August Bank Holiday, 2018. I was on holiday in Pembrokeshire, and it was raining.
In fact, it was pouring. Heavy, warm, diagonal rain.
We were staying a few minutes’ walk from one of Britain’s most beautiful beaches. We put on our waterproofs and took a stroll to the top of the cliff, where we could see the beach was empty except for about half a dozen young South Asian people, soaked to the skin, chasing each other madly in circles, wet hair flying, in joyful, carefree defiance of the weather.
When I talk to people about rethinking their holidays, I always hope they won’t bring up the weather. While Britain has many wonderful things to offer the traveller, reliably good weather isn’t one of them. So we have to adjust our expectations and prepare to enjoy our holiday in any weather. When it rains, we stay indoors or we get wet.
On the other hand, when the weather is good it feels like a gift. We remember for a long time the holidays where we had exceptional fine weather.
“When the weather is good it feels like a gift.”
Of course, when we go abroad, the weather is not guaranteed either. On a trip to Southern Italy in September a few years ago, we were caught in a thunderstorm. It stayed stormy, cold and wet for a few days. I was confident it would be hot, so I had only packed one warm jumper, and I couldn’t get it dry, which led to some shivery hours in our unheated hotel.
Our British summers are changing. The top ten warmest years in the UK since 1884 were all since 2002. Summer 2021 was warmer than average, (although it might not have felt like that to you, especially if you live in the South East, where it was also cloudier and wetter than usual). The Met Office expects us to see hotter and drier summers in the future, but with more intense summer downpours.
“Our British summers are changing. The weather in our favourite holiday destinations is changing too.”
The weather in our favourite holiday destinations is changing too. The world has only experienced one degree of warming so far, yet in 2021 Turkey, Greece and Italy suffered wildfires that destroyed homes and caused thousands of holiday-makers to be evacuated.
Less than two weeks later, heavy rain caused severe floods and mudslides in Turkey, killing 57 people. Meanwhile, a heat wave across Southern Europe and North Africa brought record temperatures, deaths, and power outages as people stayed at home and turned up the air conditioning. Andalusia, the Spanish region that is home to Torremolinos, Malaga and Marbella, recorded its hottest day ever in 2021, with a temperature of 47.2°C (almost 117°F). That’s not beach weather.
I suppose, while climate chaos reigns in parts of the world we love, we could just fly somewhere else on holiday. But since holidays are about feeling good, let’s instead stop making the problem worse, and be grateful for the changeable, but relatively mild, weather we still have here in the UK.
My August bank holiday in Wales ended, like so many wet days, with the rain clearing up. Sun shone again on glistening rocks and slate rooftops. We went for a walk through dripping woods, followed by tea and scones sitting at a damp picnic table. You see? It always turns out all right in the end.
Here are my tips for coping with British holiday weather.
If you can afford it, get some good-quality waterproof clothing. Nothing beats watching the rain form beads and run off a new jacket! And nothing is worse than feeling it run off to your legs and soak through your jeans. In winter, you might need waterproof trousers. In summer, quick-drying trousers or shorts will probably be enough.
Enjoy the compensations. An iffy weather forecast means quieter beaches, as the day trippers stay at home.
You can still go to the beach in the rain. You can still swim in the sea – but leave your clothes in a waterproof bag so you have something dry to change into afterwards.
Remember those positive weather words! Your holiday weather wasn’t disappointing; it was ‘bracing’, ‘refreshing’ or ‘exciting’.
Have some alternative activities up your sleeve. Traditionally this means board games and cards, both of which I hate. But I do like cooking, reading and sitting in steamed-up cafes. ‘Bad weather has its compensations,’ Nigella Lawson said, ‘most of them culinary.’
If you want to improve the odds, you can check the Met Office’s UK regional climate summaries. If you can, plan your holiday for when the weather is best. For example, if you are going to the West of Scotland, April, May and June are drier and sunnier than August (and also have fewer midges). If you can only take time off in August, then the South Coast is usually a good bet.
If you are planning an activity where the weather could put you in danger (say, climbing Ben Nevis) pay attention to the weather forecast. Otherwise, why torment yourself? If you just want to know if you are going to get wet in the next hour or so, checking the Met Office’s rain radar is more useful anyway.