'One lightning bolt exploded beside the church. It looked as though the Almighty had scored an own goal'

By five o'clock, the heat and humidity had built up to a barely tolerable level. Clouds had been gathering all afternoon; the sky had grown dark, the air was thick as fog, and thunder grumbled on the southern horizon. But where was the rain for which grass, fields, gardens, animals and humans were croaking?

Unable to stand the suspense any longer, I set off for a walk wearing only a T-shirt, swimming shorts and trainers. My hope was that the mere act of going out so ill-protected might bring on a storm - and before I had progressed a couple of hundred yards, the first scattered drops were falling.

As I passed the cottage on the bend of the lane, David, the owner, threw open a window and called, only half in jest, "Would you like an umbrella?"

"No thanks," I replied. "I've come out for an al fresco shower."

Hardly had I spoken, when hot lumps of water the size of marbles began to splatter down. I turned up my face to the downpour, rejoicing in the sudden release from drought. I felt that life was returning to earth from the sky and I understood why, in Africa, chimpanzees dance when they sense the approach of rain.

In a few moments, however, the deluge turned cold. With my clothes soaked through, water began running down off my fingers as though a tap had been turned on at each elbow. No matter, I thought: all I need do is walk fast and keep warm.

Up a steep grass bank, the formula worked fine; but at the top I was hit by the full force of a gale. Up there the rain was not merely torrential, but horizontal, too. If I had jumped into the stream, I would not have been any wetter. Rapidly curtailing my plans for a wider circuit, I cut back right-handed for the top of the wood.

Crash by crash, the thunder built up. Again and again the clouds were split by stabs of lightning. I counted the seconds between flash and bang: five, then four, then three. The storm seemed to have multiple heads and soon they were all round me.

My feelings about lightning fluctuate. Sometimes I think that if one is going to be struck, one is going to be struck, and that is it. Nevertheless, there is no point in taking unnecessary risks. By then the water had turned me into a mobile lightning conductor, and things had become so violent that I took care neither to touch the barbed wire as I crossed a fence, nor to linger under tall trees.

At the bottom edge of the wood, fantastic scenes greeted me. The sky was inky, the valley blotted-out by sweeping curtains of rain. Down through them, one after another, right to ground level, shot jagged white shafts of lightning.

Crackles of electrical discharge were instantly followed by thunder cannonades. One bolt blazed down perilously close to our house, below me to the right. Then, straight beyond it, a still fiercer one exploded with an earth-shaking crash right on, or beside, the church. It looked dreadfully as if the Almighty had scored an own goal.

As the storm rumbled away towards the north-east, I squelched back to base. Safely home, but leaving a trail of water behind me across the floors, I found the power off and rang David to see if he, too, had a cut. He had - but he was too excited to worry.

"That big bolt," he said. "We've never seen anything like it. It hit a tree just above the church - blew it to bits."

Inspection showed that he did not exaggerate. A 100ft cedar, on the upper edge of the churchyard, had been split straight down the middle as if by a celestial axe. One side of the trunk had burst into substantial pieces, some of which had been thrown 100 yards up the field.

The power of that one explosion was terrifying - and in the past half- hour hundreds like it had rolled over us. Later I heard that a horse and two ponies had been killed by lightning just along the hill.

The stricken tree was dangerously unstable: it had to be felled - and some job that proved. The expert who did it reckoned that the trunk alone weighed 20 tons, and he counted 157 growth rings at its base. This meant that the cedar must have started life in 1838 or maybe 1837, the year Queen Victoria came to the throne.

Looking back over the events of the evening, I see that I could have chosen a safer moment at which to go for a stroll.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
News
Details of the self-cleaning coating were published last night in the journal Science
science
News
Approved Food sell products past their sell-by dates at discounted prices
i100
News
Life-changing: Simone de Beauvoir in 1947, two years before she wrote 'The Second Sex', credited as the starting point of second wave feminism
peopleHer seminal feminist polemic, The Second Sex, has been published in short-form to mark International Women's Day
News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable