Category: Coastal wonder

Living in Light

Natural light makes us feel a certain way, when we’re bathed in it and beyond, throughout each day. As those days shorten, it’s a good time to turn your attention to getting enough of it…

As the clocks go back and mild dread of the darker mornings and evenings sets in, autumn may seem the wrong time of year to be thinking about natural light. But then there’s that low, early evening sunshine on a clear, crisp autumn day, reflecting off the Atlantic.

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If you’re lucky enough to be sat on a dune or clifftop to catch the sunset, wrapped in a blanket and armed with a flask of something hot, expect skies cast in spectacular modes that change minute by minute; light pink at first before mauve and fiery orange, carving an arrow of light on the glistening water from the horizon all the way to you.

“Natural light has an advantage over artificial light in terms of allowing us to feel alert during the day and drowsy at night.”

As the light fades, the cold descends and the daylight vanishes, triggering a rise in your melatonin hormone levels, steering you instinctively towards home. Or at least, that’s what’s meant to happen; a healthy intake of natural light throughout the day to vitalise your body and stimulate your mind followed by total darkness to assist uninterrupted, high-quality sleep.

In reality our day-to-day exposure to artificial light and lack of exposure to natural light is playing havoc, disrupting our 24-hour biological clock and circadian rhythms. So what can help your body get back in sync with the phases of day and night while you’re on holiday?

Design for light

You may have heard the term circadian rhythms (circa: round, diem: day), referring to the body’s cycle of physiological patterns over a 24-hour period that evolved over millennia to sync with the light-dark cycle.

Natural light has an advantage over artificial light in terms of allowing us to feel alert during the day and drowsy at night, with our bodies being the most alert during the morning hours of daylight.

Electric light may be obligatory in extending our waking and working hours, as our daylight hours decrease substantially in autumn and winter. However as Professor Derk Jan-Dijk, Distinguished Professor of Sleep and Physiology at the University of Surrey, says, “[w]e are the only species to extend our day using artificial light, and this has consequences”. Even counting on ordinary electric bulbs as our only light source for a whole day, rather than spending time outdoors, may disrupt our circadian clock.

Architecture has an important role to play in how we access natural light throughout the year, utilising design to encourage generous amounts of natural light to flood through internal spaces. Think contemporary, spacious interiors, full-width, floor to ceiling windows with glazing and bifold glass, perfect filters for the soft autumn light.

 “Dawn and dusk in autumn are beautiful times of the day and the light is extraordinary at times.”

When it comes to orientation, north and south isn’t only a gardeners question. South-facing aspects enjoy more time each day to let the light in.

Illuminating views

And that muted light during the autumn and winter months has its own qualities. For more than a century, the unique quality of natural light has drawn painters to Cornwall’s shores, and remains a compelling source of inspiration. “We are surrounded by water which means we get a lot of sun reflection off the blue sea,” says landscape artist Nicola Mosley, whose Cornwall-based studio takes in a harbour view in Falmouth

“The light on a long hazy summer’s day is lovely,” Nicola adds. “But there’s something about the light during the autumn months; it can be more diffused and softer than summer and for me it’s my favourite time to paint. Dawn and dusk in autumn are beautiful times of the day and the light is extraordinary at times. Even in winter the clouds and mist refract the light in a beautiful soft way.”

“Regular good sleep, as well as being beneficial to us physically, helps us cognitively… to manage our emotions and stress levels better.”

When it comes to interior and exterior spaces for making the most of natural light on holiday, terraces and balconies – with added blankets – mean ocean and sunset views in the open, all year round, any time of day. Wide, open-plan spaces allow light to travel freely and when it is time to switch on the lights, LED lighting can be a gentler alternative, in the same spectrum as daylight, keeping that natural ambience going into the evening.

Call of the outdoors

Dr Neil Stanley of the International Sleep Charity reminds us that “sleep is so central to how our bodies and minds function”. Regular good sleep, as well as being beneficial to us physically, helps us cognitively with decision-making and allows us to regulate and manage our emotions and stress levels better.

Studies show that people who suffer consistently poor sleep are, perhaps unsurprisingly, more prone to anxiety, depression, irritability, and the tendency to catastrophise. None of these states of mind are top of the list on holiday, where you should be relaxing and leaving with an invigorated body and mind.

“Donning coats and boots, or wetsuits and drysuits, and escaping through the front door bright and early on an autumn morning is uplifting on many levels, including that crucial intake of daylight”

Our body’s internal 24-hour clock can also be helped onto the right track through outdoor activity during the day. The stunning panoramic views, enjoyed through expansive glazing, can’t help but beckon you outside, on to the winding coast paths and cycle trails, or oceanside, for that spontaneous rush to the water’s edge for a bracing family swim or surf session.

Donning coats and boots, or wetsuits and drysuits, and escaping through the front door bright and early on an autumn morning is uplifting on many levels, including that crucial intake of daylight to synchronise your circadian rhythms, making you awake and alert.

Days well-spent in the natural light of the day could be the make or break, for refreshing minds and bodies, happier moods, and a good night’s sleep.

Want to explore Cornwall in Autumn? Check out our blog on why Cornwall is great in Autumn.

Space to breathe

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” John Muir

As the temperature drops and the seasons shift, it can be tempting to spend your break indoors. But if you really want to feel your shoulders drop and your breathing slow, you need to venture into nature. With a surprising diversity of landscapes, including river banks, ancient woodland and rare heathlands, Cornwall offers a unique natural environment to explore.

“There’s something hugely freeing about being in open space,” psychotherapist and founder of the Nature Therapy School, Beth Collier, told The Guardian recently. “The part of the brain that is responsible for ruminative and negative thoughts – the subgenual prefrontal cortex – has been shown to quieten when we connect with nature, which gives people more space to process their problems.”

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This feeling of mental space, cultivated by time in nature, is something forager Rachel Lambert seeks out regularly. “When my mind is too busy, I step out on a walk and my worries drop away and things naturally prioritise themselves,” she says. “There’s always something to take your attention in nature, but it’s not searching for it. It’s those things you don’t need to cognitively understand: the breeze on your skin, the rain on your face. It awakens but also settles your whole system.”

Natural healing

Running wild food foraging walks across Cornwall, Rachel is well acquainted with being out in the elements. Based in Penzance, she loves the rugged romance of where the moors meet the sea. But Rachel believes nature is more than a beautiful backdrop. “Interaction with nature is really important,” she says. “It’s not a museum to stand back and admire. Foraging for me is about being able to see the landscape through a different lens. It’s a way to help us understand the environment and see that everything is interconnected.”

“Foraging for me is about being able to see the landscape through a different lens.”

Autumn is especially rich in pickings, with abundant hedgerows all around. “I’ve done some group walks recently between here and Marazion, and we’ve found sea spinach, burdock, yarrow, rock samphire, black mustard, beach roses, blackberries.”

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Rachel sees foraging as an antidote to the sadness of the fading of summer. “For lots of people, it’s a melancholic moment, so I think things like autumn berries can act as a marker and help us appreciate the new season.”

As Rachel explains, foraging is a mindful activity that uses all the senses. It’s hard to fret about work when you’re swerving the spikes of a sloe bush, or admiring the vivid orange skin of sea buckthorn berries.

Credit: Elliott White

“Our lifestyle is changing a lot quicker than our bodies,” says Rachel. “We simply haven’t been in modern houses for that long. But I think stimulating the senses outdoors is a great way of feeling alive – and feeling like a three-dimensional human being.”

Into the forest

Founder of Forest Bathing Cornwall, Paul Simmons, agrees that getting into the wild is key to wellbeing. “Stress is an understandable reaction to contemporary life, because historically we’ve spent so much time outdoors,” he says. “It’s in our DNA. It’s called biophilia – this affinity to being in nature.”

“When you go into the forest, you’re in a different time zone. It’s about slowing down, switching off and being present in that moment.”

A practitioner of the Japanese phenomenon of shinrin-yoku, Paul leads woodland walks across Cornwall, helping people to reconnect with the healing rhythms of nature.

“Forest bathing is the literal translation of ‘shinrin-yoku’, and it’s a clinically proven therapy,” says Paul. Defined as absorbing the atmosphere of the forest, forest bathing “is playful and intuitive. It’s about going back to a child-like state and using all the senses; looking at the light, listening for sounds, feeling the movement of the wind, seeing what you notice.”

“I always say it’s the forest that’s the therapist. As the practitioner, I’m the conduit.”

Paul’s assertion that forest bathing “helps with stress, it helps with sleep, it works with the cardiovascular system,” is supported by studies that show how forests can reduce cortisol, lower blood pressure, and increase parasympathetic nerve activity.

“When you go into the forest, you’re in a different time zone,” says Paul. “It’s about slowing down, switching off and being present in that moment. I always say it’s the forest that’s the therapist. As the practitioner, I’m the conduit.”

While he’s forever on the lookout for Cornish woods to work from, Paul has a few favourites. “On the northern side, Tehidy Woods is a good place to go. Then there’s Penrose Estate near Porthleven, and Coosebean Woods in Truro. We have lots of little rivers in Cornwall too, which are great for forest bathing. Being next to running water is so restorative.”

Off the beaten track

For author Sophie Pierce, whose book Wild Swimming Walks Cornwall showcases less-visited but spectacular routes for a stroll and a dip, walking in nature is a therapeutic activity.

“Walking gives you a sense of journey – you feel you’re going somewhere,” she says. “Then there’s the rhythm of the steps. The experiences you have along the way distract you, so that anxious thoughts fall away. And being out of your domestic environment – it’s liberating.”

“It’s exhilarating, watching the waves and being battered on the clifftop by the weather.”

For a walk with a unique mix of landscapes, Sophie heads to Frenchman’s Creek. “You start in the village of Helford, and pass a lovely beach called Penarven Cove. Then you walk around a bit further until you get to Frenchman’s Creek, then come up through the woods, passing a beautiful gallery with a garden called Kestle Barton.”

“If you go to the North Coast, where you’ve got amazing surf, that can be mindful in a different way,” says Sophie. “It’s exhilarating, watching the waves and being battered on the clifftop by the weather.

“There’s a circular walk in our book near Tintagel which involves all sorts of environments and feelings. It starts in the village of Bossiney, before heading through the enchanting woods of St Nectan’s Glen, where there’s a little river with an incredible waterfall, which has long been a place of pilgrimage for Pagans. Then the walk goes past an old mine and through Rocky Valley, where the river flows out to sea.”

“Beautiful landscapes stay with you. They nurture the soul.”

In 2017, Sophie’s life changed forever when her 20-year old son Felix died suddenly. Her new memoir, The Green Hill, will chart her navigation of the tides of grief – and the consolation of the natural world.

“When you lose somebody, you’re desperately trying to gain some kind of understanding,” says Sophie. “And there’s something eternal about nature. It feels permanent and so much bigger than us. I believe we are all part of nature, so if I’m somewhere where I feel in harmony with nature, then I feel there’s a connection back to my son.”

For Sophie, Paul and Rachel, natural beauty is an unbeatable tonic. “Beautiful landscapes where you feel a sense of infinity – moorland where you can see for miles, or a cliff above the sea – it’s almost like a connection with time,” muses Sophie. “Those places stay with you. They nurture the soul.”

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Find out more about foraging courses with Rachel Lambert
Book a forest bathing session with Paul Simmons
Buy a copy of wild Swimming Walks Cornwall and learn more about Sophie Pierce.

Natural Signs at Sea

We spoke to sea watcher and Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) lifeguard and supervisor Andrea Harvey about how we can decipher the signs of the sea: its waters, winds and swells, and the wondrous creatures that swim beneath…

When you imagine spending your holiday by the beach, you’re probably thinking golden sand, cerulean skies, and the distant murmur of lapping waves. It’s a picturesque image, but it’s just that – an image.

The real sea, the one that exists outside of postcards and holiday brochures, is far more vibrant and shifting. As Andrea, RNLI beach lifeguard and supervisor in Perranporth, Cornwall, tells us: “It’s not a cookie-cutter paradise place.”

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The sea is beautiful, yes, but it’s also “rustic and rough”. The winds, waves and tides are constantly changing, and strange creatures emerge from its watery depths. “Everyone wants to be near the sea in Cornwall,” adds Andrea with a wide smile. But can we learn how to read it?

See the swell, watch the wind
Being a lifeguard means constantly monitoring the sea, even when you’re at home. “You look up the conditions the night before to assess the individual beaches you’re working on to prepare for the day ahead,” Andrea says, “using apps like Magic Seaweed and Wind Guru” which report and forecast wind and swell directions.

“If it’s really windy, there’ll be lots of broken messy waves…less wind means cleaner, more defined waves”

The waves that you see breaking on the beach are influenced by several factors including the strength and direction of the wind, and the characteristics of the sea bed. The swell refers to a series of large waves travelling across the ocean before they reach the coastline and begin to form the waves that break on the beach. “If it’s really windy, there’ll be lots of broken messy waves and white water all over the place, and less wind means cleaner, more defined waves that break from a point and peel all the way along,” explains Andrea.

To know if a swell will affect the waves on the beach you’re going to, you’ll need to take into consideration the lay of the land and the swell direction: “If a beach is facing north and there is southerly swell the land mass will restrict the swells access to the beach; however there may still be waves due to the wind,” Andrea says.

“You can tell an awful lot just by sitting and looking at the water for a while.”

There aren’t any objectively ideal conditions: it all depends on what you want to do. “Light offshore winds and medium size swells are ideal for surfers but dangerous for kitesurfers, windsurfers and bodyboarders,” notes Andrea. If you’re just going for a dip, “light winds and 2-3 feet of surf are the best conditions to go in to have fun!”

Written in the waves
But with your feet sinking into soft sand and your eyes drawn out to sea, you might not want to interrupt the moment by checking your phone. The appeal of a beach holiday is partly in immersing yourself in your surroundings: “You can tell an awful lot just by sitting and looking at the water for a while,” says Andrea.

If you’re itching to jump in the water after a long walk, cycle or car journey, try to resist the urge for a moment: instead, sit on the beach, soak up the sun and interpret the signs you see.

If you are heading in for a swim, learning to read the moments of calm can be more important than reading the waves. “Quite a lot of the time, people come down to the beach and they see lots of waves everywhere, then they see a nice seemingly calm tranquil patch in the middle and think ‘oh that would be the best place to swim’ – but actually, that’s straight into a rip,” says Andrea.

A rip is a fast, current running out to deeper water, which can reach speeds of 4-5mph; you might spot a rippled surface where no waves are breaking, darker coloured deeper water or bits of seaweed or debris floating on it, being pulled out to sea. Instead, Andrea advises to swim “where the waves are.”

“It’s not just the water itself that you can read; the sea and skies are home to creatures that even the locals are still learning to recognise.”

If you do find yourself in a rip current, the key thing is not to panic. Don’t try to swim against the current as you may become exhausted. Instead, lean back, extend your arms and legs, and float on the water. If you need to, gently move your arms and legs to help you float. Once you can control your breathing, you can call for help or swim to safety.

“With the sea temperature in the UK averaging just 12 degrees most of the year, there’s a chance you’ll feel the effects of cold-water shock when you first get in,” adds Andrea. The resulting increased heart rate or gasps for breath pass quickly, so relaxing and floating on your back is also a good tactic when the water is a little colder. That’ll reduce the chance of inhaling water and panicking.

Species spotting
It’s not just the water itself that you can read; the sea and skies are home to creatures that even the locals are still learning to recognise. Out at sea one day, Andrea was surprised by a “little fin coming through the water.’’ What she saw, however, was not a shark but a sunfish: a silvery, billowing orb of a fish that measures an incredible 11 feet and weighs up to 2.5 tons.

Their tendency to “lie on top of the water and sunbathe” means they are frequently mistaken for sharks. “They’ve got a really long floppy fin that looks a bit like a shark fin when it’s up in the air,” says Andrea.

“As a lifeguard, you quickly notice when things change and there’s new things going on”

Fortunately, sunfish are harmless. They like to feed on jellyfish, another creature that beachgoers may spot: strong winds and currents bring jellyfish to shore, explains Andrea, making their presence a marker of the recent conditions. And it’s not just surfers and jellyfish that are affected by the wind and currents: if it’s been stormy, you might stumble across a fluffy, whiskery little seal pup. “They’ll just come up to the beach for a little break,” grins Andrea.

Soaking up the landscape
Sitting quietly on a patch of sand and taking in the skies and sea can be a surprisingly exhilarating experience. “As a lifeguard, you notice when things change and there’s new things going on,” says Andrea.

You can tune into the human and nonhuman life around you; this season alone Andrea has seen “a minke whale, dolphins, seals, a jumping tuna fish – usually they’re in shoals so that’s an exciting sight – and quite a few Cornish choughs.”

“Seeing how the tides, waves and winds affect beaches differently is a fascinating glimpse into the powerful forces that shape coastal environments.”

As an endangered species, spotting a chough takes patience, a true sign that you’re immersing yourself in the coastal landscape. These crow-like birds with red beaks and feet are literally the stuff of legend: it’s said that when King Arthur died, his soul left in the form of a chough. Even if you’re on a short break, try to give yourself the peace and quiet to stare out to sea as a lifeguard might: you never know what might emerge.

Coastal adventures
If you wake up one morning wanting to explore somewhere new, simply going from beach to beach can be an adventure. “It’s shocked me how different they can be on the same day. Some of them can catch quite a lot of surf, and some of them can be quite flat,” explains Andrea.

Seeing how the tides, waves and winds affect beaches differently is a fascinating glimpse into the powerful forces that shape coastal environments. It also means you can try out different activities; why not swim and sunbathe at one, and surf at another?

“Really, though, just being by the sea is the true adventure, even for those who know it well.”

But while it’s fun to celebrate the variety of beaches, it’s always best to try and stick to those that are lifeguarded, especially if you are planning on going in the sea. RNLI lifeguards operate on over 240 beaches across the UK during the peak summer season, so there’s plenty of choice: “Lifeguards have done all the thinking beforehand,” says Andrea, meaning that any potential hazards have been noted. There’ll be red and yellow flags showing you the safest place to swim, and you can chat to the lifeguards about any concerns you have.

Really, though, just being by the sea is the true adventure, even for those who know it well. If you stay alert to what’s around you, something unexpected is bound to appear – in water, on the beach or up in the air.

To find out more about the RNLI, how to stay safe and where to find your nearest lifeguarded beach, please visit: rnli.org/safety/beach-safety

Experience the captivating beauty of dawn and dusk along the Cornish coast, as we compare and contrast these magical moments in nature’s theatre.

Change of Pace: Deep

Whether you’re exploring on a single breath, or stealthily seeking your supper, taking your ocean activity beneath the surface is the ultimate in water time contradictions – giving in to the calm surrender of the deep even when your pulse is jumping…

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Breathless discoveries

Credit: Aquacity

Hold your nerve, take a breath, dive. Freediving – diving beneath the surface on a single breath – is not a sport for the faint hearted. With no scuba or air tank to rely on and only your instinct as your guide, it’s at the more demanding end of the watersports spectrum.

“Freediving has the reputation of being an extreme sport,” says Georgina Miller from freediving outfit Aquacity in Porthkerris, “but really, it’s all about relaxing and exploring your relationship to the sea. It’s actually vital that you relax while challenging yourself and pushing your body to its limit.”

“It’s quiet and you’re in such a different environment – you can lose a sense of yourself and relax into it peacefully. But this only comes with patience and practice at being calm and present.”

A competitive free diver and instructor, Georgina explains that the breathing techniques freediving uses are useful for staying calm in any situation. But if you are brave enough to venture under the waves, the sport is even more of a stress buster, says Georgina. “Being underwater, for most people, allows some peace in an otherwise hectic world,” she continues, “It’s quiet and you’re in such a different environment – you can lose a sense of yourself and relax into it peacefully. But this only comes with patience and practice at being calm and present.”

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Credit: Aquacity

There’s no doubt that competitive freediving brings more of a heightened edge to the discipline. Freedivers can regularly swim down to depths of more than 100 metres on a single breath. It’s a very specialist, highly skilled world, where technique and ability juxtapose with mindfulness and calm. Freediving is not without its risks so it’s important to never dive alone and let qualified instructors lead you safely into the deep.

But even at the leisure pursuit end of the sport, there are thrills to be found. Though more often than not, they come from the interactions that happen under the water, rather than the depths reached.

In addition to dolphins and seals, Georgina regularly sees lobsters and spider crabs hiding in the cracks, magnificent shoals of pollock, wrasse and mackerel, and majestic basking sharks drifting through the depths.

“We had a training session recently where a pod of dolphins came to check us out – they looked like they felt sorry for us not being able to swim too well!” she concludes. “When you’re being checked out by marine mammals there definitely seems to be a connection, they’re curious, even playful. It’s pretty incredible.”

aquacityfreediving.com

Steady stealth

Credit: Chris Moakes

Add the pursuit and excitement of the hunt and catch into your deep water time and you’re taking it up a gear. Spear fishing, freediving’s faster-paced cousin, is one of the most sustainable ways to fish and requires, skill, dexterity, speed and patience, all in one.

This balance of quick action and absolute calm is something Laith Dajani from Spearfishing UK knows all too well, as he explains, of a recent dive. “On one breath I went down to 13 metres, to fish. It took roughly 17 seconds to get to the bottom. I found and speared a 9lb Pollock in seven seconds, and then came back up in another 17 seconds,” he says. The whole experience was just 41 seconds in total. But with that level of excursion and concentration, diving to and rising from the ocean floor all in the smallest window of time, staying relaxed is an epic task in itself.

“It’s all about stealth and tactics. Sometimes fish are curious…Alternatively, stalking works just as well, hiding or moving as slowly as possible through seaweed, not making a sound.”

For Laith, it’s the unique mix of control and quick thinking that gives spearfishing its appeal. “You want to remain as calm as possible. If you’re stressed, the fish will be stressed, and they won’t be comfortable around you,” he continues. “It’s all about stealth and tactics. Sometimes fish are curious, so making grunting noises can attract them, or throwing up sand can bring them in. Alternatively, stalking works just as well, hiding or moving as slowly as possible through seaweed, not making a sound.”

But when the time comes to fire the speargun, you have to think fast. “You need to be in the moment with no hesitation,” he says, “otherwise the fish will scatter and you’ll be swimming to the surface empty-handed.”

Credit: Chris Moakes

If the speargun isn’t for you, you can hunt for lobster, brown crabs, scallops and mussels by hand. For Laith, catching a 9lb lobster off Cornwall’s south coast was an unbeatable experience. “Lobsters like to hole up and can be found as shallow as one metre. You just need to look in as many holes as possible and eventually you’ll stumble across one.”

From combing the sea floor for shellfish to plunging into the deep, underwater ocean time is all about finding the right pace for you and working with the ocean. As Georgina says about freediving, “it’s not about an application of your will over the water, you have to consider the environment and work with it.” And what a magical environment the Cornish coastline has to offer, shoreline, surface or deep. Now, who’s for a dip?

spearfishing.co.uk

Read about adventures of every pace: on the shoreline or on the surface too…

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Change of Pace: Surface

Flat calm or firing, the ocean’s surface offers up myriad ways to revel in the joys of watertime…

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Unsteady balance

Credit: WeSup

A teetering wobble as you clamber to your feet, the unusual perspective gained from standing on the sea, the blissed out feeling of moving steadily forward over the ocean under your own propulsion. Not overly challenging, and easy to get up and running with, it’s no wonder paddleboarding’s popularity has soared in recent years.

“Its popularity with the public is because of the iconic slow-paced adventures around surreal tropical coastlines,” says Harvey Bentham at WeSup in Falmouth, “but the reality is that’s only one part of why paddlboarding is such a joy.”

It’s the variety of ways people engage with the sport, he goes on to explain, that makes it so alluring. “It ticks so many boxes for so many different people. We’ve seen hula-hoops, cartwheels, one-footed paddling – when the weather gifts us flat windless days we can get out and do some yoga, or headstands, or stretch our ‘legs’ and go further around the coast for a longer paddle.”

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“If the swell is up we ride waves and experience the thrill of the ocean pushing and pulling the board around, it’s definitely a different kind of buzz.”

Credit: WeSup

In his book Blue Mind: How Water Makes Us Happy Marine Biologist Dr. Wallace Nicholls explains that the rhythmic act of paddling creates an almost meditative state, with “significant evidence proving that interacting with water offers us huge benefits cognitively.” With this in mind, it’s no wonder that so many people extol the virtues of a paddle before work, or to refresh after a long day.

Simply doing your normal activity somewhere different (yoga on a paddleboard), or seeing the coast in a different way can be exhilarating enough, but for Harvey, there’s another side to the sport that comes into its own when the sets start lining up. “If the swell is up we ride waves and experience the thrill of the ocean pushing and pulling the board around, it’s definitely a different kind of buzz,” he says. Waveriding on a paddleboard is one of the oldest forms of surfing and the rush from dropping into the face and firing down the line is hard to match. Of course, that kind of skill takes years to master, but even for ‘newbie’ paddlers, waves bring a different dimension to the experience. “It depends what you’re looking for from your time on the board, the possibilities are endless – calm or choppy.”

Regardless of preference, there’s one part of paddleboarding that is inevitable and something you simply have to embrace. The swift plunge into cold water when you lose your balance and slip from your board. Enjoy the sensation and revel in the moment. It’s good for your mind, after all.

wesup.co.uk

Surfing slowdown

Credit: Extreme Academy

Surfing is undeniably a sport built around the adrenalin rush of the ocean catapulting you forward full throttle. But its high octane reputation belies one of the little considered truths of surfing. That a lot of the time, it’s about exactly the opposite.

Former waveski world champion Carl Coombes now runs Extreme Academy at Watergate Bay and is keen to advocate the contemplative element of the sport. “The moment before the ride is often one of reflection and wellbeing,” he explains, “reading the ocean, understanding its movements and sensing the right time to go, the right wave to choose. Mastering the process and commitment of your wave selection and the art of patience, it’s as much a part of surfing as charging.”

While each wave lasts only a handful of seconds, a surf session can last hours on a good day, so there’s a lot of sitting in the ocean experiencing the moment. “It’s why surfers have such an affinity with the sea, and often care so much about protecting it,” he continues. “Spending that amount of time in the water, the things you see, the wildlife, skies, quiet, its value can’t be quantified.”

For Dr. Nicholls, surfers exhibit more of the ‘blue mind’ state than anyone: “they’re attuned to the water,” he writes, “used to watching it carefully for hours on end, reading its changes, looking for the smallest indication that the next wave will be, if not the perfect wave, at least rideable.”

“You see a great session bringing the same enjoyment to a seasoned pro and a novice that has stood up for the first time.”

Credit: Extreme Academy

And that starts from the first time you paddle into a wave. Learning with a surf school is about meeting like minds, practicing the necessary physical skills but also understanding more about the sea and how and when to harness its energy.

All of that is extremely rewarding both mentally and physiologically. “You’ll finish a class or a session exhausted but also refreshed, by your time in the water, by the experience you’ve had. It’s a unique sensation,” Carl concludes. “And that’s the thing I love about surfing –  whatever your ability, the reward is the same. It’s fully inclusive, low impact, great therapy, a real adrenaline rush while being relaxing and clearing your thoughts of all life’s woes.

“You see a great session bringing the same enjoyment to a seasoned pro and a novice that has stood up for the first time. Who wouldn’t want to get involved in a sport that can offer that?”

extremeacademy.co.uk

Read about adventures of every pace: on the shoreline or in the deep too…

Read our blog on the best things to do in the sea in every season!

A Change of Pace

From the thrilling calm to the calming thrill, the ocean is a place of endless surprises whether it’s by, on or under the waves. In a series of posts, we explore what it means to get your energy from the ocean and the delightful contradictions you can embrace in every sea salt fix.

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Credit: WeSup

From dawn to dusk and through the seasons, the ebb and flow of tides are in constant flux, creating a magical ocean playground. On the shoreline, on the surface or submerged in the deep, there are endless ways to play, and it’s the sea’s shifting moods that help determine your pace.

The quiet aftermath of a storm washes up beachcombing treasure, still waters keep a paddleboard balanced and rolling waves offer up ideal surf conditions. But is it as simple as measuring your adrenaline rush against the height of the break, or does ocean time have the power to do more?

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It’s not surprising that in the gentlest walk, the deepest dive or the most adrenalin fuelled charge, we can find moments of both serenity and exhilaration.

Credit: Aquacity

“We are inspired by water,” Marine Biologist Dr. Wallace Nicholls writes in Blue Mind: How Water Makes Us Happy. “Hearing it, smelling it in the air, playing in it… creating lasting memories along its edge”.

Nicholls explains that as humans, our calm, peaceful and content state of mind, which he terms ‘blue mind’, is stimulated by proximity to open water. That even just thinking about water is enough to trigger an emotional response, because all our senses are craving the full nature experience. So it’s not surprising that in the gentlest walk, the deepest dive or the most adrenalin fuelled charge, we can find moments of both serenity and exhilaration. Our bodies crave water time exactly because of its simultaneous ability to help us reset and get our hearts beating.

If you’re eager to embrace the marvellous contradiction of the ocean but don’t know where to start, we’re here to help. Over three posts we’ve caught up with ocean lovers who relish the fast and slow of their preferred water activities on the shoreline, on the surface and beneath the waves. So read on, leave your expectations behind and open your blue mind. Calming thrills and thrilling calm await…

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Read about adventures of every pace: on the shoreline, on the surface or in the deep.

Credit: Chris Moakes

Ocean O’Clock

The rise and fall of the tides may be regular and predictable, but the worlds they open up is anything but. Indeed, when it comes to coastal activities – from shoreline yoga to rock pooling, snorkelling and coasteering – the lows are just as compelling as the highs…

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You take a stroll down to the beach and the tide’s out. A vast golden expanse stretches towards the horizon, the sky reflecting in a silver skin of water on the sand. White waves break far in the distance, beyond the silhouettes of rocks scattered in the shallows. Your first thought? That’s an awful long way to carry a paddle board, perhaps. But it won’t take long for that to change. Thanks to the celestial clockwork that drives the tides, that beach will be completely transformed within six hours, the sprawling sand little more than a sliver as the tidal region becomes a playground for fish and swimmers.

You’re probably aware that it’s the moon that shapes the tides, as its gravity literally pulls the water of the ocean away from the planet. You may not know that there’ll be two high tides happening at the same time, on opposite sides of the Earth.

“Take Whitsand Bay, which at low tide opens up to offer over three miles of stunning sand, from Rame Head to Portwrinkle.”

Few of us that visit the beach will be thinking about the impact of the moon, nor how our low tide is being mirrored at that moment by people in New Zealand. But the tides do serve as a metronome – not just to the Earth’s lunar dance, but to the minutiae of coastal life. By tuning into its rhythms, we gain access to a world of wonder.

Tidal Cornwall

The beaches of Cornwall are as wonderful as any. Take Whitsand Bay, which at low tide opens up to offer over three miles of stunning sand, from Rame Head to Portwrinkle. That epic scale is the perfect spot for a refreshing run or bout of yoga on the shore.

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Being in the outdoors isn’t just about such simple beauty. It’s good for the nervous system, and offers a deeper sense of relaxation and escape, as you connect with nature, breathe the sea air and dose yourself with vitamin D.

“Focusing your mind on the minutiae of a rock pool is like shrinking and diving into a world of discovery.”

Vast beaches like this can be found all around Cornwall at low tide. Families may seek to spread out with a family game of cricket, or take the opportunity to walk round to hidden coves, revealed by the receding sea for just a few hours each day.

Magical minutiae

Low tide is also the perfect time to go rockpooling, and Cornwall’s beaches offer endless opportunities. On the North coast, great examples include Porth Beach and Pentireglaze Haven, a cove towards the north of Polzeath, joined to the main beach at low tide. On the South coast, there’s few places better than Falmouth’s Castle Beach, with an intricate network of pools spreading across the breadth of the narrow beach.

“And every now and then we get something really out of ordinary: octopuses and spider crabs, cuttle fish and conga eels. You never know what you’ll get.”

Focusing your mind on the minutiae of a rock pool is like shrinking yourself and diving into a world of discovery. Keen eyes can hope to find a magical variety of crabs, star fish and anemones, as well as elusive blennies darting among the weeds. And that’s just the start.

“People may just walk past rock pools and not even notice them,” says Dr Ben Holt, marine ecologist and CEO of the Falmouth-based Rock Pool Project, which runs guided rockpooling expeditions and research work. “But there could be loads of fascinating stuff living in there. Take the Cornish sucker fish, which has a pelvic fin that’s developed into a sucker, so it can stick upside down to the underside of rocks. And every now and then we get something really out of ordinary: octopuses and spider crabs, cuttle fish and conga eels. You never know what you’ll get.”

Go rockpooling with a guide, or even a guide book, and you’ll soon find that even the most common sights can be mind-blowing. Take limpets. At high tide they set off from their base on the rocks to forage for algae, returning as the tide ebbs. According to How to Read Water, a fascinating book by ‘natural navigator’ Tristan Gooley, limpets’ teeth are so strong that a piece of spaghetti made from the same material would be able to lift a Volkswagen Golf.

“A low spring tide reveals rock pools that usually remain underwater, exposing species you’d otherwise not see.”

The most important consideration when rockpooling is the tides. Spring tides are the best – that’s when the alignment of the sun, moon and earth means the sun’s gravity is adding to the pull of the moon, creating higher high tides and lower lows. A low spring tide reveals rock pools that usually remain underwater, exposing species you’d otherwise not see.

The other critical factor is footwear. “It can be tricky clambering over rocks and seaweed, so flip-flops and bare feet are an absolute no-no,” says Dr Holt. “Wearing old running shoes with decent soles gives you safety, confidence and freedom: you can explore the whole environment without worrying where you can and can’t go.”

Yet it’s not as if the high tide puts an end to the rock pool adventures. Anyone armed with a snorkel, mask and set of fins can explore those same magical eco-systems themselves – diving down into them from above.

Unique perspective

Other activities can be pursued at either low or high tide, with each offering a radically different experience. Take coasteering (coastal orienteering), in which a trained instructor leads a group in exploring the coast, picking a route through the water, among the rocks, to explore caves, coves and hidden channels. It’s a chance to see the grey seals and nesting sea birds from a unique perspective – and to rediscover a sense of freedom. “It’s about tapping into a childlike sense of adventure,” says Jack Day, activity instructor at the Newquay Activity Centre, which runs coasteering trips out of Newquay, including the nearby Gazzle and Towan Headland. “Albeit in a controlled and managed way, with carefully-planned routes and safety kit.”

“High-tide coasteering is more of a pure adrenaline fix, with spring tides allowing greater freedom in rock jumps of up to 25 feet, and swimming through caves.”

Day’s company partners with the Cornwall Wildlife Trust to run low-tide coasteering trips, which mix adventure – scrambling to explore the over craggy intertidal zone and riding ‘rapids’ as water is rushed between rocks – with added education. “The low tide reveals this whole other world,” says Day. “All the stuff under water is suddenly exposed. And that’s when nerds like me take people out to talk rocky shore life – all the barnacles, muscles, limpets and crabs, and how the sea birds interact with them. It’s all so alive.”

High-tide coasteering is more of a pure adrenaline fix, with spring tides allowing greater freedom in rock jumps of up to 25 feet, and swimming through caves. Day’s advice, whatever the tide: to go with a trusted guides, at your own pace, and don’t let any fears deter you from a new experience.

The lure of the moon

If you head to the beach at night and look at the moon, you may be able to predict the tides yourself. A full moon signals spring tides, as does proximity to a new moon. When the sun and moon aren’t reinforcing each other’s pull, we get tides with the lowest tidal range: neap tides. These are sign-posted by a half-moon, with either side bright.

Armed with that knowledge, you’ll already be more attuned than some of our brightest and most adventurous forebears. According to Scientific American magazine, the soldiers of Alexander the Great, for example, had grown up with the tide-free shores of the Mediterranean, so when they first encountered the extreme tidal range of the Indian Ocean, they believed it was the work of local gods, unhappy at their invasion.

“A perigean spring tide is an extreme tide, when a spring tide coincides with moon being at its closest point to earth.”

Johannes Kepler, the 17 th-century German astronomer, thought tides were caused by the breathing of the earth. René Descartes took a step in the right direction – asserting that the moon acted on the waters of the ocean, by pressure – but it was Newton who showed it was, in fact, down to lunar attraction.

There are other less regular lunar forces. A perigean spring tide is an extreme tide, when a spring tide coincides with moon being at its closest point to earth. Then there are super tides– a tidal extreme sparked by an 18.6-year cycle of the moon’s position. The last year of super tides was 2015. The next one to look out for: 2033.

The tide is like clockwork. Pick up a local tide guide, or install the My Tide Times app, and you can soon build a  regular habit of checking what it’s doing. And with a bit of attention and planning, whether making use of the extra sand, or exploring our natural wonders on land or underwater, you can enjoy the impact of that celestial dance any time – come low or high water.

Read our blog on the best things to do in the sea in every season!

Dawn vs Dusk

The magic hours. Which is your favourite?

“A sculptor’s landscape is one of ever-changing space and light where forms reveal themselves in new aspects as the sun rises and sets.”

– Barbara Hepworth in Barbara Hepworth: Drawings from a Sculptor’s Landscape, 1966 barbarahepworth.org.uk,

 

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The sun rose just after 5 o’clock this morning; it will set just before 9.30pm. We’re in the daylight month and each day the summer sun creates stunning, relaxing and inspiring skies in those early or late hours. Staying steps from the shore means the freedom to enjoy those moments even more.

Coastal skies don’t hold claim to the most spectacular dawns and dramatic dusks but they’re undoubtedly among the best. Sharing an image by Kirstin Prisk (@kirstinprisk) of a sunset sky in St Ives this month, the Tate St Ives nodded to the unique light the sun creates there: “The town of St Ives has long been an artistic hub, attracting artists since the time of J.M.W Turner because of the beauty of the landscape and quality of natural light.”

That corner of coastal light has inspired artists since the 1930s, and around the British coast early risers and evening explorers are rewarded with colour shows to take the breath away.

Which are you, an early riser catching the first light or an out of hours dusk seeker?

We asked members of the Beach Retreats team to share one of their favourite phot0s out of hours at the beach. As you’ll see below, dusk comes out on top.

And if you’ve captured a great shot at the beach out of hours, why not share it with us on Instagram or Facebook ­­– tag us @beachretreats and add #beachoutofhours ­– to be in with a chance of winning a land&water bathtime bundle and luxury Cornish hamper.

Lingering light

Lowenna in the Beach Retreats marketing team likes to catch the fading light as it disappears over the horizon. There’s no better place to watch the day slip away over the horizon than the sweeping vistas of the north Cornish coast.

This shot was captured on the sand dunes that lead down to the breaks at Fistral beach in Newquay. “I like to wait until the sun has completely dropped, to see the lingering glow on the horizon,” says Lowenna.

Open ocean

There’s no denying the sunlight on the sea creates some of the most awe-inspiring views of all. Steve, in our portfolio management team, also prefers the dusk light on the waves.

This photo was taken from Pentire Headland with the sun hovering just above the line of the ocean. “From here, you can see the entire stretch of the horizon glowing and the wide expanse of sea looks truly amazing at this time of day,” says Steve.

pentire

Low in the website team finds the lure of the water difficult to resist when the sunset colours the sky. This image was taken on Little Fistral beach in Newquay. “My favourite time of day is dusk, especially the moments just after the sun has set where the whole sky turns shades of pink, purple and orange.

“That day, the setting sun lit up the whole beach in these colours. It looked so magical we just had to go in for a swim at 10pm!”

Explore the wonders of sea and skies with our blog on how to make the most of your holiday with stargazing.

Dawn vs dusk

We’re asking our followers on Instagram and Facebook to choose their favourite #beachoutofhours time. Which will you choose, dawn or dusk?

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Natural signs

In the quiet hours on the beach, reading the signs of the sea, the fauna and the sky can make nature your ally.

It’s early morning, you’re up, and first to the beach. When you get there, you realise, you’ve forgotten to check the tides. Is the sea coming in or going out? How can you tell? One answer is to watch the birds.

Look at the sand around the tideline. If there are gulls, dippers and oystercatchers pecking around, odds are you’re looking at a falling tide. Lugworms, molluscs and other burrowing critters come up to feed as the tide recedes, and the seabirds are taking advantage of an easy feast.

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Reading the land (and sea)

If you know what to look out for, Cornwall’s coast is full of fascinating little clues like this. With a little knowledge, it’s possible to decipher everything from sea conditions to the weather forecast.

“Everyone comes to Cornwall to enjoy the view, but often they don’t look at the story behind the scenery,” says Hetty Wildblood, a kayaking guide who runs expeditions along the Helford River and around St Agnes. “It’s a skill you have to practise. But there’s so much information if you know where to look: geology, industry, biology, natural history.

“One example I often use is the cliff colours around St Agnes; all those vivid oranges, browns and reds. They’re caused by mineral deposits, especially from heavy metals like iron and tin – a visible reminder of the mining riches that once sustained Cornwall.”

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Wheal Coates St Agnes

Dunes (or towans, as they’re known here) are a common feature of many Cornish beaches. They’re an important coastal habitat – but they’re also weather vanes.

“So if you want to be sure of keeping your feet dry, pitch your blanket higher than the second, rather than the first, strandline.”

Dunes form perpendicular to the prevailing onshore wind, and their presence indicates a strong, persistent breeze: the greater the dunes, the greater and gustier the winds. The dunes can also tell you about the direction of the prevailing wind; the slope on the windward side will be shallower and easier to walk on, while the sand on the ‘slip’ side will be steep, softer and more unstable.

Prince of tides

You’re out on a brisk morning walk and it’s time to sit down to brew a morning coffee. How do you know where to pitch your picnic blanket?

Strandlines – the line of seaweed and ocean debris left behind by tides – are your friend here. There are usually at least two strandlines on most beaches. The one nearest to the sea marks the high point reached by the most recent tide. The second one, higher up the beach, marks the point reached during the last spring tide (sometimes, there’s also a third line, even further up the beach: this indicates the extent of the last storm surge).

So if you want to be sure of keeping your feet dry, pitch your blanket higher than the second, rather than the first, strandline; that way, even if you’re visiting on a spring tide, the water won’t reach you (unless you’ve decided to picnic in the teeth of an Atlantic storm, that is).

Another useful way of determining tidal range is to look at the rocks near the sea. Lichen grows in bands of colour; black at the bottom, orange or red in the middle, grey-green at the top. Only the black lichen is happy to grow underwater, so it’s also a natural signpost that indicates the high water mark.

Moon movements

How about the phenomenon of spring and neap tides? Contrary to what many people believe, spring tides actually have nothing to do with the season of spring: they refer to the extra ‘spring’ in the sea’s tidal range, which can be more than 20% above and below the average.

“If you’re close to a new moon or a full moon, you know the tide will be both lower and higher than usual.”

Spring tides occur twice a month (throughout summer, autumn and winter too!). They are caused by the extra gravitational pull that occurs when the sun and moon both line up with the earth – a phenomenon called syzygy. This happens at new moon (when the moon moves between the sun and the earth) and full moon (when the moon is on the opposite side of the earth). Neap tides occur (approximately) seven days either side.

hayle

So if you want to know what the tide is up to, have a look at the sky at night. If you’re close to a new moon or a full moon, you know the tide will be both lower and higher than usual. Since much more of the coastline is revealed during spring tides, you’ll also know that it’s the best time for a spot of rock-pooling or a long beach walk the next day.

Whither the weather

“I think it’s so important for people to learn these skills,” says Matt Slater, a marine biologist for the Cornwall Wildlife Trust. “Understanding the weather and the tides isn’t just useful, it makes your time on the beach safer, and more fun.

“One example I always give is that if you want to go snorkelling, go at low tide when the wind is blowing offshore. That way, you’ll be able to get down there and have a good look at the sea-bed. Likewise, if you want to go paddleboarding or kayaking safely, pick a beach where the wind is blowing onshore (towards the land); otherwise there’s a chance you’ll get blown out to sea. It seems obvious, but you’d be amazed by how few people understand it.”

“Mackerel sky, mackerel sky; never long wet, never long dry.”

Another useful clue about sea conditions is given by the glitter path – the line of light cast by the sun on the water. If the sea’s really calm, the glitter path will be narrow (no broader than the sun is wide). But when the sea’s rough, the high, choppy waves reflect more light, causing the glitter path to spread out and become more triangular.

If you’re deciding how to spend your beach hours for the day, the calmest conditions for swimming and paddleboarding will be the days when the dawn sun is lighting a narrow glitter path.

gwenver

Signals in the sky

Seabirds also foretell what the weather has in store. If they’re flying inland in numbers, chances are there’s bad weather brewing out to sea; if they’re heading in the opposite direction, it’s a sign of more settled conditions.

But for the clearest weather forecast, turn your eyes to the sky. “Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning; red sky at night, sailor’s delight” chimes the old adage – and surprisingly, more often than not, it’s true.

Red skies at dawn are caused by light bouncing off high cirrus clouds, often an indication of an approaching weather front. Red skies at sunset usually indicate clear skies in the west; and since the UK’s weather systems generally move in from the Atlantic, a scarlet sunset is a good bet for fine weather tomorrow.

Lastly, there’s that most Cornish of cloud systems – a mackerel sky, in which bands of clouds run across the sky like the markings on a mackerel’s back. Here, another old saying comes in handy: “Mackerel sky, mackerel sky; never long wet, never long dry.” The pattern is usually caused by cirrocumulus clouds, which appear at the edge of weather fronts – meaning change is on the way.

So if it’s sunny now, the sudden appearance of a mackerel sky might mean it’s a good time to pack up and head for shelter. But if it’s raining where you are now, and a mackerel sky materialises, then you might be in luck – that dinner on the beach you’ve been hoping for may still be on the cards.

Discover more of Cornwall with our favourite places to watch the ocean and go sea spotting.

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cornwallwildlifetrust.org.uk

Out of hours: At the beach with Nick Pumphrey

A 5am alarm – sometimes earlier. Pulling on the wetsuit, eyes half closed, as the first faint traces of monochrome light emerge. Rain, hail, raging gales or glassy calm, photographer Nick Pumphrey steps into the sea with his camera every morning while most of us are sleeping. Why? To get creative in the ‘blue hour’, connect with nature, calm his mind and capture the breaking dawn while floating in the waters around his home town of St Ives.

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Nick Pumphrey Credit: Nick Pumphrey

Before the pandemic, Nick travelled the world shooting for publications and brands including National Geographic, The Guardian, Roxy, Surfdome and Wavelength magazine. But immersing himself in the ocean on his doorstep every morning has sparked a new energy and insight he’s eager to share.

As part of our Out of Hours content series, we caught him one morning once he’d dried off, made a coffee and posted his 10 daily ‘Dawn Days’ images to his Instagram account.

Credit: Nick Pumphrey

Dawn Days came about in the early stages of lockdown last year. I wasn’t feeling too good – not myself. I wanted to get rid of the anxieties that were clouding my thoughts. I read a few books on mindfulness and studied the Wim Hof cold water submersion breathing – and I had this idea that sharing pictures of the sea might lift people’s spirits.

There was no real brief, no expectations. I thought, I’ll get in the sea in the dark, see the sunrise, float, photograph whatever’s happening. Then share it. I wanted to keep the whole motive as simple and honest as possible.

I swim with my camera for my own sanity, I swim to share stories with fellow swimmers, I swim to be present and to connect with something much larger than myself. I share images on social media with the hope of inspiring others to be creative and to connect with nature.

Credit: Nick Pumphrey

With the dawn wake-up calls, there’s always a bit of stubbornness, a resistance, there. But ultimately, I know I’ll feel better when I’m up – that it’ll be worth it. Once I’m on my feet and the wetsuit’s on, I’m not tired anymore. I haven’t missed a morning yet this year.

“I swim with my camera for my own sanity, I swim to share stories with fellow swimmers, I swim to be present and to connect with something much larger than myself.”

In the summer, it can be a 4am alarm to be in there for the blue hour. It drives you crazy chasing that first light. You get up and look out, and it’s like, ‘Oh no, it’s getting light already!’

The ‘blue hour’ is the hour before dawn, when you often get the best colours in the sky. I float there, literally just hooting out loud at these incredible colour displays above. You know it’s a good day when you’re hooting while shooting.

Nick Pumphrey Credit: Nick Pumphrey

Various people have joined my dawn swims along the way, and it’s seriously improved their wellbeing. James Hardy – a great surfer, he’s been doing it with me every single day since January. When he started, he couldn’t sleep. He’d had really bad sleeping problems for years, but after 14 days in the sea at sunrise, they disappeared. Then there’s Lydia from Wild Swimming Cornwall. She was battling mental health issues, and then immersion in nature has completely sorted her.

We’ve been out in some pretty wild weather – sleet, snow, wind, big swells. No two days are the same. You’re connecting directly with nature – starting your day positively. Not to mention all the benefits of cold water.

Out of hours Credit: Nick Pumphrey

There was one Dawn Day experience that turned pretty heavy. I was at Godrevy, and there was a heavy sea fog. I couldn’t see the sea, but I could hear it. My ego was saying: ‘I have to do it, people are going to be expecting my 10 photos,’ when of course they’re not really. My gut was telling me no, but I kept going. Even in the water, the current was pushing me back towards shore. Eventually I got out there, but then I got caught in a current, and ended up 100 metres up by the cliffs. I looked in and thought, ‘the beach isn’t there anymore, it’s just a rock face.’ I was alright, the tide was OK and there was enough space for me to climb up and call it a day. But you know, I’m experienced, and I still got caught out. It taught me how important it is to listen to your instincts and respect the sea.

Nick pumphrey Credit: Nick Pumphrey

“The ‘blue hour’ is the hour before dawn, when you often get the best colours in the sky. I float there, literally just hooting out loud at these incredible colour displays above.”

Porthmeor Beach was my playground. We came to St Ives when I was 6 months old, so I’ve spent my life around the sea surrounded by creative folk. I started surfing at 12, and I’m 42 now. I suppose I’m naturally drawn to the water, because I always have this burning desire to be in the sea, or at least close by.

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I’ve wanted to be a photographer for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t have the confidence to go for it at first. So I kept doing the ‘safe’ jobs to bring money in. It was only when I was 35, 36 – that I decided to properly give photography a go, 100%, without any compromise. Over the last 6 years or so, I’ve lived purely off my photography. I really believe if you go with those gut feelings and trust that it will work out, then it probably will.

Credit: Nick Pumphrey

My sea photographs are a combination of intention and experimentation. On dark mornings, I normally start with slow exposure as that lends itself beautifully to the movement – the ‘whoosh’ – of the sea. There are days that don’t look particularly inspiring, but if you take a photo at half a second, or a second even, you get some unexpectedly beautiful results. I move the camera with the wave, take the picture – and give the camera a little jolt, and it just pulls everything up. I love the anticipation, the not knowing exactly how it’s going to turn out. There are no rules.

I enjoy going through my shots once I’m out and dry with a cup of coffee. The coffee, the edit and the music – I love it.

You get some mornings when the sun’s going crazy, the waves are pumping, the light is intense, and you’re just reacting to what’s happening in front of you. They’re the best days – when you’re totally present.

When I do the dawn swims there’s the connection to nature; to the energy of the sea and the power of the sunrise. You’re getting a big dose of natural light into your eyes first thing. These days, it’s usually the opposite, with people waking up and looking straight into a phone screen. I know I used to do that, but not now.

Credit: Nick Pumphrey

“I love the anticipation, the not knowing exactly how the image will turn out. There are no rules.”

There’s been an awakening during this last year. People have realised that being out in nature makes them feel better. Growing your own food, leaving the city – there’s been a huge shift, a move back to our roots. It’s positive, because when you appreciate and understand nature, you want to protect it.

Credit: Nick Pumphrey

We’ve had some incredible encounters with wildlife. Every morning two little seal pups would come up and hang with us. They’re so inquisitive and innocent. I got a photo of one rubbing its head on James’ swim fin! We also witnessed a few gannet feeding frenzies, and schools of dolphins swimming by too.

This morning there was a white sunrise. It had an exotic, hazy feeling. When the sun finally showed itself it was this bright white ball – a bit like the moon. I took a few shots and then just put my camera down and looked at it. It was so peaceful. Really calm, no wind. It was just the oily textures of the sea and this white sun, with its reflection coming straight to me.

I’m not religious, but there’s a spiritual dimension to being in the sea at dawn. It’s like coming back to source, tapping back into how we were, how we’re supposed to be. It’s easy to see life as school, study, get a job, make money, buy a house – but ultimately, we feel at our best when we’re in these natural environments. You absorb energy from nature. It makes sense.

Experience the captivating beauty of dawn and dusk along the Cornish coast, as we compare and contrast these magical moments in nature’s theatre.

Find out more:

nickpumphrey.com
@nickpumphreyphoto
Fine art prints available at nickpumphrey.art