Wild Woman Swimming – WSC Book Review

‘For the hut at the foot of Firle Beacon, from one of its glad residents. Tanya Shadrick‘ read the inscription on the first page of what is now surely a reading rites of passage for all outdoor swimmers and nature lovers: Wild Woman Swimming. I smiled at the serendipity. I am not sure whether a book finds you or you find it, but now was definitely my time to read, ‘the adventures of visionary wild swimmer and west country paramedic, the late Lynne Roper.‘ It is the record of Lynne’s swims over 5 years ‘between surviving breast cancer and dying of a brain tumour in 2016, Lynne took daily swims in tors, ponds, rivers and reservoirs (sometimes in boisterous company; often alone, in quiet communion with nature‘; and is a master class in timeless descriptive writing, that articulates the heart beat of our water world, including the best written account of every swimmer’s inner Baywatch persona – ever.

Lines like, ‘Light reflects from the snow, and the amber water glows like hot embers beneath me. I plunge under and become a firework as my skin burns and water bubbles explode from the cascade. I pop up to the surface and float on my back, giggling‘, enable you to bathe in our natural habitat even when on land and that sense of connection and unity flows through the book. We all swim together with Lynne under ‘The Pop Art sky‘ which sets off ‘the lumpy water to form a gallery of stunning seascapes.’

The book itself represents a bond that transcends our water and other worlds:

a promise made by Selkie Press founder Tanya Shadrick – a stranger to Lynne – at a single meeting in the month before her death. Tanya, a former hospice scribe and writer of the outside, recognised the power of her fellow west country woman’s writing about the natural world (and the close-knit communities that form when people gather together in our countryside) and committed to editing her work. This book… is the result.

When I first started blogging about women and swimming, Lynne got in touch on social media with words of encouragement and I once joined her for a dip. I can’t remember the name of the spot, but Lynne told me it was a stretch of water known to have inspired Charles Kingsley, author of the water babies – a story of rebirth through water. I get tearful remembering that. I was so fragile back then and outdoor swimming was proving to be my portal to a new life. I think she knew that.

The contributors to the book articulate much better than I can, Lynne’s impact across what she refers to as our ‘human encyclopaedia’. Not just her contribution to the Outdoor Swimming Society, but the friendships forged in the water. I am so happy that Lynne’s writing is safe in our social archives and reaching a wider audience. Not just for the joy, beauty and humility it brings, but also because it gives a platform for Lynne’s insightful social commentary, which will no doubt be recognised as prescient by readers for aeons to come.

And so finally, my time to read Lynne’s book came, in a shepherd’s hut where unbeknownst to me Tanya had stayed and gifted a copy of the book. The title page says it is to be ‘read outside and left waterlogged, sun buckled and wind chapped’…I did read it outside, but for the benefit of future shepherd hut residents I left the book in the gift ready state that I found it. However my days in Sussex ensured that whilst doing that, I was most definitely waterlogged, sun buckled and wind chapped like only a wild woman swimming can be.

Thank you Lynne and Tanya.

Lots of love,

Ali x

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