Hell and High Water

OSS Book Review

In 2013 Sean Conway attempted to swim the length of Britain, an epic 900 mile swim from John O’ Groats to Land’s End. Anna Morell reviews his book of the adventure: Hell and High Water

Anna’s Review – A bonkers, breathtaking, salt-flecked travelogue

One man, two months, three boats, four crew. A Channel swim a day for two months, taking Sean Conway from Land’s End to John O’Groats along the Western coast of the British Isles, to do something “extremely difficult” and raise some money for War Child.

Of course, things don’t quite go to plan, and that’s part of the huge charm of this bonkers, breathtaking, salt-flecked travelogue. Sean Conway comes across as somewhere between the kind of likeable, nonchalant dude you’d meet at a festival, and an incorrigible ironman. His commitment to swimming is astonishing. His attention to the more humdrum aspects of planning is… slightly more haphazard. Training in a warm, flat pool many miles from the sea, having never really sea-swum, for instance. And overlooking cashflow and engine oil at other critical points of the adventure. Rerouting via Ireland.

That said, you cannot help but root for him on every gulp of seawater, and every burning stroke. This is a man who climbed Kilimanjaro dressed as a penguin and has a nagging injury from a cheese-rolling incident. You can’t not want him to win.

What a journey. What a guy.

As a culture, we have lost touch with our sense of adventure and risk. Of just how far our horizons might stretch, and our personal boundaries can be pushed. There is little left on our Isles that can be considered a genuinely intrepid first any more. A lot of the joy in this book (and it is brim-full of joy) is in proving that there are still new ways to explore the world – and especially, our own backyard, or back ocean, here in the UK. New challenges to beat. New ways of looking death in the face, through a beard full of jellyfish tentacles. New ways of overcoming the stench of protein farts and wee in wetsuits. And of course, the relentless day to day routine of enduring properly cold water, thwarting weather, dangerous tides and jagged rocks along much of the route.

They said it couldn’t be done in two months. They were right. It took even longer. But what a journey. What a guy.

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