Waterlog 20 years on: Lindsey Cole portrays the new generation

Roger Deakin's outdoor swimming and nature writing classic Waterlog: A Swimmer's Journey Through Britain was published 20 years ago this month. To mark the occasion, the OSS asked Swim Champ and compulsive explorer Lindsey Cole to file her dispatches from the field.

Roger Deakin’s Waterlog is a literary touchstone for many outdoor swimmers. Written at a time when climbing into waterways was considered odd at best and transgressive at worst, Deakin meticulously sketched the British countryside and its people.  Two decades later, outdoor swimming has become hugely popular. This can be measured by OSS followers increasing to 70,000, or the number of swimming groups popping up around the world, or the proliferation of Instagram accounts giving snapshots of who is doing it and where.

In March this year a wild swimmer called Lindsey Cole decided to cycle a her way from Totnes in Devon, to the winter swim champs in Scotland, meeting and swimming with people along the way. Her dispatches from the journey ‘s tales make these statistics human. Since she left Totnes Cole has met and swum with hundreds of people across the country, and captured their voices, spirit and stories with character and passion on her regular Instagram updates. Here she writes long-form versions of two such tales – a Waterlog for a new generation of outdoor swimmers.

Her journey, though, hasn’t finished – she got such a taste for it she is still circling the country (‘my route looks like Mr Messy’s head’ she observed this week), still meeting people, still swimming.

Gaddings Dam, Yorkshire, 29th April

Stoodley Pike monument was just beginning to poke out of the only cloud in the sky as we parked at the foot of a lush green fell.

“It’s a good day for it,” Amy said.

“So, where are we swimming?” I asked, scanning the area. Amy pointed to the top of the hill, where at 780 feet above sea level stood the highest beach in all of England.

Amy’s originally from Orkney, but now lives in Yorkshire. I received the following message from her whilst I was there last month: ‘The house where I grew up in is in this shot.’

“Oh my golly, Amy Liptrot just messaged me,” I blurted, showing the message to Sarah who I was staying with in Orkney.

“Oh yes, that’s the Outrun just there, where she grew up,” Sarah said, pointing out of her kitchen window. I read Amy’s book The Outrun last year, so when she offered to put me up and take me for a swim, my fan girl barometer pinged right off the scale.  

“It’s quite spectacular isn’t it?!” Amy said, as we looked down at the view, whilst we recovered from our climb. The small village of Lumbutts, looked like a model set from Postman Pat. I spotted a little post van weaving through the landscape, its driver waving to a passerby. The line of majestic wind turbines on top of the hill indicated how exposed the it can be, but today the sun was shining, readying us for a well-earned cold dip.

Just a few more metres more to hike and there she was: our brilliant jewel sparkling under the sunlight, the reward for our mini odyssey. The Gadding Dam. We shared it with just one other swimmer, who was circling the disused reservoir, and two ducks and a goose.

“That poor goose, I wonder why he’s not got a mate,” I said.

“They have to be hardy to make it up here,” Amy replied.

A very spectacular swim setting indeed.

“Oh my golly, Amy Liptrot just messaged me,” I blurted, showing the message to Sarah who I was staying with in Orkney.

 

“Oh yes, that’s the Outrun just there, where she grew up,” Sarah said, pointing out of her kitchen window. I read Amy’s book The Outrun last year, so when she offered to put me up and take me for a swim my fan girl barometer pinged right off the scale.

River Derwent, Chatsworth, 1st March

“What’s in that furry case on the stairs?” I asked Kimmy when I arrived at her house after our Trent Meadows swim.

“Oh this? It’s just my native Indian flute.” She said, stroking it in her hand.  “I saw this post on how to make a dead good peach crumble at a woodcraft festival. I really like peaches so I thought I’d go. Then I accidentally bought three flutes. Native Indians play them and I love all that stuff. Know what I mean Lindsey? Anyway, I felt dead bad after. Thought, I’d wasted money. But then my vegan friend said ‘you can never regret buying an instrument Kimmy’. That’s right int’ it Lindsey? Music’s good for the soul int’ it?!”

“It definitely is Kimmy,” I said.

“Anyway, I’ve invited my African Prince friend, Andy, to come tomorrow. He can sit on a rock and play his drum as we swim. I can play the flute too if you like. Would you like that Lindsey?”

“Absolutely. That would be wonderful.”

The following morning we threw my bike into the back of Kimmy’s car, squeezed myself, Kimmy, Andy and his drums in too and drove towards the Peak District. We were greeted by Joanna Shimwell, who I’d been chatting to online.

“So lovely to finally meet you . Do you mind if we swim with some live music today?” I asked. Her face lit up and her smile answered ‘of course’.

The light morning fog smothering the River Derwent and the cold dewy ground made it harder to de-clothe. Then, when Andy started tapping his drum and the notes from Kimmy’s flute whistled through the fog, I couldn’t get my swimsuit on quick enough. Ten ladies ran into the water and danced as Andy and Kimmy expressed their personalities through their instruments, whilst a swimmer’s dog watched on from the river bank.

“How amazing is this?” I grinned at the others as we all continued to sway and squeal with utter joy. A group of ramblers walked past, looking embarrassed as we waved and invited them to join us. They hurried away and we howled harder with laughter as it made us feel even more mad.

“You’ve always got a home here, Lindsey. You know that?!” Kimmy said, taking a break from her flute and making my heart flutter even more.  I was so high, it felt like unicorn juice was pumping through my veins after the swim.

Later, I had to pull over on my bike to write it all down.

“Are you lost?” A rambler asked.

“No, I’m actually very unlost. I’m just writing my feelings down,” I said, very proud of the uniqueness of my Chatsworth swim.

“Right,” she said, looking at me like Tinkerbell and her pals had abducted me. And, of course, my grin widened once more.

  • Lindsey Cole is currently in Wales
Lindsey Cole