Friday, 5 May 2017

Review: Swimming with Seals

Swimming with Seals Swimming with Seals by Victoria Whitworth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wild swimming seems to be in vogue at the moment. I read Floating by Joe Minihane last month and have Turning by Jessica J. Lee to read and I am hoping to get my hands on a copy of Swell very soon. Victoria Whitworth’s book has slotted nicely in the middle of this aquatic series of memoirs that all can trace their source to the fantastic book that is Waterlog. As her marriage begins to crumble and she begins to suffer health problems that middle age brings on, she seeks company with others in the Orkney Polar Bears, a swimming club that aims to swim in the sea often as possible.

In high summer, an Orkney afternoon lasts forever

Enjoying the experience Whitworth starts to go swimming alone, finding that being in the water for the briefest of periods helps calm her and cleanse her mind from all the other stuff going on. Her swims are written about, in brief, punctuation marks taken from the Facebook group cataloguing the weather, temperatures, the tides, the swell of the sea and how often she is joined by the curious seals and other animals and birds. In between these posts she takes us through her personal history, an earlier life in Kenya and the relationships that she had with her parents and her contemplations on love, life and death. Deeply embedded in the book are woven the things that make Orkney so special, the layers of ancient history and myth, the incessant wind and Gulf Stream that stops the island from freezing during the winter and the way that the natural world is a intrinsic part of living there.

Inhale the air straight from the Arctic, sharp as a whetted blade

Her writing is such that you gasp too, as she enters the sea to swim. Sea swimming though is a very different experience to wild water swimming; the water can be much colder and waves that have travelled all the way across the Atlantic can arrive with some force on the shore making some dips a challenge, to say the least. This is an eloquent celebration of swimming in the cold waters of Orkney and a fascinating memoir. I would have liked more about the landscape and natural world of these special islands, and it has pushed this up my list of places that I really want to visit.

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