To swim in the dusk or at night, brings one to a strange metamorphosis. The world changes, into an enchanting cocktail of ghostly shadows, bubbles, and silvery light. Belisama the Celtic Goddess of lakes and rivers, feels close by.
On arrival at my favourite bay, the trees are swaying and rustling noisily. Dusk is racing out, the churning lake looks cold and rather uninviting. Glancing up anxiously, at the erratic arms of branches working crazily above my head, helps distract insidious thoughts of the inky depths.
Is that fat slimy eel, laughingly described by a passing Cumbrian fisherman as being, ”Bigger than you”….. now lurking nearby? Waiting with sharp fangs, to have a delicious snack.
Ugh! I shiver inwardly.
Undressing quickly, the east wind whips round and around, reminding me to hurry, hurry, hurry….. ”Get in the water, before you are cold and change your mind” Feet first, slowly sliding down the sloping rock into the slate-grey shallows, bracing myself for the first chilly hit……
Actually the reality is, I’m a coward when it comes to entering an autumnal lake!
It goes like this…..slowly, slowly, extremely slowly….gently lowering my body down, down, down, through the storm layer of leaves and twigs. Arms crossed covering my heart, gingerly immersing all my organs…..until full baptism ends with short, shallow breaths and loud profane shrieks! Often upsetting and scaring off any lurking dog walkers!
On fierce evenings such as these, senses come wildly alive. Launching out into the choppy waves is blissful. Gleefully, little whitecaps wallop their droplets into my eyes and hair. Obsidian water stretches out endlessly, towards shadowy mountains and low heavy clouds. The air trembles, shivering in anticipation of the impending storm. A sweet smell of rain flies by, on the whirling wind.
Protected, strangely cocooned and comforted in the now warm waters, I swim on and outwards into the deep mysterious centre. By now the light has faded and my home bay is out of sight, it’s a thought not to dwell on. Reminding myself to enjoy the moment, floating face upward, witnessing the pewter clouds scudding along is mesmerising, almost hypnotic.Swathes of spindly weed twirl below the surface, gently brushing my exposed limbs as they pass by, on their journey to meet the sea. Well at least that’s what I romantically tell myself…… when the eel thoughts creep into my mind! Night swims bring feelings of calm and fear all mixed together.
The gathering of local ducks in their usual sleeping bay, is somewhat reassuring. Though it’s too wild a night, for the inquisitive bats and my beacon swans.
Suddenly the tempestuous wind picks up, plump rain falls, bouncing heavily. It truly is, incredibly exhilarating, to be submerged in the middle of a lake in a squally storm, yet feel secure and guarded by the water.
Thoughts of Charles Kingsley’s book The Water Babies, flash into my head.
”How do you know that? Have you been there to see? And if you had been there to see, and had seen none, that would not prove that there were none … And no one has a right to say that no water babies exist till they have seen no water babies existing, which is quite a different thing, mind, from not seeing water babies”
With these words in mind, my dark swim took on another meaning.
Who can know or prove, why wild swimming is such a spiritual experience?
I did know though, that it was time to turn for home, a shivery chill was starting to wash over me. A timely reminder that I must return to the shore and rejoin the other world.