There’s a great in-joke that appears on Twitter around this time every year:
Q – How do you know when autumn has arrived?
A – When articles asking when autumn arrives arrive.
Guilty as charged. But, frankly, until very recently you’d have struggled to convince me that autumn was even aware that it was scheduled to return.
We just haven’t had those first refreshing blasts of coolness that you get on the hills in September. Quite the opposite, in fact, with various outdoorsy folk on social media instead remarking on the strange warm winds they’ve encountered.
I’ve certainly found hillwalking to be a sweaty, clammy business of late. Insects have kept on biting, flies have kept on annoying, and it’s been stiflingly stagnant to the extent that I’ve avoided my usual post-summer return to big hill walks.
It felt like a perpetual stifling summer
To be honest, feeling stifled and tired during the summer months is quite normal for me but I always console myself with the knowledge that it will end. The sun’s energy will diminish, the Atlantic will roar, and autumn’s first restorative breaths will be felt across the land.
The variability of our weather is usually an inconvenience and a constant source of conversation, but gawd, don’t you miss it when it’s gone?
But with high pressure never far away, and any Atlantic weather effectively blocked, it’s been weirdly warm, calm and dry for an absolute age. Daytime temperatures in the high teens or low twenties, night-time temperatures in the low to mid-teens, over and over again. The same benign weather, week in, week out.
The variability of our weather is usually an inconvenience and a constant source of conversation, but gawd, don’t you miss it when it’s gone? I dare say some folk haven’t missed it at all, but I’ve found the monotony unbearable.
I’ve therefore been on the lookout for signs. Any signs. Something to reassure me that we’re not stuck in a horrid, perpetual summer for all eternity.
Reports of snow have made me feel alive again
All I had until recently, aside from a half-hearted browning of the landscape, was the beautiful, crystal clear song of a robin, singing its heart out in our humid, overgrown garden. This time of year, robins re-establish their territories, and this one sounded all the more sweet for its incongruity.
In the absence of anything even vaguely resembling autumn, I clung onto that robin for all it’s worth. Nature reassuring me that change was coming, even if it wasn’t immediately apparent.
And change it has. Autumn has finally arrived. It’s wet, windy and cold outside… and it feels, smells and sounds wonderful. I deliberately went for a quick walk into the maelstrom just to be reminded what it’s like.
Eyes watering, nose running – it’s so nice to finally feel movement in the atmosphere after weeks of stifling stagnancy. But it’s actually only now that I realise just how much of a fog I’ve been walking around in for the last six weeks or so.
With snow reportedly having fallen on the high Cairngorms recently, too, this is easily the most alive and alert I’ve felt in weeks.
Solastalgia for Scotland’s distinct seasons
It’s certainly been a September unlike any I’ve experienced. There’s only been one morning when I’ve left the house in the morning and had that lovely cold exhale, seeing my breath in the golden morning light.
Single digit nights, usually experienced across at least two-thirds of the month where I stay at 900 feet, have been fleetingly rare. Indeed, on one bonkers night it was still 20C at 11pm. And, I promise you, that doesn’t even happen in the hottest July or August heatwaves where I am. That’s London weather.
It’s certainly not unusual to get warmth in September, but for it to have persisted for this long, especially at night, is disconcerting.
As is so often said, you can’t necessarily attribute any one particular event or anomaly to climate change, because extremes are to be expected in a dynamic climate system. Specific months or years will always buck the trend.
But, set against the inescapable backdrop of a warming trend in Scotland, and the fact that this year I’ve already recorded my second warmest June, warmest July and warmest August, I’ll admit I’m struggling to view anything in isolation any more.
I’m constantly disconcerted by this strange sensation of being in Scotland, but not being in Scotland.
Again it’s that feeling of “solastalgia” – a homesickness when at home. Because, beyond the science, the logic and the objectivity, beyond the weather station data and the graphs, sometimes you step outside and you don’t need any of those things to tell you what’s obvious. Sometimes it just feels wrong.
Ben Dolphin is an outdoors enthusiast, countryside ranger and former president of Ramblers Scotland