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Swimming can take many different forms and be undertaken for a wide variety of reasons. For some, it is about competition, for others it is about keeping fit and for others an opportunity for relaxation. The relationship that humans have with water is complex and varied. This is partly because of the extremely peculiar qualities of the H20 molecule and partly because of the very intimate connection between water and life itself.

Here, on the island of Symi, many of us are fortunate to be able to swim in a number of excellent beaches, though not of the sandy variety. However, swimming is not synonymous with swimming in the sea. Many people enjoy its delights in public swimming pools, open-air lidos and freshwater rivers.

In Roger Deakin’s
Waterlog (first published in 2000) we are provided with a thoroughly engaging account of freshwater swimming. The book’s subtitle ‘A Swimmer’s Journey Through Britain’ is simultaneously both accurate and misleading. Yes, this is a record of swimming activity, but it’s also in some sense a journey of self-discovery as Roger, together his son Rufus, explore some of the more intriguing and challenging rivers and pools of the British Isles. The reduced buoyancy of freshwater is adequately compensated by its seductive limpidity and stimulating coolness.

A keen documentary maker as well as an environmentalist, Deakin manages in
Waterlog to combine, almost effortlessly, detailed descriptions of unique ‘waterscapes’ with glancing yet relevant observations about contemporary culture in the third millennium. This is a volume that could have gone so horribly wrong. Deakin, however, not only rises to the inspirational challenge of John Cheever’s 1964 short story The Swimmer, but does so in a way which is authentic and compelling.

I read
Waterlog at a time in my life when my swimming was mostly confined to a chlorinated pool in an apartment block in Nevada. As I turned the pages, I was ineluctably drawn into its wonderful account of how water can revive and, dare I say it, sanctify us. In short, I had to move on and find stimulation and inspiration elsewhere. Thanks Roger!




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Book of the Month
WALTERLOG

Roger Deakin