Drip, drip, hooray for the great British summer

If you think the weather is bad, spare a thought for the soggy residents of the Elms Caravan and Camping Park in Epping Forest. The torrents of the past 48 hours proved too much for some tent-dwellers, and for the campsite's owner, Terry Farr, the downpours were another setback in a grim season.

Heavy rain began pouring down at 4.30am yesterday and continued for two hours. "I heard the wind wake everybody up so I went down to the campsite to check on the tents," said Mr Farr, 64. "Everybody was fine but there was a Dutch bloke whose tent had collapsed in the rain. Poor lad, he went home this morning."

The English summer, which had until now been sticky and humid, took a turn for the worse, as a fast-moving rain-sodden front moved in from the south and drenched everything in its path.

In Devon and Cornwall, more than 25mm of rain fell in a couple of hours, while in Northern Ireland, 50mm came down, the equivalent of half the month's average rainfall – unseasonal even by the standards of British summers.

To Mr Farr, who has run his picturesque campsite in the heart of Epping Forest, Essex, for the past seven years, the skies' unpredictability causes him to contemplate abolishing his tents altogether. "At this time of year we should be chock-full, but look at it. The motor homes and caravans are doing all right but bookings for tents are virtually non-existent."

On the gently sloping field in front of him a motley collection of damp fabric homes billowed in the wind – hardly a full house.

By late afternoon yesterday the Environment Agency had issued nine flood warnings following forecasters' predictions of further rain to come, evoking memories of last summer's floods which left thousands without a home for months.

In Northern Ireland yesterday three teenagers were rescued from the Mourne Mountains when their campsite became flooded. On the way back off the mountain they were pinned down by a swollen river and had to call for assistance.

Ed Kilgore, chairman of Mourne Rescue Service, said: "When they tried to make their way back down the way they had gone up, they were blocked by a river that was so badly swollen they could not get across. If they had decided to try and get across the river it could have been nasty."

In Looe, Cornwall, a driver had a lucky escape when a mudslide engulfed his van yesterday morning. Lee Provost, 29, a builder, saw a passer-by leap for his life to escape an avalanche of earth moments before it crushed his Volkswagen van. "It's unbelievable," he said. "I suppose I will have to get a new van."

Forecasters said that the unseasonable weather was expected to continue over the next few days although the downpours should be less heavy than in the past 48 hours. The Met Office said the current wet weather was caused by a low pressure system moving uncharacteristically quickly northwards, an unusual meteorological phenomenon for this time of year.

A mixture of rain and sunshine is expected today with more prolonged wet weather over the weekend.

All par for the course for the Cooper family, who had driven 250 miles from Cumbria to The Elms campsite, with a sizeable collection of soft toys in the back window, to spend nine days in a tent.

"At least it's not raining now," says 11-year-old Beth, the youngest of the Coopers' three daughters. "In the Isle of Wight and Cornwall it was really wet," says her father, David, who takes his family camping at least twice a year: "Oh, we're used to it. We have an electrical hook-up. It means we have light, heat and a fresh bottle of milk in the morning, which makes camping a lot more comfortable."

Four-day forecast

Today

Heavy rainfall expected throughout most of the country. Those in the west of Scotland and on the southern coast will see the worst of the weather.

Tomorrow

Rain will continue in the south, but it is expected to be slightly drier in the north of England and Scotland. The Midlands is expected to escape the rain too.

Friday

Similar to Thursday, but wetter again in Scotland.

Saturday

Heavy rain and wind is again expected in the south of England.

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