Why does it always rain on us?
In parts of Scotland, it has rained every day for almost two months. Mark Hughes finds out how Kirkcudbright has coped with a summer of biblical weather conditions
Saturday 12 September 2009
Helen Kirk grimaced as she recalled last month's Kirkcudbright Tattoo. The highlight of the tiny Scottish town's summer festivities is usually defined by its firework display and snaking pipe band procession along the main street. This year it was memorable for a depressing reason: the rain, a torrential downpour that saturated the kilted pipers, dampened the bangers, and deterred the crowds.
"Usually you have about 5,000 people coming to watch the Tattoo," she explained. "But this year there were 1,000. It was a bit of a wash-out."
This sorry and soggy tale has been mirrored across Scotland, particularly along the west coast, as the country has suffered one of its wettest summers in history.
Argyll and Bute, normally the wettest part of the UK in the summer, held that unwanted title again last month. It saw more than double its average rainfall – 332.6mm compared with 160.3mm – as did Selkirk, Renfrewshire and Stirlingshire. A landslide of 600 tonnes of mud and rubble closed a road in Argyll for two days earlier this week. In contrast, the driest part of the UK was Suffolk, which had 22.5mm of rain last month. Some parts of Scotland saw more in a day.
Dumfries and Galloway, where Kirkcudbright can be found, saw its wettest August since records began in 1914 – 289.7mm of rain fell last month, more than double the long-term August average of 108.3mm.
Forecasters say the Scottish coast has bore the brunt of slow-moving storms making their way across the Atlantic and "queuing up" along the west of the country. Ms Kirk, who works in the Kirkcudbright information centre, says it has had a telling impact on tourism.
"It has cost us visitors because people come here to see the harbour and the countryside. When it is raining they want to see indoor attractions and there are only so many of them here. A lot of people who had planned to spend a week or two were coming for a day and then leaving. I've been here for six weeks and it has rained heavily. and constantly. It makes my job difficult because it's hard to sell the place to visitors when it is constantly raining."
Perhaps the most miserable tale has been on the Isle of Skye where the St Swithin's Day myth came true. Folklore says that should it rain on 15 July – St Swithin's Day – it will not stop for 40 days and 40 nights. In Lusa, a region of Skye, it did. Rain has fallen every day since.
It could be labelled a storm of biblical proportions, but actually it is worse than that. In the Christian tale of Noah and his Ark, God punished the world with rain for 40 days and 40 nights. But Skye passed the 40-day mark on 24 August and continued until Wednesday this week – a total of 56 days of repeated rain.
David MacDonald, the director of the Armadale Castle Gardens museum in the Isle of Skye, said: "Skye is a beautiful place no matter what the weather, but, of course, we would have liked a little bit of sun rather than constant rain. We are hoping now that the wet weather is finally over and we get a bit of a bright spell before the end of the season."
That too is the hope in Kirkcudbright. Sitting outside their caravan at Silvercraigs Holiday Park, Christine and Sam Downey were enjoying a rare day of blue sky and sunshine.
The pair live in nearby Dumfries, but spend summer weekends at their mobile home every year. Sam, 60, said: "This year has been terrible. We are lucky because we only live half an hour away and can just go home when the rain has been really bad. I feel most sorry for the ones who had their holidays booked in advance. It can't have been much fun."
His wife Christine, 58, added: "I've come here for five or six years and the weather is the worst I can recall. It's worse for the kids. They can't really do anything outside when it rains – and I get stuck looking after them."
Holidays are not the only thing being ruined by the weather. Stephen McPherson, 42, and his fiancée Clare Mort, 41, own a farm 10 miles along the coast in Southerness.
Mr McPherson's cereal and potato crop yields will be much smaller. "I would say the rain will mean that I am approximately 20 per cent down on my anticipated profit," he said. "The problem is that the soil is so wet you cannot operate heavy machinery on it so you have to wait until it dries out. In that time the crops become water-damaged and water-damaged crops do not sell for as much.
"I have a small amount of livestock, but farmers who rely on animals will be suffering too. When it rains you have to bring the animals in and feed them. That costs more than if you can leave them outside eating grass."
Ms Mort added: "It has been absolutely miserable. The place has been so quiet over the summer months. Usually there is a lot going on, but this year it has been dead. You just see people running from caravan to caravan, trying to stay out of the rain.
"We are hoping for a good September and October to lengthen the summer. It won't really help us salvage what we have lost in terms of business, but at least it will cheer everyone up."
Not everyone is that downhearted. David and Lynette Groves came from Lincolnshire to holiday in Kirkcudbright. Mr Groves said: "It has rained a bit, but you just get on with it, don't you? I've still had an excellent time, the people are friendly, the wildlife is great and the scenery is cracking. And, let's face it, no one comes to Scotland for the weather."
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