Whilst it’s not a book about walking, “Waterlog” is a beautifully written account of one man’s passion for wild and outdoor swimming and an essential component of any good library of British natural history and nature writing. Deakin starts the book by swimming in the moat surrounding his farmhouse in Suffolk and from there his journey through Britain sees him swimming “From the sea, from rock pools,from rivers and streams, tarns, lakes, lochs, ponds,lidos, swimming pools and spas”.
Deakin’s “Swimmer’s journey” takes him from the Isles of Scilly to the chilly waters of Scotland and whilst there appears to be a Southern bias to his preferred spots his sheer joie de vivre every time he slips beneath the surface of the water gushes forth from every chapter. He has a healthy disregard for authority and for signs warning of private water and forbidding swimming on spurious grounds of health and safety, the encounter with Winchester College River Keeper neatly sums up his perspective, “But surely, I said sweetly, we should all have access to swim in our rivers just as we should be free to walk in our own countryside. Don’t they belong to all of us?”
Deakin is an enthusiastic naturalist (and occasional naturist) and writes beautifully of encounters with otters, frogs, brown trout and dragonflies. He is an assiduous historian and the chapters are peppered with anecdotes and tales of the history of bathing in the wild waters of the UK and the people who did it. He takes us back to an England where weekends meant communal bathing in clean, fast flowing waters and where cold water enthusiasts maintained spartan regimes of health and vigour!
I have always been an enthusiastic swimmer, a childhood by the coast has seen to that, but in this inspirational and beautifully written book Deakin has stirred something deep within my soul. I shall not only be seeking out more of his writing in the future, but I might start to pack a towel and trunks in my rucksack on a more regular basis.