St Swithun's legend predicts more rain to come

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The Independent Online

After some of the soggiest weeks on record it would have taken little short of a miracle to get through St Swithun's day without recourse to an umbrella.

And yesterday - true to form for Britain's monsoon summer of 2007 - the heavens opened.

Many in the South-east awoke for the annual feast day dedicated to the former Bishop of Winchester, who is venerated for restoring a broken basket of eggs, to the sound of torrential rain and violent thunderstorms.

Worst affected was the South-west where 25mm of rain fell in a few minutes in parts of Devon.

Tens of thousands of revellers were left disappointed in Bristol after heavy downpours forced organisers to cancel the Ashton Court Festival where the former Blur frontman Damon Albarn was due to headline the two-day event with his band The Good the Bad and the Queen.

In Edenbridge, Kent, firefighters were called after lightning struck the roof of a house at around 6.30am.

The showers spread across the country bringing further unwanted rain to the North-east where thousands of people have already lost their homes to rising water levels this summer and where nine flood warnings are still in place on rivers in the region. However, Doncaster and Hull, where millions of pounds worth of property has been destroyed, escaped the worst of the weather.

According to the legend, a rainy 15 July means a washout can be expected for the rest of the summer: "St Swithun's day if thou dost rain, For forty days it will remain." Conversely a fine day foreshadows weeks of sunshine.

A spokesman for the Met Office dismissed the legend but warned the downpours were far from over. The culprit remains the Jet Stream which has drifted southwards bringing rain to Britain and unusually fine weather to Scandinavia.

Despite the mercury rising to 25C in Charlwood, Surrey, making it one of the hottest days of the year so far, temperatures were unspectacular and look set to remain so.

Meanwhile, new research showed that the wash-out summer was turning shoppers off seasonal salads and on to warming drinks. Sales of lettuces and tomatoes were down by as much as 20 per cent while soft fruits plunged by a third last month, according to market analysts Nielsen. In contrast, soup sales rose by 30 per cent compared with June 2006 while hot chocolate was up 26 per cent. Mineral water sales dropped 16 per cent while ice-cream was down a quarter.

Waitrose said its alcoholic drink sales over the past week were comparable to a typical January rather than July. Demand for whisky at the food chain rose by 14 per cent compared to the same week last year. Sales of "wintry" red wines were up 30 per cent year-on-year while demand for white wine slumped 15 per cent.

Weathering the summer

* LOSERS

Clothing retailers among the hardest hit as people stay wrapped up in winter woollies

Tens of thousands of barbecues have gone unsold

Sausage maker Cranswick blamed falling share price on barbecue and picnic wash out

Festival-goers have endured muddy conditions with some events cancelled and others drawing smaller than expected crowds

Ice-cream sales down by 25 per cent

* WINNERS

Waitrose reports sales of whisky comparable to Burns' night while red wine sales up 30 per cent

Thousands of families look for last-minute foreign holidays to escape the terrible summer

WH Smith reports robust trading as rainy days encourage book and magazine reading

Outdoor clothing specialist Blacks Leisure has lift in sales as shoppers seek waterproofs

Strong demand for electrical items and furniture

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