moat at his creaking farmhouse in Suffolk, trespasses near Winchester, paddles in stunning west country gravel pits, through to Lake District dips and a dangerous (and thankfully thwarted) attempt to swim across Jura’s lethal Corryvreckan whirlpool.
Throughout, Deakin is an excellent, impish guide. Watrerlog is a quintessential boys own adventure, blending tales of the author’s own high jinks in the rivers, lakes, lidos and seas of the UK with a brilliantly related history of outdoor swimming on these shores. Once you’ve read it, you’ll be reaching for your bathers and towel, even if you’ve never even as much as slid a toe into our country’s glorious, nippy open waters. Deakin passed away in 2006, missing the recent resurgence in wild swimming. But surely he’d be delighted to know that the (taboo) pleasures of slipping into a river or lake have never been more popular, thanks largely to his beautiful book.