Taking the Plunge

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Swimming has always been my ‘sport’ and although most of the time it is lengths up and down the local pool, I always pack a swimsuit when I’m going away in the hope that some more exotic or exciting spot will materialize. It was therefore a real pleasure to discover a book that indulged my fantasies about swimming while giving me ideas for future watery exploits.

The notion of a long swim through Britain began in the pouring rain while Roger Deakin was swimming in his moat in Suffolk. The idea became an obsession and, inspired by John Cheever’s short story ‘The Swimmer’, in which the hero Ned Merrill swims drunkenly home through a series of neighbours’ pools, he embarked on a random journey to swimming spots throughout the British Isles.

Anything that contains water is fair game once Deakin has decided to swim in it, and the pleasure he gets from his swims is infectious: ‘In water, all possibilities seemed infinitely extended . . . Free of the tyranny of gravity and the weight of the atmosphere, I found myself in the wide-eyed condition described by the Australian poet Les Murray when he said: “I am only interested in everything.”’

From the fear of being ‘poached for breakfast’ by the members of the exclusive Houghton Fishing Club on the River Test, to swimming with a family who seem to more or less live in the Avon, diving out of their bedroom windows to enjoy a floating picnic lunch, to Jura where the water was ‘gaspingly, shockingly, ridiculously cold’, he is passionate about his swims. The temptation to strip off and jump into the nearest pool, river, lake or sea becomes almost irresistible.

Water-cum-Jolly in Derbyshire ‘seemed to embody in three words the very essence of the joys of swimming’ – how could it fail? While at Gargrave, on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, he resolutely plunged in, despite his fear of being sucked under a lock gate.

Of course there is nothing better than swimming naked whenever

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About the contributor

Sarah Anderson founded the Travel Bookshop in Notting Hill in 1979. After 25 years she has now ‘retired’ from the shop and has embarked on a gap year. She recently returned from Antarctica where she travelled with her bathing suit, but the opportunity to use it never arose.

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