Night swimming is not just a badly lit version of what you do in the day: the best way to swim at night is not to add light – but to use your other senses to navigate. In an extract from The Outdoor Swimmers’ Handbook, Kate Rew shares tips (including moon-tracking apps) that help swimmers plan and execute a swim in the dark.
How many visceral snapshots do we collect as we go through life, moments we can recall so precisely we can reinhabit our physical bodies where we were, decades later? I have many from night swimming. I can remember standing in the frosted ruts of a Cornish field in February with my back to the sea, startled by the clarity of my moon shadow. I can remember waving my hands around in phosphorescence in Thailand, and sitting on the bottom of an Oxford lido looking at the legs of friends underwater after we’d scaled a fence to get in at night. And I can still hear the tinkling of drowned twigs from a swim drifting down the Thames on my back in Autumn, carried by cold water into my ears. It is the important experience that is stored, and these are the moments that make the recollections of our lives.
Key to all of these memories is the fact that we weren’t just swimming at night, we were swimming in the dark, without lights. What makes it so special is that as one sense, sight, powers down others – what you hear, what you smell, what you can feel as your body moves through the water – take their place, heightening the experience of swimming in a different way. I love the gloaming: the hour of the day when colour fall out of the world, day slips into the water, and a rich inky blue night slides in, bringing with it a stillness, a quietness: hills and trees blacken, winds fall, dew settles, stars rise, and out come the bats.
I love the gloaming: the hour of the day when colour fall out of the world, day slips into the water, and a rich inky blue night slides in, bringing with it a stillness, a quietness: hills and trees blacken, winds fall, dew settles, stars rise, and out come the bats.
The Outdoor Swimmers’ Handbook
The fear of getting caught,
Of recklessness and water
They cannot see me naked.
These things, they go away
Replaced by every day.
REM – Night Swimming