Friday, 21 March 2008

Waterlog by Roger Deakin

Brilliant book, a bit of a cult
favourite; can't help but be appreciated by anyone who loves swimming. Roger Deakin was inspired by John Cheever's short story "The Swimmer', wherein a man sets out to swim home from a neighbour's party (it's all a metaphor for life's great struggle, of course - Burt Lancaster ,left, starred in the movie adaptation). Deakin sets out from his moat in Suffolk to swim through the British Isles.

Deakin's swimming is mostly open water - rivers, ponds, his own moat, the sea. As a dedicated pool swimmer, however, I was especially taken by his chapter on searching for the spas of the Malvern Hills, around Cheltenham and Buxton. None exists any longer. Killed off, it seems, by the coming of steam railways and the subsequent accessibility of the seaside.

He does have a swim in several pools along the way, notably Cheltenham's Sandford Parks Lido* , Cirencester, Jubilee pool at Penzance, the rock pool at Dancing Ledge, Dorset, Hathersage and Ingleton in Yorkshire, Highgate Ponds, The Parliament Hill and Tooting Bec Lidos in London, and the Oasis in London.

*pronounced Lie-do, rather than the Italian-correct Lee-do, from whence the British Lido, as outdoor pools are known, gets its name: The Lido of Venice).

“When you swim, you feel your body for what it mostly is – water – and it begins to move with the water around it. No wonder we feel such sympathy for beached whales; we are beached at birth ourselves. To swim is to experience how it was before you were born. Once in the water, you are immersed in an intensely private world as you were in the womb. These amniotic waters are both utterly safe and yet terrifying, for at birth anything could go wrong, and you are assailed by all kunds of forces over which you have no control. This may account for the anxieties every swimmer experiences from time to time in deep water. The swimmer experiences the terror and the bliss of being born.”

“Swimming is often enhanced by company, and sometimes by solitude. The same individual may swim for different reasons on different days. I certainly do. The joys of swimming are sometimes those of silence and solitude, sometimes of communion with nature, and sometimes the more friends who oin you, the merrier…there is also strength in numbers if your right to bathe in this or that particular mudhole is at all questioned” P. 115

Click here for extracts from Deakin about (links will be made as I make posts about them):

Dancing Ledge
Parliament Hill
Tooting Bec

I was inspired by Deakin to think about some memorable non-pool swimming I have done in Australia, and will be making posts on :

"The Res" at Mount Macedon, Victoria
Buchan Caves pool, Victoria
The Blue and Green Pools (former quarries) at Angourie, NSW
Copi Hollow, Menindee, NSW
Blue Lake, Mount Kosciuszko, NSW

Snowy River, NSW
Thredbo River, NSW
Rocky Creek, Upper Horton, northern NSW
Hastings Cave pool, Tasmania
Toowoomba, Qld
Lake MacKenzie, Fraser Island, Queensland

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