Reasons to be cheerful in the summer of 2012
I've seen so many glum faces in the past month. The unrelenting wet weather has been draining our good cheer: soaking our fetes and sports days, rotting strawberries, dousing brides and ruining concerts. Matches at Wimbledon have been ceaselessly interrupted. The forecast looks relentless. "The great British summertime, eh," is the remark on everyone's sarcastic lips.
At the risk of sounding irritatingly chirpy, it ain't that bad, you know. I grew up in stifling hot summers in the United States and trust me, you don't want them. They're sticky and uncomfortable, everything either melts or burns, and there's lots of fierce nature like mosquitoes and poison ivy.
Any mathematician will tell you that the bigger the cloud, the bigger the silver lining. There's a lot to enjoy in the Westcountry right now – it's just a question of adjusting one's perspective. Some things are better when wet, and here are some examples:
I had a friend who visited a mountainside temple in Japan. "What a pity it's raining," she said to her host. "No no, you have much luck," he protested. "Gardens more beautiful with mist." And so it was, once she got in a Zen mood – the fog played like a veil around the pagoda, and raindrops quivered on the needles of the bonsai trees.
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If there's a jewel in the crown of our Westcountry heritage, it's our gardens, large or small, formal or artsy. Wet weather has been bad for roses, but mother's milk to plants like irises, hostas, astilbes, dogwoods, and hydrangeas. Look for gardens with a bog or water feature, and instead of going to one you've already seen, check out the National Garden Scheme for new ideas near you.
Few sights in nature beat that of waves crashing against the rocks. With the rain lashing your face, it's even more dramatic – you just have to think Romantic. Re-read or watch The French Lieutenant's Woman and pace along the Cobb at Lyme Regis. Visit a lighthouse such as Pendeen or the Lizard in West Cornwall, or take a cliffside walk on the South West Coast Path. Sure, people are lying on their beaches in hot countries – but we're getting more exercise and less sunburn.
Strawberries are not the only fruit. Cool, wet weather is ideal for some other seasonal favourites: raspberries and currants red and black are all just starting their season. Rain swells the fruit, which dries off quickly because it hangs in the air. Get out the jam-pot and stock up the freezer from a farm shop or pick-your-own near you: try Trevaskis near Hayle, Chyreen near Truro, Pencarrow near Bodmin, Boyces near Exeter, Netherton near Newton Abbot, or Thomes near Crediton, to name a few.
You know there's a museum on your doorstep that you've never visited. The Westcountry has a wealth of fun and quirky collections with a tale to tell. Have you seen the Wurlitzer organ at Paul Corin's Magnificent Music Machines near Liskeard, a piece of the Berlin Wall at the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry Museum in Bodmin, medieval tunnels at Exeter's Underground Passages, or historic surfboards at Braunton's Museum of British Surfing? Well, why not?
Woodland is particularly captivating in the mist. Bring a camera and get close up to the delicate worts, mosses, and ferns that love the damp. Head for valleys like Lydford Gorge in Devon or Trebah gardens in Cornwall, whose steep sides will protect you from the wind, and whose leaf canopies will shelter you from showers.
Or get rugged up and head up high: Exmoor, Dartmoor, and Bodmin Moor have shed their brown shades for bright summer green. Check their visitor information for walks, exhibitions, and events.
"Rain makes the flowers grow," is what we tell the kids. It played a role in forging this beautiful region as well as that fabled national character.
Grab your sense of humour and a good raincoat, get out and enjoy it!