9 amazing books on swimming to inspire outdoor adventures this summer

From a ‘waterbiography’ and a wild guide to Scotland to books that aid healing, Jude Brosnan reviews 9 fascinating books on the subject of swimming to immerse yourself in...

5 mins

1: Swell: A Waterbiography by Jenny Landreth

Buy it here: www.stanfords.co.uk/Swell

Isn't the word ‘Waterbiography’ genius? You might know Jenny Landreth from the Guardian’s swimming blog or from her book Swimming London, in which she profiled the 50 best pools, lakes and rivers from around the capital. 

Swell is about the ‘swimming suffragettes’, the pioneering women who played a part in making swimming the activity that can be enjoyed today by everyone, regardless of who they are.

Jenny Landreth is a wonderful and hilarious writer, so this is in no way a stuffy account of historic events. She includes her own history of swimming, the 2012 Olympics, the developments in swimwear and, in her own unique way, the psychology behind why we swim.  





2: Wild Guide Scotland

Buy it here: www.stanfords.co.uk/Wild-Guide-Scotland

The latest in the Wild Guides series is one of Stanfords' bestselling guides this year. It is written by three young, outdoorsy locals. 

As well as lots of great bothies, places to camp, food and drink recommendations, they also look at beaches and places to swim. They go as far as calling Scotland a wild swimming paradise, and claim it’s the perfect place for a refreshing dip in a tranquil loch or through a steep-sided river gorge through sun-warmed rocks. 

If you are planning a trip with lots of swimming, you really are spoilt for choice in Scotland. With vast stretches of white sand beaches on the west coast, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were somewhere more tropical, if the temperatures weren’t so bracing, of course.


3: Leap In by Alexandra Heminsley

Buy it here: www.stanfords.co.uk/Leap-in

Alexandra Heminsley, the author of Running Like A Girl, again shows us that we can all become good at a sport. Leap In is the story of how she became a swimmer. 

Anyone who has struggled into neoprene will understand Alexandra when she says, “…the loneliest place on earth is halfway into, halfway out of a wetsuit.”

The book documents the journey from absolute beginner to open water swimming and ends with completing the Kefalonia-to-Ithaca swim. 

Throughout the book, Heminsley describes the struggles she and her husband experienced with IVF, against which swimming acts as a needed focus. We hear how she fit training into her life and how, for her, swimming becomes something normal and stable when the rest of life may not be.





4: Vintage Minis: Swimming by Roger Deakin

Buy it here: www.stanfords.co.uk/Vintage-Minis

In June, Vintage launched a series of books celebrating the work of great classic and contemporary authors by looking at different themes. Each book is around 100 pages and takes extracts from the author’s works on the specific subject. Books in the Vintage Minis series include Summer by Laurie Lee, Death by Julian Barnes, Home by Salman Rushdie and a number of others.

Mostly, they are selected extracts from the authors’ other books but Swimming by Roger Deakin is all from his 1999 bestseller Waterlog in which he swims his way through the lakes, ponds, lidos, pools, rivers and seas of the British Isles and realises the power water has on lifting spirits and strengthening your relationship with nature. 

It’s one of my favourite books and this abridged version is a great way of reliving the best bits. But if you haven’t read the full version, you definitely should.



5: I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice

Buy it here: www.stanfords.co.uk/I-Found-My-Tribe

Set in Greystones, Co. Wicklow, the author of I Found My Tribe juggles five children, a husband with Motor Neurone Disease and a house full of equipment and the nurses who accompany it. Ruth amasses a group of friends, each with their own set of problems and they dub themselves ‘The Tragic Wives Club’.

This is far from a desperate tale and a plea for pity. It is an often uplifting and funny account of learning to dealing with hardship and how resilient and adaptable we can be in testing times. 

Fitzmaurice flashes back to memories of her husband when they were dating, before MND took its toll, which is a different man to the one her young children are growing up with. She uses the freezing swims she shares with her friends as a way to hold on to her own identity and have a well-deserved break.


6: Turning by Jessica Lee

Buy it here: www.stanfords.co.uk/Turning

This swimming memoir is, in part, a tale of healing heartbreak through connecting with nature, but Jessica J Lee made the act of cold water swimming (which basically means swimming all year round) more challenging by setting herself a goal.

Lee decided to swim in 52 lakes surrounding Berlin in as many weeks and in all weather. 

This book works as a maverick alternative guide to the lakes, and if you are planning a trip to this part of Germany, it offers great advice on where to swim. 

It's a mixture of a memoir and academic nature writing, perhaps due to the fact that, while writing this book, Lee was in the midst of a PhD on the environmental and social history of Hampstead Heath.





7: Swimming with Seals by Victoria Whitworth

Buy it here: www.stanfords.co.uk/Swimming-with-Seals

There are echoes of Amy Liptrot’s 2016 bestselling, award winning The Outrun in many of these swimming books, as the theme of immersing yourself in nature as therapeutically healing in the process of overcoming trauma or depression is a growing genre. 

This book’s cover endorsement is from Liptrot and we are again treated to another view of Orkney. We can’t get enough of reading about this part of the world with its epic scenery. 

Described as a love letter to the beach where she swims, this is Victoria Whitworth’s personal account of change and loss. As an academic who explores the culture and society of Britain in the Early Middle Ages, Whitworth uses this expertise and mixes in some poetic nature writing about the wildlife that surrounds and joins her on her journey.




8: The Mindful Art of Wild Swimming: Reflections for Zen Seekers

Buy it here: www.stanfords.co.uk/The-Mindful-Art-of-Wild-Swimming

Move over colouring books. This year, it’s all about swimming if you are looking for that mindful/Zen experience. 

This isn’t a hippified ‘ommm’ chanting manual, though. Tessa Wardley has previously written books on rivers and the countryside, and is a member of the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management, a former senior water ecologist at a leading environmental consultancy and policy advisor to the Environment Agency, so she is more than qualified to tell us about the powerful calming effect of water. 

It’s an expert account of how water helps awaken our senses and makes us more in tune with ourselves.






9: Floating: A life Regained by Joe Minihane

Buy it here: www.stanfords.co.uk/Floating

An increasing amount of travellers plan their travel routes following those written about by their favourite writers. Graham Greene, Isabella Bird, Dervla Murphy and Patrick Leigh Fermor are among those who often inspire trips. 

In his debut book, travel writer Joe Minihane takes Waterlog as a guide and he retraces Roger Deakin’s swims in search for the best places to swim in the UK.

This book began life as blog called Waterlog Reswum, so the tone is informal and relaxed (he refers to Deakin as just ‘Roger’). Again, following Deakin, Minihane finds in swimming a rare moment of being free from anxiety and learns that it can be integral in overcoming depression.


Main image: Man swimming in lake (Dreamstime) 

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