The English Hurricane: 20 years on

English people constantly talk about weather. It's in our makeup, our genes - we can't possibly walk past someone, even a total stranger, without saying something about it. We can't help it, no matter how much we realise that the person isn't that interested (or even doesn't speak English). We rattle on about too much rain, too little rain, too much sun, no sun, cold for the time of year, how warm it is. And to prove the point, this post is about weather and, no, I'm not going to apologise about it. By the way, we had a fantastic sunset in the secret valley a couple of days ago.
I think the reason we may behave like this is because English weather is nearly always gentle. The landscape that makes up England is beautiful and can be dramatic but not in the way of so many other countries. Take the USA, for example. Where's our Grand Canyon, our towering redwoods, our Rocky Mountains, our Great Plains and our Niagara Falls? We have them in miniature and, perhaps, that is just as well as we are such a small country. And likewise, our weather: we have heatwaves, we have floods, we have blizzards. But they are rarely anything truly spectacular (except to those poor people affected by them, of course). And so when we were told by the weather men in 1987 that reports of a hurricane were completely exaggerated, we believed them totally. And despite the fact that much of the country was hit hard by it when it arrived, my part of the Chiltern Hills where I lived at the time was not much affected, even though it is one of the most wooded parts of the country.
The night in January 1990 was different. This time we had winds, whilst not as severe as three years earlier, which created total havoc with the already weakened root systems of the trees. Great swathes of the magnificent beech woods that are the very heart and soul of the Chilterns were flattened in a couple of hours. (I am reminded by my partner, that as the rest of the world cowered in their beds as the trees came crashing down all around, I woke up to say "a bit windy out there" before falling asleep again). As dawn broke the true damage could be seen.

Fast forward twenty years to 2010 and the woodands are transformed. Those of us that remember the 200 year old beech know that the majority are gone and, in their place, are new trees of mixed species. It will be many years before the magnificence of the woods return but they are healing. This photo below is taken from the same spot as the one above. Some of the biggest old stumps have been left, too difficult to move - time has hardly changed their appearance apart from their 'roof' of mosses.

One of the unforeseen benefits of the hurricane is the increased amount of light reaching the woodland floor, for beech trees cast a dense shade where little can grow, other than where the canopy is lightest. Apart from the view to the valley below, which was unseen before, many wild flowers are better now than ever. Roll on April when we can see the blue carpet of tens of thousands of bluebells disappearing into the distance.

Oh! And I nearly forgot to say, the weather today is a mix of sunshine, cold winds, rain and sleet. Don't forget to tell the next person you meet!

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  1. I had not heard of Britain's Great Hurricane until two years ago while in London. I must have been there on the anniversary as that was all that was mentioned on the news. I had no idea of the destruction it cause.

  2. Dear Johnson, I remember the hurricane of 1987 [and the weather forcast by Michael Fish] so well and the feeling at the time that things would never be the same again. But, as you so clearly point out, the countryside has recovered and, whilst not the same, we do after all inhabit a changing world.

    I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the weather is one of the main topics of cyberspace, never mind the UK. That is global warming for you!

  3. Well, as a resident of the US, we certainly do have our share of severe weather. In Arizona, we have the heat and torrential summer rains. I have visited the UK in winter and summer and enjoyed the mild weather of both seasons. As for today, we have sunny skies and are expecting a high of 68 F.

  4. We have rain and cold here in North Florida, US....a bit miserable!

  5. I just finished the episode of The Private Life of Plants that begins with David Attenborough discussing the hurricane! I was flabberghasted that England suffered such meteorilogical catastrophes. I am currently examining the causes and celebrations of countries where gardening is more than a passing hobby, as it still appears to be here in Canada.... your discussion on weather is certainly something to be examined further in my study.... thanks for a thought inspiring post!

  6. True, the way nature makes way for other plans, she'll take away but always replace. Our devastating wildfires (California) are natures way of thinning the forest. It needs to be done and she will do it!

  7. It's true... The number of randoms at bus stops I've spoken to about the weather isn't even worth counting anymore!

    And if it's not the weather then it's moaning about buses, or the fact it's still dark, or it's a lovely sunrise/set... lol

  8. Thanks, everyone, for your comments.

    I'm not surprised, Jim, that you heard about the hurricane when you visited the UK. We're like elephants - we never forget. I heard on the wireless the other day them talking about England's worst avalanche disaster. Did it happen recently? No, 27th December 1836!

    The weather worldwide seems all over the place (pardon the pun). Too much snow in the US, not much snow in Vancouver. I had a message from a cousin out in Afghanistan - she tells me it is much milder there than it should be. A bit worrying, perhaps?

  9. I would like to think that Nature always knows best, so I don't mourn the passing of splendid trees, however old they were. If however, someone had come through with chainsaws and a paving machine, THAT would have been a great tragedy.

  10. Hi there,
    Wrote and tried to post a long comment w/my new wordpress login, but there's some confusion :(
    new site:
    (hopefully I'll get this straightened out soon)

  11. So that's why we are constantly talking about weather here too ~ we're simply showing our English roots. It is near impossible to go anywhere without someone mentioning the weather. During the winter, I try to avoid thinking or talking about it ~ dreading to hear that another 30 cm of snow is due or that the wind chill is down to -45c. As soon as spring has arrived, that changes and I become a weather watcher ~ for my garden, of course.

  12. Hello

    We have a non-commercial community website for the Greater Exmoor area at Would you allow us to take your article on Stoke Pero and add it to the the page where it would be a fine addition to the text already there. The contact form on the website will reach me.

    Best wishes


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