In a cave in Wadi Sura, in the southwest corner of Egypt, there is evidence that one of the driest corners of the Earth used to be flowing with water. The Cave of Swimmers (famous from The English Patient) is covered in paintings of little human figures that appear to be doing doggy paddle. They suggest not only that the Sahara desert was once crossed by rivers and lakes but that, about 8,000 years ago, people were swimming in them. And apparently loving it.
So begins this fascinating history of how, where and why humans swim. It is perfect reading for those missing a splash-about during the lockdown. Howard Means, a lifelong swimmer and coach, explains that swimming “remains deeply encoded in our biology”, and sees it not only as a panacea but also a leveller for humans. Water “forgives our infirmities, physical and otherwise,” he writes. “It frees us to dream. Swimming is an equal playing field.” Or, at least, it should be.