Walking home today after a frankly dispiriting and depressing birthday (you know it’s not going to be a special day when the post arrives with several bills and no cards, not inspiring and it was downhill from there – should have stayed in bed and waited for the day to go away), passing the trees in the playground of a nearby school and more examples of how the bizarre weather is affecting plants: blossom petals appearing on the trees.
These would normally be a March to April sight, but although we’ve been battered by gale-force storms repeatedly this month and lashing rain and floods, and despite those driving winds being bitingly cold, the actual ambient temperature has been way above what we would normally have in Scotland at this time of year. When I was home last week dad pointed out shoots of Daffodils pushing through the earth in the garden, this week I see spring blossoms in December. Strange weather, lately…
Out with my dad a few days ago, one of those days where we had bright sunlight, rain, hail and more all within minutes of one another. May make the weather unpredictable for going out but it also means constantly changing quality of light, something I rather love in Scotland, it makes even scenes you’ve seen many times before look different. We had driven up and over the Campsie Hills (a range of extinct volcanoes a little north of Glasgow) and coming down the far side towards Fintry we pulled over to watch a band of sun and rain move along the hills and mountains in the north. Above you can clearly see Ben Lomond, the most southerly of the Scottish Munros – a Munro is a mountain over 3000 feet and hill walkers and climbers who try to do all of them and tick them off are known as Munro Baggers – which is in the Trossachs and Loch Lomond National Park, still snowcapped as you can see even in late April, caught here in shafts of sunlight from gaps in the cloud while dark curtains of rain flicker over the other summits nearby.
You can see huge areas such as the foreground in deep gloomy shadows from the heavy clouds overhead, some of the peaks in the distance being hammered with rain, others basking in sun (we watched the sun and rain move along the whole range in a few minutes), if you click on the pics to go the larger images on the Woolamaloo Flickr you can even see some smaller, lower clouds floating around below the actual peaks themselves. All this landscape beauty is just a short drive from Scotland’s largest city – it’s one of the reasons I love living in Scotland, even in the middle of a city you are never far from our landscape. Here where I live in Edinburgh I can catch glimpses of the Pentland Hills from the middle of town, or views down to the might river Forth and the hills of Fife on the other side. Best of both worlds.
Down to Portobello this afternoon with my mate and his dog to let him have a run around off the leash on the beach (the dog, not my friend), only to find what was a cold wind in the city centre of Edinburgh was a howling gale coming right off the North Sea at Porty, whipping the waves up into big foaming gray peaks and slamming right into the sea wall so hard they splashed right up the side, across the Esplanade and hit the wall of the structure on the other side. That was when we decided to walk around the block at the worst bit 🙂 Pictures are a bit fuzzy, the wind was so high my camera lens, glasses and my face were all getting whipped by flying sand granules and salt spray, had to clean them repeatedly but within minutes they just got covered with a film of it again.
…Raindrops pooling along the brim and then dripping off of your nice Panama hat you put on to keep the summer sun from your face as you went on a walk of several miles along the beach…
Of course, being Scotland it was still sunny as it rained. Another thing you don’t want to see, raindrops running off the dark lenses of your sunglasses.
And add in a a t-shirt that was now two-tone, darker on the front where it was soaked and sticking to me (yes, ladies, you missed Joe’s Wet T-Shirt Beach-a-thon, try to contain your disappointment or your lunch, depending on your point of view or inclination) and still the normal on the back where it was dry. Still being summer the rain was reasonably warm. And when the sun came back out again the rain made all of the plants glisten as if covered in diamonds.
Ferocious storm in a nearby river or stream swollen from rain? Nope, this is right outside my work in a sudden huge deluge a few days ago, enormous droplets bouncing off the pavement, turning the road into a river so quickly that cars going past caused a wave which washed right up over the pavements to the edge of the buildings. Then hailstones, thunder and lightning. Ah, Bonnie Scotland in the summer! Didn’t last long, but while it did it was torrential. Later on when it was simply drizzling I passed a couple of Canadian girls (you can tell them my their maple leaf flags almost all Cannucks stitch to their backpacks when touring abroad so people don’t mistake them for Americans), poor souls over for a summer trip in light tops, shorts and flip-flops walking through the puddles while I had my trusty John Steed style umbrella. Not as summery but much more practical for the Scottish weather.
There’s a definite feeling of change in the air, the wheeling of the seasons. We’ve had an early taste of winter as cold winds blow up the Forth, driving rain so that you have to constantly angle your umbrella sideways rather than above you. When we have had sunlit days they have been different; the sun is bright, the sky a glorious blue, but you can feel summer’s last breath slipping away and autumn ascending the sky. The glowing sun (when it does shine) no longer burns as it did only a few weeks ago; already its light is becoming stretched out, the glare of summer replaced by a far softer, golden light. The quality of sunlight turns to amber and copper at this time of year in our little northern kingdom; as the leaves begin to turn, losing their greenery they too take on a coppery-red sheen.
Most canopies are still green but each bough already bears yellowing leaves; in a few weeks more the green trees swaying in the breeze will wear crowns of vermillion which glow in the golden sunlight of autumn, a final hurrah before the winds blow the leaves loose and the trees take on their bear, skeletal winter form. Although the winter here to grants beauty – devoid of their rich, lush leaves the bare branches are the perfect canvas for nature to paint upon with glittering frost. There’s always something beautiful to look at in any season if you eyes know how to look.
So once more we move into the “seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness2 and true to the old poem the autumnal mists are already rising in Edinburgh as the warmth of the autumn day meets the cool evening. Castle Rock is wrapped in soft, grey velvet as the sun sets in the west; as the lights are lit their glow is diffused, like distant suns shining in a faraway nebula. Everything becomes softer; the sharp outlines of jagged volcanic rock on Arthur’s Seat (where Hutton, entranced with the sculpted stone of nature gave birth to geology) become blurred and dissolve like a dream.
You can easily imagine Hogg’s Justified Sinner (surely a parent to both Jekyll and Hyde) with his internal torments atop that extinct volcano, just as you can imagine the muffled footsteps you hear in the wynds and ways could be those of Burke and Hare carrying another body for Knox through the misty streets of the Old Town. On such evenings in Edinburgh you could almost believe that the mists will momentarily part on a dark evening and you’ll catch sight of Deacon Brodie leading his double life or the gawkit gait of Stevenson in his velvet coat, his wan complexion reflecting the light above a favoured tavern, the moisture on the sandstone blocks shimmering like stars.
Windy, windy weather and sudden rain squalls after our little burst of sunny weather. The blossoms on the trees near my flat and on Princes Street are falling as the leaves grow out. A small shower of white and pink petals covering the pavement in random floral patterns. Tonight as I came home the wind caught the fallen blossoms and whipped them up into the air. They arced up and around me, spiralling, diving, soaring – it was if the fallen petals were dancing for me, a last little burst of joy in their brief lives, spreading colour and perfume through the air. Think on the dancing polythene bag caught in an updraft in American Beauty and you can get close to the idea. A tiny moment of dynamic and ephemeral beauty in the fading evening sunlight.
What is going on? It is Scotland, it is spring and we have had consistently nice weather for weeks. This is not natural. Today parts of Scotland were 25 degrees C. That’s hotter than Spain, Italy and Greece are right now, which considering they are just across the Mediterranean from Africa and we’re between Norway and Iceland is a little odd.
I was this close to digging out the shorts early this year. In the end I left them (okay I have no idea where I put them after last summer). There were more than enough incredibly pale Celtic limbs on display without my blue-white skin being exposed too. There are vampires in the Carpathians who have deeper tans that Scottish folk. Still my pale skin creates vitamin D more efficiently than folk with tanned skin, so at least I’ll never have rickets. Plus my skin will not resemble an old leather pouch by the time I am 50. Must lay in my supply of sun cream, SPF 100 (specially made for those of a Celtic disposition who can be sunburnt by camera flash guns).