Rather than ushering in the Mediterranean to the UK, climate change is bringing increasing greyness interspersed with ‘extreme weather events’. Gradual descent into winter in November used to be marked by a week of hard frosts, sometimes with temperatures lower than the rest of the winter. Not in recent years. It’s just been boringly uniform greyness with Covid-isolation, the slow-march to the Brexit guillotine, cronyism and incompetence in Number 10, and the blatherings and attempts to subvert democracy of Donald-the-Terrible (Loser) of the Disunited States of America, further darkening the gloom.
My way of easing the grey out of my brain is to get out into the fresh air and up the mountain behind the house. Even when the weather is wet, windy and overcast it’s very therapeutic. I do it most days. But few were as exhilarating as Friday 27 November.
I woke to cloudless sky and shagpile carpet of frost. No gardening in this. Great for going up the mountain. Leisurely breakfast. Checked e-mails and newsfeeds. Checked the conditions before changing to leave. Shock. Thick mist had filled the view. I could barely see across the lawn to the Blue House (40 feet) nevermind see the sky or across the valley.
I had seen these conditions before though not for a few years. A module on climatology and weather forecasting in university gave an inkling of what was going on. Even more excited now. I don’t always carry a camera when I go out but I packed my Canon EOS in a rucksack and pocketed my SX720. If this was going to be as good as I hoped I didn’t want to miss out. A brief pause to photograph frost-fringed leaves in the garden.
I strained my ears crossing the road to reach the farm track. The mist was so thick that ears gave more warning than eyes as the road is used as a rat run, cars rounding a blind bend and not bothering to slow from 60mph as they come into the 30 limit. I could barely see across the width of the Mon and Brecon Canal but as the track rose towards the farm at the top I knew I was right, blue sky appearing vaguely through the whispy top of the mist.
Climbing the field towards the ridge, the sun was breaking through, copper coloured beech and oak at the edge of the wood leading up to bright blue. Looking back the entire valley was filled with mist.
By the time I crossed the track halfway up the slope and into the next field the colours were intense, partly because the air was so clear but partly because eyes were dazzled coming out of the grey.
The Folly Tower was bathed in warm sunlight, the whole of the Vale of Usk to the east an undulating grey-white sea. In the far distance a pencil-thin black line marked the top of the western edge of the Wye Valley. The end of the ridge disappeared into the mist, marked only by a small clump of trees above Pontypool Park. To the South the entire the urban sprawl of Pontypool-Cwmbran-Newport was gone. Further south again, the Severn Estuary and beyond that England, where on a good day you can pick out individual fields, were lost.
I was soon joined by another guy who, like me, had anticipated the same phenomenon and taken his camera for a walk. We exchanged friendly banter about the relative merits of Canon and Nikon, reluctant to leave the ridge-top. Descending into the thick mist didn’t appeal , the temporary cure for SAD was too alluring and the warmth of mid-day winter sun intoxicating.
But eventually it had to be. The way back along ridge drops, heading towards the gloom. Looking back, the Folly Tower was still bathed in sunlight.
It was still clear to the west but the great sea of mist on the east was rising and as I dropped down further it swept over in a long tongue and started crossing a field on the other side of the ridge-top path. Within minutes I was in the grey.
I had watched the mist licking across the ridge-top but then, even more rapidly than it came, it disappeared and I was in the sunshine again. A brief but pleasant respite before I turned to drop steeply back down to the valley and the mist-shrouded house.
But at least I had got the grey out of my brain.