The Bike Show is Back – Wild Swimming and Roger Deakin

The new season of The Bike Show set off in fine form yesterday with a particularly excellent show. The main feature was a ride along the Northumberland coast with Daniel Start, author of the excellent book Wild Swimming. Supremely atmospheric, the recording of the ride was punctuated with the sounds of bird song, crackling campfires and waves gently lapping on the shore, I now think I want to cycle to the coast, perhaps John and I could plan it into our training for the sportive we’re going to enter this year (that’s another post). Anyway, it’s great to have Jack and The Bike Show back on the air again after what seemed like a long absence.

The show got me thinking about the late Roger Deakin, a superb nature writer most famous for his book Waterlog which is all about wild swimming, or swimming in open water (rivers, ponds, moats, lakes, the sea). He wrote about the nearby Farliegh Hungerford River Swimming Club (which I blogged about here), and swam in the river not three miles from here.

Deakin was also a keen cyclist – not in a sporty sense, but in the sense that he loved and enjoyed cycling. Throughout his books there are not only journeys by bicycle, but also ruminations on the attitude of the cyclist. In the opening chapters of Waterlog he writes:

“Most of us live in a world where more and more places and things are signposted, labelled, and officially ‘interpreted’. There is something about all this that is turning the reality of things into virtual reality. It is the reason why walking, cycling and swimming will always be subversive activities. They allow us to regain a sense of what is old and wild in these islands, by getting off the beaten track and breaking free of the official version of things. A swimming journey would give me access to that part of our world which, like darkness, mist, woods or high mountains, still retains most mystery. It would afford me a different perspective on the rest of landlocked humanity.”

In October 2008, Notes from Walnut Tree Farm, a book collecting some of his diary and notebook entries was released. At first I thought it looked a little ‘light’ cobbled together on the back of the success of his book about trees, Wildwood, but as I read it I was drawn deeper and deeper into Deakin’s world. A long entry where he sits and watches an ant for an hour will be followed by a few sentences about cutting his own hair. Alongside the diary style entries recording walks, bike rides, nature, the business of looking after his house, there were sudden paragraphs that caught me out, made me stop and think.

“I need someone to fold the sheet” he writes “someone to take the other end of the sheet and walk towards me and fold once, then step back, fold and walk towards me again. We all need someone to fold the sheet. Someone to hitch on the coat at the neck. Someone to put on the kettle. Someone to dry up while I wash.”

His bike rides are often short, half an hour, three quarters of an hour, more often than not he is riding for the sake of riding rather than with any destination in mind.

“Cycling out this brilliant morning, I think the bike ride is like boring a geological sample through the strata of local Suffolk.”

or

“Last night I bicycled up the common, tracking a barn owl as it slid back and forth above the long grass, the uncut hay, pirouetting and fluttering into a hover now and then and dropping down onto the grass…”

There’s probably not enough cycling in the books to satisfy a cycling fan, but they are beautiful books, and I think anyone who enjoys cycling country lanes will feel an affinity with Roger Deakin’s writing.

Roger Deakin 1943-2006 Picture from commonground.org.uk

Roger Deakin 1943-2006 Picture from commonground.org.uk

To listen to The Bike Show or to subscribe to The Bike Show podcasts – click here.

Published in: on January 27, 2009 at 11:47 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’ve just finished Wildwood and enjoyed it very much – a bit rambly and discursive but full of interesting stuff. Sounds like I should be looking out for this one as well

    • Oh yes, you must. Waterlog is the best though. He died before Wildwood was finished, I think there wasn’t even a manuscript to work from, which is why it feels incomplete. The notebooks from Notes from Walnut Tree Farm provided the material for Wildwood and are therefore more raw.


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