Journeys for Everyone

The Outdoor Swimmers' Library

Swimmer Peter Hancock introduces the The Outdoor Swimmers’ Library, a new project to list the most inspiring swimming books around. In this section he covers the best swimming memoirs – swimming journeys for everyone.


In February 2016 I posted a list of swimming books on the OSS Facebook page. My initial list had about 20 books on it. The well-read OSS community replied to my post, more than tripling my list of books and giving me plenty of suggestions on what to read next. Kate Rew suggested that I compile the list into  an OSS Outdoor Swimmer’s Library.

I have divided the library into sections. This first section covers the breadth of non-competitive outdoor swimming. They are part memoir, part swimming philosophy, part history, and part modest journey. These are my favourite books, and would be the ones I’d choose to while away the very few non-swimming hours if I was stranded on a deserted island.

There are as many ways to categorise books on swimming as there are waters to swim in. Many of the books would fit comfortably in several categories, so my groupings are somewhat subjective.


Some of the best books on swimming are not the biographies of its elite practitioners. Instead they are the memoirs of casual swimmers, donning their costumes and embarking on personal explorations of the self, the landscape, and the history that flows through it. Swimming promotes mindfulness, thought, internal reflection, and an appreciation of nature, making it an excellent way to maintain a healthy perception of the self and of others.

Waterlog – Roger Deakin

Inspired by ‘The Swimmer’ short story by John Cheever Deakin embarks on a memorable year-long aquatic exploration of Britain.

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Nine Ways to Cross a River - Akido Busch

Busch swims across nine large US rivers, touching on their history, environmental condition, and future of each river and demonstrates how swimming gives us stewardship of the water.

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Pondlife: A Swimmer’s Journal- Al Alvarez

Alvarez, once the poetry editor of The Guardian, describes his swims in Hampstead Heath, reflecting on the aging process and his love of the water and people he swims with over the 8 years spanned by the book.

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The Outrun - Amy Liptrot

A wonderful story. Liptrot trades chaos and turmoil for the cold water, strong wind, and the wildlife of the Orkney coast.

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Dip: Wild Swims from the Borderlands- Andrew Fusek Peters

Peters emerges from depression with the help of solitude, company, and swimming. A lyrical account of a year spent in and around natural water.

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Swim: Why We Love the Water – Lynn Sherr

On the lead up in her attempt to swim the Hellespont, Lynne Sherr explores what it is about swimming that appeals to so many. It gives fascinating insights into why so many of us are so passionate about being in the water.

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Wild Swim - Kate Rew

‘This wonderful and joyful romp of a book will launch a thousand swimmers’ predicted Robert Macfarlane back in 2008. Captures the freshness and freedom of swimming in words and elegaic photography, as Rew and photographer Dominick Tyler take an everyman journey around Britain.

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Swimming Studies – Leanne Shapton

As an artist and author, Leanne Shapton brilliantly portrays her feelings for competitive and recreational swimming.

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The Story of Swimming - Susie Parr

An exploration of the social history of swimming in Britain, the book delves into the political, cultural, and literary aspects of swimming outside.

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Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero - Charles Sprawson

This is a wonderful literary and cultural history of swimming. Sprawson, an art dealer, provides an overview of swimming, as portrayed by movie stars, writers, poets, painters, architects, and photographers who have captured what it means to swim.

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