Hengistbury Head is a majestic crumble of cliff rising from a gravel beach that stretches out towards the Isle of Wight. The stone is golden, honeycomb and caramel, and it stands as a majestic guard to the thin stripe of pebbles that runs along its base. The pebbles are the barrier between the stone and the sea, a great, roaring, lapping collection of waves that collide with a line of foaming bubbles on the shoreline. The grass topped cliff makes for a beautiful walk, the beach stretching thin and yawning below, the sea calling up great sprays of water, the white and green hump of land – a different island to our own – steady on the horizon.
It is sunset and magenta and lilac have encroached on the blue of the sky in great streaks, creeping in at the edges and dancing splodges of light across a determinedly darkening canvas. Its beautiful and I want to be part of it.
The waves are heavy and much higher than the water. I wade for a long time, battling past the force of the breakers as they slam into my thighs, my stomach. I jump as they approach, rising up with them so as not to be taken to my back by surprise. Once I’m past them, out where the rise and swell is more of a promise than a threat, I kick off and out toward the red sky. The lilac has deepened to the colour of irises and the water is reflecting the show above in shifting, glacial glory. The colours decorate the undulating surface, the breaks of blue and black that interrupt the mirror image shaking like a fishing net.
Turning, I notice what wasn’t there before. The moon – bulbous, white and low, massive and almost at eye level. It doesn’t look real. Unearthly. I have never seen it so close or so huge. The sky that way is sheer blackness around this orb of light, and the other way the colours still continue to play and deepen. I don’t know which way to look. In one direction, a landing strip of white glimmers up to a soft round ball, the other direction a sky comes alive with the last remnants of the day. I swim one way, then the other, like doing lengths in a pool but with my head up to take it all in. That’s the difference with wild swimming – it is so much more than a swim.
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