15th July has a rhyme: St Swithin’s Day, if it does rain; Full forty days, it will remain; St Swithin’s Day, if it be fair; For forty days, t’will rain no more.
Celebrated (or berated as the case may be!) on July 15th, weather sayings pertaining to St. Swithin’s Day are probably the most famous or infamous in the UK. St. Swithin died in 862 and was buried outside Winchester Cathedral so that he could ‘feel’ the raindrops when he was dead. However, when he was canonised a tomb was built inside the cathedral and July 15th 971 was the day his body was to be moved. Legend has it that a storm broke on that day ending a long dry spell. Not only that – it continued to rain on each of the subsequent 40 days. As a result the monks took it as a sign of ‘divine displeasure’ and` left his body where it was.
Since 1861 there have never been 40 dry or 40 wet days following a dry or wet St. Swithin’s Day. In fact, on average, about 20 wet days and 20 rain free days can be expected between July 15th and August 24th. The summers of 1983, 1989, 1990 and 1995 were, however, near misses. During these summers July 15th was dry over southern England, as were 38 of the following 40 days. As for wet weather, BBC Meteorologist Philip Eden presented a report that on 15th July 1985 it rained in Luton and then rained on 30 of the subsequent 40 days.
The creators of the St. Swithin’s Day sayings during the Middle Ages would be aware that summer weather patterns are usually quite well established by mid-July and will then tend to persist until late August. It is not just England though; similar sayings exist for the same time of year in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and France. If we modernise the sayings surrounding St. Swithin’s Day perhaps the sayings should be updated to read:
“St. Swithin’s Day, if it does rain, 40 days staying unsettled, St. Swithin’s Day, if it fair, 40 days staying settled.“
The heat continues to provide a challenge but at least the clouds are giving a suggestion of rain. As this week moves on more and more flowers come into full bloom.
Thursday May 22nd – As one looks at the crops, their first thought is how parched they seem, and wishes for rain. The weather is very dull and the sky looks full of storm clouds.
Friday May 23rd – At last the long looked for event has happened. We had a storm. It was fairly general, and did a lot of good. The flowers and trees have lost their parched look and seem fresh again.
Saturday May 24th – The day has been very hot and sultry, there being very little wind, rain wanted again very badly.
Sunday May 25th – Weather much colder, a gentle refreshing rain fell all day and did a great deal of good.
Monday May 26th – It still continues cold but fine. The Oak trees are in leaf and the Sycamore trees are in blossom.
Tuesday May 27th – Weather much warmer; I saw some beautiful Clover & Speedwell growing in a field, and a most gorgeous bed of Rhododendrons.
Wednesday May 28th – Weather about the same; Roses & Iris’s in flower.
Nellie’s Nature Diary Project is coming towards its end – just three more days to come. I wonder how the weather of our month of May will have compared to Nellie’s.
What Nellie is seing and commenting on this week are some changing weather conditions. Thursday is hot and windy while Sunday is dull with strong cold winds. On Wednesday she gives us her first extended description of two trees.
Thursday May 15th – Weather very hot, strong warm wind. Horse Chest Nut trees one mass of blossom.
Friday May 16th – Wind in the South-East, weather fine all day, but rained in the evening.
Saturday May 17th – Weather a trifle colder, rather a strong South East wind blowing. Tulips in flower.
Sunday May 18th – Weather rather dull, much inclined to rain, cold strong wind blowing.
Monday May 19th – Wind in the North-East; weather very fine. Elm trees are in full leaf.
Tuesday May 20th – Weather very fine; warm wind blowing. Everywhere seems lovely. The majority of flowers are in bloom, as though to welcome the Spring.
Wednesday May 21st – As I was walking today, I saw a huge Horse Chestnut tree covered with red blossom & by the side of it there was a Laburnum tree, one mass of yellow. I was greatly charmed by the beautiful contrast of colour there was also something more, beside the contrast of colour, there was such a difference in size. It seemed to me as though the Horse Chest Nut tree was put there to guard the Laburnum, it looked so strong and big.
Last week we had a couple of days with winds from the North with the rest coming from the South. This week the wind is coming from a warm southerly direction and nature, as a result, begins to respond as Nellie’s notes recall….
Thursday May 8th: South East wind. Fields one mass of gold, being covered with Cowslips.
Friday May 9th: Wind in the South. Horse Chestnut trees in full leaf and beginning to blossom.
Saturday May 10th: Warm south wind. Weather very fine. Pear trees in blossom.
Sunday May 11th: Very strong wind, weather warm. Cuckoo flowers & Clover in full flower.
Monday May 12th: Soft wind, weather fine but dull. Willow trees one mass of yellow catkins.
Tuesday May 13th: Weather very fine and warm, soft wind in the southern quarter.
Wednesday May 14th: Wind in the South East. Lilac and Laburnum in full flower.
Do you have a Nature or Weather Diary? If you have I’d love to ‘hear’ what it’s like in your location – and post the weather report on a blog. If you hav’nt got one – why not start one? I have started one and will post it this coming week-end – I hope!