Monthly Archives: August 2013

In praise of grey skies

I’ve never liked hot weather. It’s probably one of the reasons for my love of North Atlantic islands. It’s much easier to keep warm in cold weather than to keep cool in hot weather, and I don’t like having the shape of my days dictated by the need to stay out of the sun. (Rain is fine. You don’t survive a year in Iceland and three in West Cornwall without being relaxed about rain. It’s only water, won’t go deeper than skin, unlike sunshine which will give you sunburn and skin cancer as well as headaches, dehydration and unseemly clothes).

So I didn’t like the heatwave, and I greet the return of grey skies and cool breezes with much cheer, and the fervent hope that the rest of the summer will stay temperate. As temporary deprivation does, the hot interlude made me think how much I like our usual English climate. Part of my settling in Warwickshire has been to buy a bike – I hadn’t cycled since Iceland because Falmouth is full of steep hills and I just don’t hate myself that much. I bought it planning to cycle to work, the seven miles being too far to walk both ways and the buses being expensive and overcrowded, but I started by exploring some of the roads out of Leamington, and soon found a circular route that takes me along narrow back lanes through hamlets, fields and woodland. It’s not the kind of landscape I usually appreciate much, preferring my countryside bleaker and higher, but I’m beginning to see Warwickshire’s bucolic appeal. There are rolling hills, enough for variety but not exhausting for cyclists, a richness of tall trees, hedgerows and streams. I’ve always enjoyed taking the same routes every couple of days so that I learn to notice small changes, the growing and falling of leaves and flowers, the rise and fall of the water level, the progress of roadworks and house-building and especially the effect of different kinds of light and weather. For two weeks, I had to cycle early in the morning and even then it was too hot. The tarmac melted, I sweated, the sky was one shade of blue and the light was strong and unrelenting. Today was cool and damp. I could go fast without being red-faced and miserable, there were depths of grey and white in the sky and layers of water-colour perspective in the inclines of the land. Looking at England, I thought, teaches you to see subtleties invisible in more extreme climates.