There is a rhythm to winter by the sea and in Brighton, it begins in November, with the starlings.
According to Countryfile, up to 40,000 birds arrive from as far away as Scandinavia to winter alongside their native cousins on Brighton’s pier. In fives, sevens, eights and by the dozen they come, over the chimney pots and rooftops to the sea, growing the flock before your eyes. In one of nature’s great choreographed shows, the formation swirls and ripples over, under and between the girders of the city’s two piers, marking sunrise and sunset, between November and February.
In cold weather, when our instinct is to hunker down, it can be a battle to connect with the elements. And yet for many of us communing with nature, and fulfilling that biophilic need, is essential in winter. I had no relationship with winter until I moved from a city to live by the sea. I had never seen a winter sunrise. A pilchard was something I ate. Now, thanks to year-round swims, I can’t imagine life without them.
Bobbing about for a minute or two before breakfast feels like the ultimate winter cheat. Sunrise, however fleeting, can reveal itself on the dullest of days. There might be geese, a blizzard of starlings over the West Pier, and on rare occasions, a seal. Our swimmers’ WhatsApp group is filled with “swimrises” murmuration clips, tide times, moon phases and – over to you Southern Water – sewage warnings.