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Downstream A History and Celebration of Swimming the River Thames by Caitlin Davies

Downstream A History and Celebration of Swimming the River Thames

The Real World   Biography / Autobiography   Sport from the Armchair   

RRP £16.99

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Downstream is a history and celebration of swimmers' relationship with the River Thames. Weaving from the source in Gloucestershire 215 miles across to the North Sea, the book tells the story of all those who have been drawn to its waters, from kings and famous poets, to Victorian endurance swimmers and modern day triathletes. Caitlin Davies recounts the history of swimmers and the Thames, telling the stories of legends like Annette Kellerman and Matthew Webb, forgotten champions such as Agnes Beckwith and Lily Smith, as well as modern day charity swimmers such as David Walliams and sport stars. Downstream explores the changing nature of swimmers' relationship with the river, featuring previously unpublished archive images, and asks why it is that swimmers still love the Thames.

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Downstream A History and Celebration of Swimming the River Thames by Caitlin Davies

Stretching 215 miles from its source in Gloucestershire, through England's capital and across to the North Sea, the River Thames has always enticed swimmers. From bathing kings to splashing school children, intrepid wild swimmers to international athletes, this famous river has long been a favourite. But it was the Victorian era that saw the birth of organised river racing with the launch of the long distance amateur championship of Great Britain. Soon floating baths were built in London; people swam at official bathing pools and islands at Oxford, Reading and Henley, dived off pontoons at Kingston and played at temporary lidos in Richmond. By the 1930s the Thames had become a top holiday spot for families with beaches at the Tower of London, Greenwich and Grays. Then in 1957 the river was declared biologically dead, organised racing was largely over, and swimming in the Thames was seen as dangerous. Yet today we have returned to the river in numbers not seen for a long time, some drawn by the thrill of wild swimming, others to compete in annual racing events.


an enthusiastic history and celebration ... a gentle book Times Literary Supplement an excellent book London Evening Standard a truly bounteous book, brimming with swimming exploits and records, races and regattas, delights and dangers, paddles and picnics River and Lake Swimming Association a fascinating look at an often forgotten leisure use of our river - one that boomed, died out and has now been revived River Thames News Hurrah .. for Caitlin Davies who fearlessly dives into the Thames to restore its reputation as a source of pleasure and even sensuality ... Armed with Davies
fascinating book, it is time for Londoners to rise and reclaim the river. The Guardian a long, absorbing read about the River Thames

...Davies has immersed herself in the world of open-water swimming and become intimate with all its politics, arcane rules and unsung heroes and heroines The Oldie like a masterful front crawl Caitlin's prose looks effortless and never lacks pace ... a story of remarkable individuals who fought against time, tide and prudish attitudes to bathing costumes in a bid to conquer the river. Book of the month by several nautical miles. Londonist a selection of remarkable stories Evening Standard Caitlin Davies
warm, gleeful, beautiful biography of the Thames sets out to consolidate and record it

... Big on detail, long-forgotten facts and anecdotes, contemporary and historical, personal and social, the book follows the Thames, section by section, travelogue style ... The Thames will always be London's river. But this sparkling book reminds us that we should not forget that it is also ours. Outdoor Swimming Society Caitlin takes the reader on a watery voyage from source to estuary Camden New Journal [Caitlin] is far from a zealot which is why she can be read with pleasure by those who wouldn't dream of pulling on a wetsuit themselves. Daily Telegraph a great and informative read, written in an accessible style that carries the reader along with the current. Absolutely magazines a tantalising glimpse of the river from the waves ... Caitlin Davies, a fair-weather swimmer herself, charts the rich heritage of both racing and recreational dips... she peppers the timeline with fascinating accounts of people who've been drawn to the river. Waterways World Caitlin's book has certainly inspired me to think outside the comforts of my daily swim at the Lido Brockwell Swimmers a fascinating cultural history of swimming ... The Independent (celebrates) the joys of al fresco bathing, 2015 is set to be the year of wild swimming Ham & High a colourful history of Thames swimmers ... every mile of the Thames has its own stories to tell, and Caitlin Davies tells them with relish. Southend Echo a very satisfying read The Arts Show, BBC Radio 2 a joyful historical and geographical frolic Saga

About the Author

Caitlin Davies

Caitlin Davies lives in London with her daughter Ruby. She is a freelance journalist regularly writing education features for the Independent. She is the author of a novel, Jamestown Blues, and a non-fiction book, The Return of El Negro.

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Book Info

Publication date

2nd April 2015


Caitlin Davies

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Aurum Press Ltd


400 pages


The Real World
Biography / Autobiography
Sport from the Armchair

Swimming & diving
Social & cultural history



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