It was on one of Roger Deakin's daily swims, in his moat at Walnut Tree Farm, that the master plan behind 'Waterlog' was hatched - to explore the ancient tradition of wild swimming on an aquatic peregrination through the bays, beaches, rivers, brooks, lidos and pools of Great Britain.
Inspired in part by John Cheever's "The Swimmer" and his own son's adventures overseas, Deakin explores the British Isles at water level. His journey takes him from glacial tarns of the Welsh highlands, seemingly bottomless and home to legend and myth; to the abandoned university swimming holes, haunted by tales of students who once swam there; from the Victorian Lido's in their fading glory, struggling to make ends meet; all the way to Britain's beach desert of Dungeness.
While Deakin wore many hats, I feel he can be truly crowned king of the nature writers. He weaves history, culture, science, anthropology and natural history into each beautiful, dreamlike narrative, making it impossible not follow in the wake of his swimming tale. This book is so charming, poetic, romantic and moving you long to be standing on the banks, shouting encouragement, ready to leap into action with a towel and a thermos of Bovril upon his emergence.
Sadly Waterlog was the only book Deakin completed in his lifetime, although two more have been published posthumously. I have already bought Waterlog for a number of friends and since I finished it I have swum every weekend in homage to Deakin, and in celebration of the romance and nostalgia of wild swimming.