Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Feats of Wild Swimming

Outdoor swimming has become popular in recent years, particularly since the publication of Kate Rew’s book Wild Swim in 2008 – and the hyper-active Kate is also founder of the Outdoor Swimming Society . But we shall find, if we look carefully at Morris’s work, that here as in so many other areas, he was a great precursor who was well ahead of his time.

Dick Hammond and William Guest go for a brief dip in the Thames towards the end of News from Nowhere, but the truly great feats of outdoor swimming in Morris are elsewhere. Birdalone in The Water of the Wondrous Isles is without doubt his most athletic female; and ‘there is no swimmer stronger than I’, she hubristically declares as she embarks on her prodigious swim back across the lake to the Witch’s house.

But the most impressive of all Morrisian swims is surely that in his translation of the Grettir Saga, when Grettir and his friend ‘swam in one spell all down Hitriver, from the lake right away to the sea’ (ch. LVIII). Having had a brief, hypothermic dip myself one summer in a Norwegian fjord when on holiday out there with my son (who judiciously chose not to come in), I can truly appreciate just what an awesome achievement this is.


J.Bell said...

And don't forget Roger Deakin's wonderful 'Waterlog: A Swimmer's Journey Through Britain' (1999)!

Tony Pinkney said...

Mind you, we should also note that outdoor swimming can end very badly in Morris, as with King Jovinian in 'The Proud King' from 'The Earthly Paradise'. Jovinian has a pleasant dip in the river, but then finds, not only that his horse and clothes have vanished, but that no-one can recognise him any longer either ...