Wild Woman Swimming: A Journal of West Country Waters

“A month in to my Wild Patience, I was sighted by visionary wild swimmer and OSS press officer Lynne ‘Rivers’ Roper. She was drawn first by a scroll extract I’d posted describing my girlhood’s glorious sense of self-sovereignty got from the wild Cornish sea…Soon afterwards, she read of my hospice lifestory work and revealed her terminal diagnosis for brain cancer: Would I come to the West Country and swim in her beloved Sharrah pool? And could we talk frankly as two women who’d each been drawn to water after life-threatening illness? Work together on finding a wider audience for her swim writing after her death? Yes.” Tanya Shadrick, A Wild Patience (Outdoor Swimming Society, 2017)

In December 2010, West Country paramedic Lynne Roper was diagnosed with breast cancer. Within months, bored by pool-based physio, she began swimming outdoors.

Physically daring — she’d seen active service in Iraq with the RAF — but with a poet’s eye for nature, Lynne was soon at the heart of the West Country’s wild swimming community, inspiring others to ‘read water’ and take educated risks as she did.

For five years, until a brain tumour made swimming and writing impossibly hard, Lynne kept a journal of swims in over 60 wild waters. Bel Pool, Mel Tor, Sharrah, Spitchwick, Horseshoe Falls, Fingle Bridge, Bugle Hole, Burgh Island: Like a swimmer’s version of the Shipping Forecast, Lynne tracks through the seasons places few know and less brave — freezing pools in hollowed-out Dartmor tors, sea caves stuck about with Dead Men’s Fingers, rivers in full spate where bouyancy is lost suddenly in froth and bubbles.

‘Foam maps the movement of water in Sharrah pool, and there’s an eddy I haven’t seen before on the far side; the current from the cascade reaches three-quarters of the way down, and circles in a spiral back up the far bank, like stirred coffee. Usually, there are rock-studded shallows at the lower end of the pool where you drift gently aground before the river is forced in a rapid through the narrows, but today the surge completely covers the rocks and there’s a real danger of being swept over. No swimmer would survive that trip…’

But even in the wildest of swims, Lynne’s attention floats a while on still, small moments: crab apples clinging to a branch become ‘fruity tiara on a tipsy granny at a barn dance’; rushes and foxgloves ‘bend like animal pelts’ in the wind; below the falls of Tavy Cleave, water is ‘the colour of ginger cake made with black treacle.’

By turns lyrical and adrenalin-fuelled, solitary and communal, Wild Woman Swimming: A Journal of West Country Waters is book for wild swimmers and nature lovers alike.

Edited by Tanya Shadrick as a Selkie Press book with a preface by Jenny Landreth (author of Swell: A Waterbiography) and an introduction by Sophie Pierce (Wild Swimming Walks Dartmoor and South Devon).

First extracts from Lynne’s diaries – ‘Spitchwick’, ‘Sharrah’ and ‘Thurlestone Rock’ – are available in Watermarks: Writing by Lido Lovers & Wild Swimmers (Frogmore Press, 2017)

Lynne’s obituary appeared in The Guardian (August 2016)

For news and regular extracts follow @wildwomanswims on Twitter

“For Lynne, passing it down the line didn’t need to end at her death. ‘People can swim and take me with them,’ she said. ‘Take my spirit with them.’ This idea of a continuum, of teaching the ones coming after us, giving them skills, leading them towards possibilities — it’s like we’re a family. So yes, I’ll take Lynne’s spirit with every splash of salt water on my face, take it and pass it down the line.” Jenny Landreth in Swell: A Waterbiography

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