The writer and journalist explains why he has been venturing forth into the darkness.
What first inspired you to start walking at night-time?
It was definitely due to something my then-10-year-old son said. He’d been arguing for a later bedtime, and he complained about how humans, on average, spend 26 years asleep. Those words nagged at me, and made me realise that my experience of night was really limited; that despite my life’s apparent fullness, it was, in some ways, only being half lived.
Where are your favourite places to experience nature after dark?
In Suffolk, I’m drawn to Covehithe. Due to erosion, the beach is constantly shifting and there is a sense of dynamism and change, of the land unravelling. I’ve spent quite a few nights watching the moon pulling itself slowly out of the sea and the stars revolving above me. A bit further afield, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the Isle of Coll. There aren’t any streetlights on the island and the clarity of the Milky Way took my breath away.
Why do you think we are so disconnected from darkness now?
The most obvious reason is that we are simply not used to darkness. In the modern era, people are born into light. Our world drips and glares with it. Artificial light has become associated with safety – despite research that suggests otherwise. The natural lights of the stars are snuffed out and the importance of the moon and the beauty and meaning of its cycles are lost.
What effect do our artificial lights have on wildlife?
The impacts of artificial lighting on wildlife are far ranging and quite frightening. We have known for some time that our lights can confuse and kill migrating birds, but research is showing that the effects of light run up and down the food chain. The way wildlife hunts, breeds and moves is all influenced by light.
What would you recommend to those who want to explore nature after dark?
I think of immersing myself in the night as being like river or sea swimming. Some people plunge straight in, but I’ve always been very much a lower-myself-in-gently kind of guy. I would say go somewhere you know well and get there before twilight, to get used to and enjoy the changing light. It’s also an active time for wildlife, so a good time to be out. Also, though I did the bulk of the walks on my own, there’s no reason why you have to go it alone. In fact, one of the memories that burns brightest for me is seeing a ‘champagne fizz’ of shooting stars with my family. Megan Shersby
Scotland’s Isle of Coll has been designated as a Dark Sky Community.
Under the Stars Elliott & Thompson, £12.99