Is it raining yet?

I originally published parts of this post on my old blog back in 2014. Our UK weather this year has been changeable to say the least; unusually wet back in May and early June, but then July came in blazing. I’m not a lover of the heat and as I write this, St Swithin’s day is likely to be sunny; everything is dry, and quality sleep becomes nigh impossible.  So, in hope of the return of cooler (and I wouldn’t say no to) damper weather, I thought it worth revisiting the topic and I’ve expanded on it a little …

I’ve been dipping into my lovely little book of weather lore to see what Robin Page has to say about St Swithin’s Day – I’m sure you all know the proverb:  One version goes like this…

St. Swithin’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St. Swithin’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ’twill rain nae mair.

Page says:

Even now farmers take this date very seriously, for a dry St Swithin’s can mean a less worrrying harvest. On our farm we certainly take notice of the weather on 15 July and view rain on that day with anxiety.  

St Swithun was Bishop of Winchester in the 9th Century. According to legend he asked to be buried where rain would fall on him, and was buried in the churchyard. Later though, his remains were brought into the cathedral, and he was said to be so angry it rained for forty days and they moved him back outside again! (Various versions of this story can be found in/on different sources.)

In The English Year – another lovely book on my shelves – a sort of almanac of folklore and traditions, it also suggests that St Swithin’s day was crucial to the apple crop.

You won’t have the jam made till the apples are christened … We never eat or cut apples until St Swithin has christened them.

However, the Met Office says it’s never been proven – since records began back in 1861 there have never been 40 consecutive dry or wet days starting on St Swithin’s day.  That’s fair enough, for forty days is a long time – however depending on where the jet stream lies apparently, it does tend to be either unsettled and damp or dry and settled so a predominance of rain or sunshine over the forty days is much more probable …

Back in 2009, David Nicholls published his huge bestseller One Day (reviewed here) in which the action takes place entirely on St Swithin’s Day – over twenty years – following Em and Dex. In an article in The Independent, when asked why he chose St Swithin’s Day, Nicholls replied:

The novel opens on graduation night, and 15th July is a plausible date for a graduation ceremony. I didn’t want a date that carried any weight, like 4th July or 14th February: 15th July felt suitably random,

But I also needed a date, which, when seen in a diary, might conjure up a memory for the protagonists. ‘St Swithin’s Day’ was to work as a kind of mental tag. I liked the mythology of St Swithin’s Day, which is really about our desire and inability to predict the future. Thematically that seemed right.

In the article, Nicholls also refers to Billy Bragg’s song St Swithin’s Day – listen to that here – it’s very melancholy…

Happy St. Swithin’s (or St Swithun’s) day!  


10 thoughts on “Is it raining yet?

  1. kimbofo says:

    Well, I think we’ve almost had 40 days in a row of temps in the high 20s already this summer! I do love warm weather but it’s wretched when there’s no air conditioned buildings to escape to. This summer feels a bit like the summers of my youth when air conditioning wasn’t available and we’d pray the temps hit 40C because that meant teachers couldn’t legally work in those conditions and we’d all be sent home!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      40! I can’t even imagine living in that. I am longing for those cool, clear, crisp autumn days already. I can’t stand the heat – 21C is about as high as I care to go, and I never even put the central heating on above 20C.

  2. heavenali says:

    I’m fascinated that farmers take notice of the weather on St. Swithin’s day, old superstitions and traditions die hard I suppose.
    I don’t mind the warmth, although I am more comfortable with temperatures at about 24° I’m not so happy when it gets to 28° or 29° which we have had days of. I hate the humidity though, I cope better when there isn’t the accompanying humidity. The building I work in is indescribably horrendous in this weather, and the days drag and all I can do is drink lots of water. I love being at the seaside in this weather, but unfortunately I am at work in Birmingham

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      Living by the seaside for a year and a half was the one redeeming feature for me during my first job in Great Yarmouth! As I said to Kim, the very low 20s are the max of comfortableness for me. Luckily, despite living in middle England too, although not quite as middle as Birmingham, my school has broken up – so I have a fan wherever I am at home, and a seaside break booked soon. (Sorry to rub it in!)

  3. A Life in Books says:

    Like Ali, humidity is the aspect of British heatwaves I find hardest to bear. I remember being in Jerome, Arizona when the temperature was 34 C and being amazed at how comfortable I felt compared with even high 20s in the UK.

  4. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    I hate the heat – I can’t remember every praying for rain more than I am at the moment. The only good thing about being at work is that when our office was extended a few years back we insisted on air con and got it. But there are only 5 days left at work and in some ways I’ll miss the office! 😀

  5. Jonathan says:

    I read the Roud book a few years ago, reading each entry on the relevant day. I liked reading about all the wonderful events from past and present. I don’t mind the heat that much but I agree it’s the humidity that gets to me. Luckily the humidity has been quite low recently, at least it has been here on the south coast.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      The Roud book is full of interesting stuff. I tend to dip into it when I need something specific.

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