Editor’s letter: the gift of water

Jo Ellison on the essence of escapism, from endless horizons to simple beach style

How To Spend It editor Jo Ellison
How To Spend It editor Jo Ellison | Image: Marili Andre

Why is water such a balm for the soul? During lockdown, I felt the pull of rivers, lakes, oceans – even puddles – with an almost primal longing. I have daydreamed endlessly about where to sneak a swim. Answer: nowhere.

In this period of confinement, we have all craved air and space and nature, but the restorative power of water is an even rarer treat. It’s the first thing I think of when I hear the word “escape”. In London, the best thing I can find is Regent’s Canal, the John Nash-designed waterway that runs from Little Venice to Limehouse Basin. A ribbon of calm, the water is now clearer than I’ve ever seen it, and to walk along its towpath puts most things in perspective. It has become a favourite sanctuary when the world begins to thrum. 

Jo’s photograph of Blackrock Diving Tower, County Galway
Jo’s photograph of Blackrock Diving Tower, County Galway | Image: Jo Ellison

But the sea. The sea! What I wouldn’t give to run on the Irish beaches of Connemara, or in Galway Bay – a great panorama of misty blue that stretches for miles and miles and miles. A regular visitor to Galway, I rarely get right into the water because I’m far too lily-livered, but one of my favourite pastimes is watching local swimmers jump in the sea from Salthill’s Blackrock Diving Tower. Built in 1954, the concrete diving platform is a work of brutalist genius, crudely decorated in canary-yellow paint. But on a warm summer’s evening, when the tide is high and the sun is feeling generous, it takes on a uniquely golden beauty that makes the whole world seem to glow.

Galway is currently the European Capital of Culture, which is an absolutely sucky time to own the prize. Coronavirus has near eclipsed its special moment, and the long-planned cultural agenda is cancelled or postponed. As lockdown rules continue to relax, the region is now easing back into the world. Thankfully, it’s a no less enchanting world to reacquaint with: Cliodhna Prendergast, a chef, food writer and producer who lives in the fairytale grounds of Ballynahinch Castle, has long been an unofficial ambassador for the artisans, food heroes and creatives who make the place so magnetic. She captures its magic in “Escape Special: Connemara’s Captivating Wilds”


Exceptional artisanal skills are explored also in Simon de Burton’s account of the Elephant Boatyard, a traditional boat building and restoration business founded on the shores that saw construction of Nelson’s flagship, HMS Elephant, in 1786 (“Escape Special: inside the Elephant Boatyard”). Made over years, in cedar wood and khaya, and often costing seven-figure sums, the boatyard’s projects are the apotheosis of passions that combine nostalgia, adventure and the patience of a saint. Whether your own boating experience compares to messing about à la Ratty and Mole, or you like to navigate the ocean in a hand-built pilot cutter, it makes for a compelling tale of man’s continuing attempts to rule the waves.

Meanwhile, our cover shoot (“Escape Special: Your Summer 2020 Wardrobe – Sorted”) offers an essential guide to easy holiday dressing – or not (escape, for many of us, means casting off our clothes). The photographs, by Rokas Darulis, are part of an ongoing book project and largely shot at the resort of Nida or on the river beaches of Vilnius in Lithuania, where Darulis was born. To me, these pictures are the summation of a perfect summer’s day: lusty gorgeousness, the pure joy of an empty beach and the wild beauty of shaking off one’s inhibitions and feeling free. Pure escapism. We’ve added some pretty dresses (“14 Beautiful Floral Dresses for Summer”), in the event you might return. 

Glassilaun Beach, County Galway
Glassilaun Beach, County Galway | Image: Jo Ellison