Something I have always loved is night swimming, be it in the river, lake or sea; there is nothing else like it and you’ll only understand it if you have done it but I will try to explain. When it is completely dark and you’re entering the water it makes you use your other senses as well as your vision. Looking up to sight and working out where you are becomes almost pointless because you can’t see anything anyway. Also, everything looks different at night and its easy to lose your bearings. For me, it all becomes about the feel of the water and my stroke and that is how I like to swim and coach. Its not just about how you swim though; laying on your back looking up at the moon and stars in complete silence brings so much peace to the soul. You are totally immersed in nature and it allows you to clear your head of thoughts and again, feel rather than think.
During the day I got to rest and have cuddles with Lorettas dog Willow who was very well behaved and just a loveable dog. Geoff and Loretta had to go out for the afternoon, so it gave me a chance to catch up on my emails and finish off writing my article for The Outdoor Swimmer Magazine. I had a nice relaxing day and to be honest, it was good to have time to recover from the previous days swims. The other thing I had to do was start packing my suitcase as the next day I was, sadly, traveling home!
Once Loretta was back, we had dinner and started getting our stuff ready for my night swim. We were going to take their small fire pit so that we could cook some sausages on the fire after the swim, which I was really excited about because ive never had a fire pit at the beach/overlooking the sea before. We made sure we had all the lights and stuff that we needed to stay safe in the sea and also warm clothes for after I had been in the water. Once organised we set off to Readymoney Cove. We chose this venue because I had swum there earlier in the week and it was an enclosed bay so was safe to swim there without the worry of boats.
It was a lovely drive to the beach, looking over all the hills as the sun was going down as it got darker and darker. We got on the long country road down towards the beach that I recognised and all of a sudden Loretta said “s**t”. I asked what was up and she informed me she forgot the matches to light the fire, we had the fire pit, the wood and the sausages but nothing to light the fire with. We arrived by the beach and this time we could leave the car down the lane as it was nearing 10pm. We decided to stay in the car a while whilst it got darker as it was very windy outside. I found it hilarious that Loretta had forgotten the matches and decided to rub it in and tell her how much I was looking forward to the fire and my sausages. I then suggested we go and knock on doors asking for matches or a lighter, not actually expecting Loretta to do it but she did and kindly someone gave us a box of matches!
I went round to the shelter and started getting changed and ready to swim. We sorted my lights out for when I was in the water and started the fire so it would be hot to cook the sausages on after my swim. For the first time since being in Cornwall there was actually a bit of chop on the water, and it was quite windy. There was no real pattern to the waves; it was just bumpy and bouncing from one side of the cove to the other.The tide was high, so I headed down to the water’s edge and it was a very short walk, thankfully. I got in the water and floated for a while, but it wasn’t totally dark so I couldn’t really see the stars yet.
I decided to swim in a square round the bay as it would mean I would avoid the diving platform, wouldn’t risk going out too far from shore where Loretta would be unable to see me. It also meant that I could easily get back inshore if I needed to. Normally, I love a night swim and I also love it when the water is a bit choppy but for the first time ever in a night swim I felt trapped, disorientated and a little unsafe.
There were cliffs on both sides of the bay and I was struggling to tell where the rocks were and was worried that I would end up on them. In reality, I was miles away from the rocks and I was only swimming about half of the way across the bay, but I didn’t know that at the time.
Before getting into the water, I had put a light on the wall and was using that light to guide me when I was swimming and I had been using it as a point of reference when I was swimming but it suddenly disappeared (Loretta hadn’t realised why I put it there and moved it) and that threw me even more. Just to top things off I was then stung by a couple of jellyfish; I must have put my arm in at the wrong time and wrong angle as they got me all up my arm. I just wasn’t enjoying the swim like I had hoped I would. I kept myself going round in a square for almost half an hour but after that I just called it quits and got out. I was disappointed with myself as I had wanted to be in the water for at least an hour but it just wasn’t my day and at least I would get to sit round the fire pit and have sausages once I was out!
It will be no shock to anyone that I have struggled with my mental health over the years as a result of my injury and health conditions but in that moment, although the swim hadn’t gone as planned, I felt a sense of peace within me. I’ve had many struggles over the last 10 years since my accident and I struggle with my pain every day, but, if it wasn’t for all that has happened I wouldn’t have been where I was, looking out over the sea and only able to hear the waves crashing on the rocks and sand. Suddenly, the enormity of all I have achieved this year hit me. I had traveled to Cornwall independently (furthest I have traveled solo), I had swum in the sea every day and I was there to train for one of the worlds toughest open water swims and I even teared up a bit. I think that moment will stay with me forever, it will definitely be there in tough times during my channel swim as a reminder that I can do anything I want to and put my mind to. Without Loretta I wouldn’t have had that moment.
I am eternally grateful to Loretta and Geoff for inviting me to their home for a week of channel swim training. Not only were the swims useful and enjoyable; especially as it was a new place each day but all the conversations in the car, over dinner, while watching TV and whenever else, were invaluable. The amount of knowledge and notes on my phone that I came back from Cornwall with was incredible and I have been putting them into practice and adding them to my channel swim instructions for my crew ever since!