Summers in Grey Britain aren’t as hot and sunny as they used to be. Or are they?
Is it that the pattern of summer has changed or it just that our memory of the past is coloured by a good couple of weeks when we were on holiday as kids. Certainly the summer of 1976 was memorable for week after week of high temperatures and cloudless blue skies. And while I was in University the run up to the exams always seemed to be sweltering hot so we revised outdoors. But then when the family were younger we had many holidays camping in Cornwall or Pembrokeshire when it was so wet and grey that we came home earlier, unable to stick it for a full two weeks. I remember one summer camping between Tenby and Saundersfoot when we spent a couple of hours every other day in the launderette with wet clothes in the tumble dryer before finally giving in and throwing in the towel (literally and metaphorically). The end of our camping holidays was when the tent was destroyed by a gale in the middle of the night and we had to decamp to the car.
When it is sunny in GB it can be very pleasant. The problem is that it’s so unreliable and short-lived. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to be on holiday for the last 2 weeks will have had very good weather and will doubtless have long and fond memories of Summer 2012. But those on any holiday in any other two-week period before that would have nothing but wet and grey to look back on.
One twist in the memory thing is that more and more people fly to the sunshine for their holidays and so can’t help but make the comparison with that when they get back to Grey Britain. Certainly that is my experience having spent much of the last 3 summers in Greece. I remember the bits of the summer I have been in the UK as, well, ….. grey.
There does seem to be some hard data to draw on to make comparisons. Such as that June 2012 was the wettest on record. I wasn’t here in June but the grey and the wet continued well into July after I got home and so reinforced the perception that that is how it has been.
But enough rambling about meteorology and memory. What an amazing transformation over the last two weeks. The very Grey Britain I came back to from Greece has been transformed. Two weekends ago the sun came out and for a fortnight temperature were up in the mid 20’s and the sun shone from a near-cloudless sky every day. A touch of the Mediterranean. Very welcome and enjoyable.
The result has been the addition of colour everywhere. In the garden plants which had been basically green, admittedly an attractive fresh looking green, suddenly burst into flower.
In the Blue House (our large greenhouse which is …. blue) many of the cacti burst into flower as well. Thankfully that didn’t apply to the agaves which at 5-6 feet high can be expected to put up flower spikes up to 20 feet, a problem with a roof 15 feet at its highest.
I took full advantage of the weather to try to get the garden under control, aided by a new petrol strimmer which I bought to tackle the jungle at the bottom of the garden under what is grandly, if somewhat satirically, referred to as the ‘acer glade’, manured by chickens for 30 years and planted up with trees to prepare for when I’m too old and decrepit to look after it. Cutting it now means that the seed will have scattered ready to carpet it again next spring with aquilegia and foxgloves.
Then with a good bit of the work completed and feeling the need to get back into the mountains, I took an afternoon out and walked the ridge from Pontypool to Abergavenny. It’s the southernmost part of the Brecon Beacons National Park and begins a hundred or so metres from the house. One of the first things which struck me was the vast increase in the number of thistles in the fields and across the paths, in places so dense that they made walking uncomfortable. Last year’s thistles were allowed to seed and, after heavy rainfall for months, just add sunshine and they have sprouted profusely.
With cloudless blue sky there is often a temperature inversion trapping pollutants and reducing visibility but on Tuesday the visibility was as good as it gets. Once on the ridge-top there were clear views South across the Bristol Channel to Somerset and Devon, North East to the Mendips, North to the southern edge of Snowdonia and West to the higher peaks of the Brecon Beacons. A great walk at any time but particularly on an iconic summer’s Day. Amazingly, until I reached the Foxhunter car park where I met up with friends, I saw no-one for 3 hours. Probably everyone was in the shops or sitting in cars in traffic. I did however see skylarks, a group of kestrels which seemed to have deserted the mountain in recent years, and a buzzard hovering like the kestrels in the stiff breeze.
The good summer weather ended on Saturday with a sharp drop in temperatures and heavy showers. But there was one thing I have been intending doing for some time and I finally decided that now was the time before the weather deteriorated to the comprehensive grey and wet forecast from Tuesday onwards.
One of the features of mountain peaks in the UK is the ‘trig point’, a fixed triangulation reference for surveying. Traditionally they have been painted white but when the Ordnance Survey switched to doing its mapping entirely from satellite imagery their maintenance was dropped and they have been neglected, becoming just shabby grey concrete pillars.
The closest one to the house is at the top of Mynydd Garn Wen and I been up there on average once a week for the more than 30 years since we have lived here. That’s a lot of times. Just add sunshine and its shabbiness is even more pronounced. Known locally as ‘the white stone’ I decided it should be white once again. I have taken some strange things up mountains but never a 5-litre pot of paint and decorating equipment. I gave it a first coat of paint on Saturday and a second on Sunday. I think it looks better, gleaming in the bright sunshine.
On the way back down the mountain the sky turned black as another shower came through. Just add sunshine to rain and you get a rainbow.