The Warmth of Wild Swimmers

When Lynne Roper joined the newly-formed Devon and Cornwall Wild Swimmers in 2011, she was in strong health following her recovery from breast cancer. The next five years overflowed with fun, friendship, and outdoor adventures, as described so vividly in her Wild Woman Swimming diaries: skinny-dips under full moons; sea swims that took Lynne and friends to the limits of their considerable skill and strength; beach picnics where supplies of their favourite lemon gin cake were under constant threat from Lynne’s leggy labradoodle, Honey. But after Lynne’s shock diagnosis with a brain tumour in 2016, the group undertook a quieter endeavour…

‘Our wild swimming group made its first patchwork blankets for Jackie when she got married, and then for Linda when she became seriously ill. We decide on a broad colour scheme and square size, and individuals either crochet, knit, felt or applique squares and add-ons which they post or bring to a bee for stitching together. Yesterday, a few of us met at Castle Drogo to see the Grayson Perry and Louis XIV tapestries currently on display there, and I was given the fabulous blankets made for me by my fish friends afterwards.

My beautiful blanket represents a map of friendships forged through a common love of water and nature. It’s about shared adventures, shared confidences, shared scares, shared perspectives. Some of those who made and sent squares are wild swimmers I’d only ‘met’ online.

There are all kinds of styles, interpretations, and approaches to both crafts and the world stitched in, with flashes of inspiration and unique embellishments abounding. I love them. It’s overwhelming to receive such a gift. My mum was completely overcome when I showed her and spent ages looking at each element.

Kari’s square came attached to a piece of ribbon; she made it from sterling silver and copper. It features the MRI scan of my brain tumour, [Jeremy] Hunt, replete with cerebral oedema. How Grayson is that?’

Extract from Wild Woman Swimming: Castle Drogo, 15 April 2016. Photos of the quilt taken at the book launch at Dartington, September 2018.

Lynne's Quilt at Book Launch

Wild Woman Swimming longlisted in The Wainwright Prize 2019

The prestigious Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize – which celebrates the best books about nature, the outdoors and UK travel – has included the posthumously-published Wild Woman Swimming: A Journal of West Country by Lynne Roper (the only book from editor Tanya Shadrick’s Selkie Press) in its 2019 longlist.

Celebrating its sixth year, The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize is awarded annually to the book which most successfully reflects the ethos of renowned nature writer Alfred Wainwright’s work, to inspire readers to explore the outdoors and to nurture a respect for the natural world.

You can find out more about the longlisted authors and books, and read chapter extracts, on The Wainwright Prize website.

The longlisting has attracted a new and growing readership for the book, as well as strong interest in the book’s moving backstory: its publication keeping a promise made by Tanya Shadrick to fellow West Country woman Lynne, at a single meeting at the author’s hospice in the month before she died.

You can enjoy regular short extracts from Wild Woman Swimming by following @WildWomanSwims on Twitter.

Wild Woman Wainwright

‘My shape has different meanings in water’: Lynne Roper on body image after illness

Here is Wild Woman Swimming: A Journal of West Country Waters author Lynne Roper’s inspiring meditation on the soulfulness of wild swimming, and body image after serious illness:

‘In December of 2010, shortly after the unexpected and shocking death of a very dear friend, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I hadn’t swum regularly for a year or so, and following my initial recovery from bilateral mastectomy in March 2011 I began going to the pool to increase my mobility and regain my fitness. I soon became terminally bored; my mind and emotions continued to churn around in one place like a maelstrom. So I began swimming outdoors and before long I was hooked; wild swimming had become my obsession.

Why did wild swimming, which I’d done off and on all my life and always loved and taken for granted, suddenly become so central to my life and so cathartic? I think it has to do with being alive, and needing to feel alive. It’s a spiritual experience, sliding through wild water.

Initially I wore breast forms in my swimsuit, afraid of feeling wrong as much as I feared looking weird. But soon I stopped caring – my shape has different meanings and a different function in water than in air. Fish and aquatic mammals don’t have dugs that you can see. Unlike in our airified culture where breasts have assumed an inflated cartoon-porn emphasis, what’s fetishised about fish, dolphins and whales is their sleekness, variousness of form and graceful movement through the turbulent medium of water regardless of their size, blubber content, or perceived beauty.

My body is at home in water; free, wild, elemental. Worries dissolve, my mind is liberated; thoughts flow and glide and play like dolphins. My soul swims wild.’

Get your copy of Wild Woman Swimming: A Journal of West Country Waters from The Selkie Press for £8.99 (+ 1.50 P&P) or order from any local bookstore or online bookseller.
 
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