By Chloé Valerie Harmsworth
‘The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.’
So said Jacques Cousteau, the legendary marine explorer and aqua adorer, and I cannot disagree. From my birth in Luxembourg, a tiny country surrounded on all sides by others, to living in London and then land-locked Hertfordshire, it wasn’t until I studied for my degree in Aberystwyth that I discovered something I had unknowingly been missing: the sea.
At first I was content to just look at it – trying to fathom its immenseness. As is usual on the coast, the weather was constantly changing, day to day and hour to hour. The water reflected this: one moment a still and safe mirror of the blue sky above, another moment transformed into an unpredictable grey slate with tumultuous waves.
Eventually, I dared to enter. Thus began my relationship with the seas surrounding our island. Before, my memories of sea swimming featured warm waters abroad. In contrast, this liquid was sharp with the cold, even on a seemingly balmy day. As I stepped cautiously in, my body fired off warning signals; my brain told me to stop and turn back. Ignoring these messages, whether out of pride in front of curious and unbelieving onlookers, or guided by a spiritual instinct that the risk would lead to reward, I forced myself forwards.
Dragging my legs through the wall of waves pushing back at me, to a point where I could walk no further, I realised it was time for the next brave move and the most important one: the plunge. This frightening yet exciting intentional falling into the unknown has become easier with years of experience, but even now I cannot fully prepare myself for it. When you feel something big is coming and that your life is about to change forever, but you don’t know exactly when, that is the plunge. When you throw yourself in, even though you are scared to, because you don’t want to go back and there is no other, gentler way forward, that is the plunge.
Afterwards, when I was properly swimming at last, I began to really enjoy myself. The consuming cold that surrounded me, that initially felt unbearable, soon became bearable as numbness hushed my warning signals. I was overcome by an all-absorbing calm. Worries slipped off my enlightened body and my fears were scoured away by the salt. Weighty thoughts and feelings disappeared. I was fully in the moment, more than at any other time in my life. I concentrated on the act of swimming, of trying to find my rhythm, and once I achieved this I started to relax. I looked around at my fellow sea lovers – the seagulls flitting above and landing mere metres away to bob on the surface, and the darting shapes of fish below and beside me. I turned and looked back at where I’d come from, at the harbour and the beautiful ruins of the castle, and at the small dark figures shifting against the sand and shingle.
When I reluctantly returned to the land, I returned transformed. Refreshed, rejuvenated, invigorated. The transcendental perspective I’d found in the water gave me a renewed sense of clarity, purpose and meaning.
Unfortunately, I have not lived by the sea since. But I will again one day. In the meantime, I quench my thirst for submersion on day trips and staycations. When I visited Kent after lockdown, I was once again reminded of its healing powers. Blessed with hot days that made swimming all the more cleansing, I felt freer and happier than I had for a long time. As the white cliffs gleamed and the water glittered, the sea and sky held me in perfect balance, and I floated.
Words: Chloé Valerie Harmsworth
Chloé Valerie is a nature writer, artist, editor and photographer with a passion for wild wellbeing. Follow her @chloevalerienatureart and read more of her work at chloevalerienatureart.wordpress.com/
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