OSS Book Editor Lexi Earle rounds up the best books for swimmers this year, from Ironman guides to lyrical genius
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn
A harrowing but uplifting read of what you do when you lose everything you own and hold dear. Ray and her husband lose their house and their income, and, at a loss of what to do, decide on a whim to walk the 630-odd miles of the South-West Coast Path. The story is one of strength and resilience amidst absolute adversity and struggle. Whilst not a swimming book per se, this is nature writing at its best. Raynor’s ability to notice the small, the changing, the colour, the light, is compelling. The Salt Path, Raynor Winn.
Wild Signs and Star Paths by Tristan Gooley
With a similar agenda to The Lost Words, Wild Signs and Star Paths aims to allow people to rediscover their ability to read natural signs. Using our intuition, we can assess situations in the wild just as easily as we now do in our urban habitats but we have forgotten all the information. Tristan’s book will re-introduce you to ideas and ways you can go about rediscovering this natural knowledge. This is a romp through nature, history, astronomy, geography and more. Wonderful read for the budding scientist in your life. Wild Signs & Star Paths, Tristan Gooley.
The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris
Glorious illustrations accompany words and poetry of the natural world. Written for children of all ages. This is just such a beautiful book. It is large-sized, and gorgeously illustrated. The words, poems mostly, about animals and nature are a sure fire way to enthuse the young (and old) people in your life. The book reminds us of what we might lose if we all become immune and unattached from the wildness of the world. The Lost Words, Robert Macfarlane & Jackie Norris.
Haunts of the Black Masseur by Charles Sprawson
This is the re-issue of a classic, with a new introduction by Amy Liptrot (author of The Outrun). It is an book about the history of swimming, told through various, recognisable faces (Byron, Virginia Woolf, F.Scott Fitzgerald)… The book deliberates on the cultural meanings of swimming, and the things we attach to the water. Haunts of the Black Masseur, Charles Sprawson.
21 Miles by Jessica Hepburn
Jessica’s book is an exploration of motherhood, swimming, and eating. After years of trying for a baby (documented in her first book: The Pursuit of Motherhood), she decides to do something completely different. And that something completely different manifests as swimming the Channel. In 21 Miles, Jessica talks to 21 different women while sharing a meal, trying to discover whether motherhood makes women happy. The women come from all walks of life, some with children and some without. As she swims, she ponders on this question, and the other women’s answers. 21 Miles, Jessica Hepburn.
Swim Wild by Jack Hudson, with Calum Hudson and Robbie Hudson
If, like us, you follow the brothers on Instagram, you will be excited to read more about their swimming adventures in-depth. This is a book about true adventurers, boys unafraid of anything (so it seems), willing to take on challenging and often, they are warned, impossible swims. They persevere anyway. Written in Jack’s easy-going voice, this is a delightful story of swimming wild, with all the preparation and training that goes into a long swim included. Swim Wild, Jack Hudson.
Wild Woman Swimming by Lynne Roper
Lynne Roper was a stalwart of the Devon swimming community. This collection of her diaries, edited by Tanya Shadwick, draws you into her world of water. These are very personal notes about swimming, the community, and the natural world. Set largely in and around Dartmoor, this intimate collection is funny, endearing, heart-breaking, and wonderful. Lynne’s enthusiasm for wild swimming is infectious, and by the end you will be donning your cossie and heading for your nearest swim spot. Read our review here. Wild Woman Swimming, Lynne Roper.
A Boy in the Water by Tom Gregory
Written in the voice of 11-year-old Tom, this memoir is about Channel swimming and preparation but is also about friendships and mentors. The book charts Tom’s journey from 8-year old doggy paddler, to 11-year old Channel swimmer. Moving between Tom’s recollections of the swim, and the journey that leads to it, this is a truly wonderful story of a boy and his coach, his family, and his swimming team. Read our review here. A Boy in the Water, Tom Gregory.
The Scottish Bothy Bible by Geoff Allan
A seriously wonderful book for the true wild adventurer in your life! Bothies are small shelters or huts freely available for anyone to use. This guide to bothies all over Scotland is a wonderful handbook; find a bothy wherever your swim takes you.This is a great gift for anyone planning a swimming expedition to lochs, or Scotland’s islands or coasts. It comes with tips on how to use a bothy, what to bring, and explains The Bothy Code! The Scottish Bothy Bible, Geoff Allan.
The Light in the Dark by Horatio Clare
Not, strictly speaking, a swimming book, but rather a winter-nature one. Written in Horatio’s lyrical style, these entries are all about surviving, and thriving, in the winter months. As he explains, in recent times winter has become tough, difficult, sad. So he endeavours to pay attention, spend time outdoors, and embrace the season. But it is still a challenge, mostly because of the darkness. A book for anyone who wants to hibernate all winter. The Light In the Dark, Horatio Clare.
Wild Swimming Europe by Rob Fryer
The latest self-published guide to swimming around Europe by Rob Fryer, the founder of the RALSA (The River and Lake Swimming Association) and chair of Farleigh Riverbank Club. almost certainly contains more swim locations than any other book on the market. The 1900 places listed are uniquely described with black and white photographs, lat and long grid references, a lavish use of symbols (we can assume 5 skull and crossboness = really dangerous), homemade maps and idiosyncratic anecdotes. Extensive and individual. Wild Swimming Europe, Rob Fryer.
The Complete Ironman by Bob Babbitt
The official illustrated guide to the ultimate endurance race, this book is for those Ironmen or wannabe Ironmen in your life. Whilst not a book to curl up with a cuppa with, this book documents the history of this iconic event, the worldwide spread of the events and the top Ironman entrants of all time, and is well worth a read if you’re one of those people who loves a challenge. There’s also training plans for you to get your teeth into if you’re on your Ironman journey. A book to dip into and be inspired by. The Complete Ironman, Bob Babbitt.