Teme Valley Musings, July 2018

by Stephanie Mocroft

After our odd weather so far this year I don’t know what to make of this traditional July weather rhyme.

“St Swithun’s Day, if thou dost rain, for forty days it will remain;

St Swithun’s Day, if thou be fair, for forty days ‘twill rain nae mair.”

St Swithun’s Day is commemorated on July 15th. The man in question, who died in 862 AD, wished to be buried in the churchyard of Winchester minster where he had been the bishop. He chose a place where “the sweet rain of heaven might fall upon my grave”. At the bishop’s later canonisation the monks thought to honour him by moving his body inside the building, into a shrine in the cathedral choir. However legend has it that their efforts were delayed by forty days of rain, so presumably St Swithun preferred to stay in the churchyard! He was right to do so too, because his shrine did not survive the upheavals of the mediaeval period.

Many weather rhymes predict rain, perhaps because of the importance of timing farming work. In past times, as indeed now, the prospect of spending all day outdoors working in water-proofs is not to be relished. Here in the Teme valley the sound of the green woodpecker (also called a yaffle) is different when rain is on the way and low-flying geese are indicative of poor weather.

“If the goose honks high, fair weather, if the goose honks low, foul weather.”

This latter occurrence cleared up a mystery over my bird survey records. This concerns the Teme Valley Wildlife Group’s common bird survey which has been running for some years and to which I contribute records. My neighbour, who lives barely a stone’s-throw away from me, was surprised to see me recording three swans that I regularly saw fly over my garden. She had never seen them despite their flight-path being also over her garden. Well, down in the hop-yard I spied my three swans flying in the direction of my house and pointed them out to my co-workers. With much hilarity my co-workers noted that they were geese, not swans, explaining why my neighbour had never seen them and suggesting that I might need my eyes testing!

I’ll close with one more weather rhyme, appropriately supplied by a farmer,

When the wind is in the east, it’s good for neither man nor beast, when the wind is in the north,    the old folk should not venture forth, when the wind is in the south it blows the bait in the fishes’ mouth, when the wind is in the west, it is of all the winds the best.”