GEAR,  Product Reviews

How to Read Water, by Tristan Gooley

Naturalist Tristan Gooley is perhaps best known for his book The Natural Navigator, an enticement to leave behind your phone (and even your map) and navigate using ancient skills and by observing the natural world around you. Instead of a compass, guide your way by noting which side of a tree moss grows on. It is an attractive proposition, and one that has seen Gooley become part of the renaissance of British nature writing of the past 10 years (although not without its critics: on a recent navigation course I attended in the Yorkshire Dales the instructor stopped in a lane and pointed at the dry stone walls flanking it; one was covered in moss, the other bare. “What does this tell us?” asked the instructor. We keenly suggested that one wall faced the sun so vegetation would grow better. “No,” came the blunt reply. “One wall was built last month.” You can’t beat a bit of local knowledge).

How to Read the Water aims to pull the same navigational trick for water: learning to read puddles, ripples on lakes and by observing the flora and fauna around you can provide a wealth of information about your surroundings so you can better enjoy the landscape. It’s a beautifully written book, and one that provides a wealth of fascinating tips and skills for outdoor swimmers. You will never look at a puddle in the same way again.  

As with The Natural Navigator, it is an exciting experience to head out into the countryside armed with your new set of skills. Suddenly everything has a deeper meaning, whether it is the colour of water or the pattern of ripples on a pond. Even insects in the air when you think you aren’t near water take on a new significance. 

Gooley is an outdoor swimmer himself (he has a pond in his back garden where he swims for most of the year) and his love for water and the natural world is apparent in every page. Whether you want to learn how to spot dangerous water in the dark using only a clock face, forecast the weather from waves or read the sea like a Viking, this book is a worthy addition to any outdoor swimmer’s library and a must for anyone who craves a deeper relationship with our natural world. 


Published by Sceptre

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Jonathan is a year-round skins swimmer with a particular love of very cold water. He has competed in ice swimming competitions around the world. He is a qualified open water coach with a particular love of introducing new swimmers to the open water.