Joe Minihane, journalist and creator of the blog Waterlog Reswum, talks about the inspiration that Roger Deakin’s book, Waterlog, provided for his project
“I’ve been working on this project for two years and the appeal of open water seems to have grown even since I started doing it. There seems to be a much greater appreciation of the outdoors than there used to be. People want to spend more time outdoors and there seems to be less stigma attached to throwing yourself in a river, lake or pond.
Roger’s book undoubtedly has had something to do with that and probably writer Robert Macfarlane too (author of The Wild Places). People just tire of the indoor leisure centre and the sweaty pool. For example, my local pool is a beautiful public baths but they heat the water to 30 degrees centigrade. It’s nuts. You do one length and your forehead is dripping with sweat!
When I first started this project I would tell people I was going to swim in a river or a lake and most people would look at me like I was a little bit unhinged. Now I’m finding that all the same people who were looking at me two years ago saying ‘I don’t fancy that’ are saying how much they want to swim with me. That’s great. I’m finding more and more people are willing to do it.
Swimming is so immersive. I love going out walking and cycling but there’s something about going for a wild swim that’s a bit extra. My favourite bits in Waterlog are the bits where Roger’s IN nature rather than looking onto it. You can be very stealthy when you are swimming. I’m much more attuned to the wildlife around me now. I notice more.
I hated swimming as a kid. I wasn’t a particularly strong swimmer. I’ve only really got into it in the past few years. I noticed this morning when I was swimming in Hampstead Ponds that I swam a bit of front crawl but then for the last few lengths I took my goggles off and swam head up breaststroke. Normally I’m not a big fan of doing that because it kills my back but it’s good to experience nature and it’s handy when you need to keep an eye on the swan that is swimming too close! That is for me the great thing about it. You can just spend a long time and see so much while you are in the water.
Roger had his own moat and Hampstead’s Mixed Pond is my moat. I like Tooting Bec Lido a lot too but it takes a lot of stamina to get up and down that thing. I think the most I’ve ever managed is 11 lengths, about 1km, and even in the height of summer it’s cold there. But there’s something about Hampstead that is very special. I liked The West Dart too. It’s spectacular – just so clear. The more rivers I swim in the more I notice that we seem to be taking better care of them perhaps than when Roger wrote Waterlog.
I’ve been pretty fortunate that I’ve not had to deal with anything too dicey while I’ve been swimming. What I’m finding is that Roger had an incredible amount of stamina and he was also incredibly brave throwing himself into different situations. Like diving off 10m boards and letting the current take him through the rocks. However, I’ve finally kicked the habit of wearing a wetsuit. I found there was a temptation to wear it the whole time. But now when I go to Hampstead Mixed Ponds I push myself to swim a couple of minutes extra each time I go just to build my stamina up.
I’ll still wear the wetsuit in the winter and it’s good if you want to stay in for a bit longer, especially around March/April time when you want to go swimming but the water’s not really warm enough to be in for more than five minutes without catching your death in a pair of trunks. Anything lower than about 13 or 14 degrees and you really start to feel cold very, very quickly without a wet suit.
I’m fascinated by the plans for turning our city’s rivers into public spaces too, such as the Thames Baths Project. I’ve also seen Amy Sharrocks’ Museum of Water at Somerset House and she’s talking about a plan for a mass swim across The Thames next year. I think those kind of things are great. The more people want to get into open water the better. Obviously The Thames has its problems but it’s not as filthy as it was even when I was a kid. I go to New York quite regularly and I know people are talking about swimming The East River which surprised me greatly because it’s not a river that I would want to swim in particularly.
But the great thing is that people are wanting to swim outdoors. I spoke to a lady at Chagford Lido the other week and she was saying the popularity of the pool has just boomed in the past few years. And she puts that all down to Waterlog, to Kate Rew’s book (Wild Swim) and Daniel Start’s book (Wild Swimming). That can only be a good thing.”
You can find out a little more about Roger Deakin here