weather

Summer drought brought ghostly reminders of the past

One of the most interesting things that happened during this summer's unusual and prolonged heatwave in Britain and Ireland was the mysterious reappearance of historic gardens and buildings. Outlines of old houses and villages that had been lost and forgotten for centuries emerged and brought the past vividly to life, if only for a short few weeks. Why does this happen?

Apparently it's caused by the depth of soil, or lack of it. Parched grass in extreme temperatures dies off when there is less soil under it. A hard area, such as a wall or pathway, will show up as a brown scorch mark.

The lawn at Chatsworth in Derbyshire displays scorch marks of a 17th century parterre - (Photo: © Chatsworth House)

The lawn at Chatsworth in Derbyshire displays scorch marks of a 17th century parterre - (Photo: © Chatsworth House)

What was once a 17th century parterre, or formal garden, at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire reappeared and was photographed from above. In this first photo, the hard landscaped areas of Chatsworth's parterre are clearly visible in the modern lawn.

A 1699 illustration of the parterre garden at Chatsworth - (Photo: © Chatsworth House)

A 1699 illustration of the parterre garden at Chatsworth - (Photo: © Chatsworth House)

In the second photo, we can see the illustration of the formal design dated 1699 and it's obvious where the original paths belonging to this are still lying beneath the lawn today. The 1699 design was covered over when Lancelot 'Capability' Brown created his more natural landscape. I'm grateful to Chatsworth for allowing me to use their photos. They weren't certain whether scorch marks of this historic parterre had ever appeared before. 

 

The lost village of Edensor

What was also fascinating at Chatsworth was the reappearance of parts of the lost village of Edensor, which has only been seen a few times in the last two hundred years. The last time was an extremely dry summer in the 1940's. When a drone camera took photographs from the air during this summer's heat wave, outlines of the high street, a school and other buildings that had been demolished to make way for Capability Brown's new natural landscape in the 18th century were clearly visible. The new village of Edensor was completed in 1842. 

 

 

Prehistoric site discovered near Newgrange in Co. Meath, Ireland

Closer to home in Ireland, a 'giant henge' structure appeared on a tillage farm near historic Newgrange in Co. Meath. Drones photographed the outline of a prehistoric archaeological site approximately 200 metres in diameter. It's thought that this might have been built 500 years after Newgrange, which dates from 3,000 BC. The summer drought provided archaeologists a once in a life-time chance to discover outlines of important sites that we didn't even realise existed. 

 

 

More reading:

March roars like a lion

March has come in like a lion this year and, as I write, the wind is battering our house and hurtling rain at the windows. It's 10 degrees outside - an average temperature for this month in Ireland. 

 

Irish obsession with weather

Visitors often marvel at our Irish obsession with weather. I think it's the top national conversation because we get such variety and, if we had several weeks of snow, we'd soon tire of talking about it. The same with sunshine. A hot summer day is exciting in Ireland, usually ephemeral and always to be celebrated because there might not be another one for a week or a month. We just don't have the experience to handle days of endless snow or sunshine. No point in our local councils buying snow ploughs to use once every ten years and very few commercial horticultural growers or cereal farmers need to install field irrigation.

 

Personification of storms

Since the naming of storms became the norm (we share our storms with the UK), extreme weather events have been elevated to drama. Storm Brian sounded more engaging than a gale force wind. Ex-hurricane Ophelia became a viscous personality who prompted a Red Alert national emergency. She lashed our country last October, knocked trees and power lines, and ripped off roof slates. Storm Emma, a colleague of The Beast from the East, disabled our infrastructure when her winds blew snow into deep drifts that brought the country to a standstill.

Our dog sitting in a track left by a tractor wheel

Our dog sitting in a track left by a tractor wheel

Camaraderie and care

The Beast from the East stole in silently overnight and was at first beautiful, entertaining and fun. Children who hadn't seen snow since 2010, or who had never seen snow, were given a holiday from school and enjoyed snowball fights, built snow people and igloos. Our dogs loved it. We got a break from being busy and concentrated on caring for others, checked on older neighbours, helped to dig each other out and shared stories and cups of tea. Fortunately The Beast took no human lives. Our Met office and Government issued a curfew type warning for everyone to stay indoors during the worst Red Alert hours and it worked.

 

No unnecessary sandwiches

One thing we hadn't bargained for was a shortage of bread. Our local supermarket bread shelves were bare 24 hours before the first snowflake fell and buttermilk sold out (used in traditional homemade brown bread). One #snowjoke meme doing the rounds depicted a well known TV reporter warning us "not to make any unnecessary sandwiches."

Empty bread shelves before snow arrived

Empty bread shelves before snow arrived

Birds were victims of the Beast

The Beast from the East made life tough for our birds. Snow is easier on the little ones that can flock to garden feeders but thrushes and blackbirds had a hard time. Their less frequently seen cousins, the Fieldfares and Redwings, came closer to houses searching for food. 

I tried to revive this Redwing

I tried to revive this Redwing

I found this Redwing flopping about under a hedge and brought it into our house in an attempt to revive it. A friend who knows about rescuing birds advised me to put it in a cardboard box with air holes in a warm, dark place as this apparently helps it relax. Sadly, exposure to cold and lack of food proved fatal. I also came across a dead thrush on my dog walk later.

 

Snow drama on the front page

Everyone old enough to remember talked about 1987. Our neighbours remembered skating on frozen flooded land while I have vivid memories of 2010 when we actually had snow on Christmas Day and frozen water pipes in the stable yard for several weeks. We're so used to mild, wet Irish winters, it's no wonder serious snow made a front page story.

 

Hornbeam walk to stable yard

Hornbeam walk to stable yard