As a child I had an awareness of types of wind – hurricanes and tornadoes. Of course I did live in the south of England where even snow was something of a myth so I possibly only believed in them as fairy tale weather conditions which whipped girls with red shoes and their dog away to a land of yellow brick roads…
I do recall the Great Storm of 1987. I remember snuggling down in my bed listening to the wind outside my bedroom window. I never quite knew what it was that made the noise – perhaps a loose gutter or rattling washing line? But it always sounded to me like a plastic yoghurt pot being shaken around a sink whenever it was windy outside. When I woke the next morning there were two trees down in our garden – one a cherry tree which had beautiful blossom in spring and red leaves in autumn, the other a large conifer which was in the corner of the garden and had a void underneath between the lower branches and the wall. My brother and I would play underneath and call it our ‘camp’.
The whole of the south of England was in turmoil, roads were closed, trees were down all over the place, cars had been squashed by fallen trees, building damages, sheds blown away, roofs blown off. Whole caravan parks had been decimated, a nearby block of flats had had the roof and whole top floor taken off, the sea had flooded the coast road, fences were down between neighbours, farm animals were crazed by the wind, zoos had lost animals escaped into the wild, birds were grounded dazed and unable to fly. As a 13 year old I confess to being mostly concerned with the fact that my school had sustained damage and was declared closed for 2 weeks. It was my first personal experience of disruption and chaos at the hands of Mother Nature.
Over the years there would probably be one instance a year on average of weather creating upheaval in my life – I remember a 20 mile drive to work which usually took 40 minutes turning into a 3 hour epic adventure when an unexpected snowfall and frost created black ice on ungritted roads, floods closing a whole section of roads for weeks, high winds blowing a roof tile onto the front windscreen of our car, a fence panel blowing down, snow causing panic buying of bread and milk in the local supermarket. But really the weather stayed outside and other than travel disruption we remained largely unaffected by the elements.
It’s a very different story now. We are dependant on the rain and sun for our crops, at the mercy of the temperature for our livestock to thrive, reliant on sunshine or breezes to keep the midges at bay, in need of sun and wind for our power, rain to fall to keep the river flowing for our water. We exist courtesy of nature these days and as such need both the generosity of the elements as well as a measure of reticence from extremes. Except of course in the north west of the highlands of Scotland, on an exposed and open hillside, in a coastal location there is very little in the way of half measures, it’s pretty much all or nothing. 20 hours of daylight in the summer, 6 (if you’re lucky) in the winter, one of the rainiest places in the UK with not much in the way of snow or frost but a fine line in hail, wind, almost constant wind, gales at every equinox, rainbows an almost daily sight.
Here in the highlands you can dry your clothes outside year round, there is always enough wind to make up for the lack of warm temperatures. I think we have had a ferry cancelled due to winds or tidal swell caused by winds every single month this year. There is not a single thing safe to leave untethered in the winds from sheds to full water butts to animals houses. Polytunnels are ripped to shreds, if you live within falling distance of a tree you lie awake listening to it creaking. This is a place of extremes, of living close to nature and knowing full well what the weather is capable of. Bridges are closed, high sided vehicles are stranded, everyone knows about wind speeds and directions as has apps on their phone and websites bookmarked to tell them the long and short term weather forecast by the hour, not just the day.
For us here in our caravan the wind is almost like a fifth person living with us. We make allowances and adjustments. We take down the clock, secure things on shelves, know which things rattle and which windows can be opened in different conditions. We know that sometimes the log burner will rage and burn thanks to the draft, sometimes if the direction is a little different then we can almost give up on getting it lit as all that will happen is smoke will billow back into the room. We know the walls will flex and shake, the roof will rattle and slam, the straps will vibrate and sing. We know when the wind turbine needs to be tied up and the caravan door locked to secure it. In our first winter we kept an emergency bag packed ready for evacuation, we had a plan with all four of us fully briefed, torches at the ready, responsibilities for various duties dished out in the event of something happening. Friends in the village were ready to offer us floor space for the night should we need it and friends on the mainland were poised to hear from us with news that we’d made it though another storm.
These days we tend to stick it out. I can’t deny my heart races a little, Ady obsessively checks the wind speed forecasts, I reassure him it will be fine, Davies and Scarlett seem largely oblivious and will probably feel strange one day when they live in a house where the walls don’t shake at anything over a 35mph gust of wind. Sleep eludes us when the wind is really fierce, both due to the sheer noise of the caravan, the roof and walls, the straps, the trees outside, the grass moving, the geese every so often getting spooked and all 10 of them honking at once. We have developed something of a que sera sera attitude to it all these days, knowing we can prepare but not change things and we really just need to cross our fingers and hope that this storm is not the one which finally spells the end of our adventure here as we know it.
Tomorrow Abigail arrives, much heralded by the press, the pre-storm winds are howling around outside already as I sit here typing and across the Highlands there are already tales of power cuts and phone signal outages, pretty much every Calmac ferry is on amber alert for tomorrow and while my mantra remains ‘it’ll be fine’ deep down I am hoping just as hard as everyone else that I am right and it will be.