Coming in mid-June, days like those we have experienced this week – with clear blue skies and temperatures pushing towards 30C – would be pleasurable but unexceptional; materialising as September turns to October, they have felt like a bonus, lifting the spirits and broadening smiles. The return of summer heat makes up for the rather disappointing summer we’ve had in the northwest of England (indeed, the mercury has risen higher in these last few days than on almost any other day this year). Temperatures peaked at 30C (86F) in Yorkshire on Saturday October 1, making it not only the hottest October 1 recorded, but the third hottest day of 2011. The previous October record of 29.4C (85F) was set in Cambridgeshire in 1985.
It’s not just the heat of the days; unusually for this time of year we have been able to sit outside until well after dark, enjoying the late evening warmth. I suspect that memories of this week, and especially 1 October 2011, will remain vivid for most of us – illuminated in a golden glow of nostalgia in the way that periods of hot weather in the past so often are, in personal memories as well as literature.
I’ll remember the silent cool of a walk in Childwall Woods, the view of Bleaklow from Bottoms reservoir and the astonishing sight of the towers of Manchester shimmering in the heat haze at the highest point of a walk along the river Etherow, from its beginnings in Derbyshire down to Marple where it joins the Goyt and becomes the Mersey. I’ll remember returning that evening and eating on the patio as darkness fell, watching a mackerel sky rushing in a southerly jet stream far above. I’ll remember a barbecue with old friends on the first afternoon of October, cows sheltering from the heat in the field beyond the pine, and a bit of guerilla gardening – planting an ash by the roadside on Gorsty Hill.
These are the days when birds come back,
A very few, a bird or two,
To take a backward look.
These are the days when skies put on
The old, old sophistries of June, –
A blue and gold mistake.
Oh, fraud that cannot cheat the bee,
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief,
Till ranks of seeds their witness bear,
And softly through the altered air
Hurries a timid leaf!
Oh, sacrament of summer days,
Oh, last communion in the haze,
Permit a child to join,
Thy sacred emblems to partake,
Thy consecrated bread to break,
Taste thine immortal wine!
– Indian Summer, Emily Dickinson
As always, Paul Evans writes beautifully in his Country Diary in The Guardian today, recalling the magic and joy of those ‘big days’:
The big days burned themselves out. Startled by their own reflections, the days of burning sunshine, brilliant skies and hot still air, which somehow drifted here like fabulous but ephemeral creatures, turned and fled. Before they did, the heat built to a climate no one had felt this summer and certainly never known in October. People seemed possessed by a new spirit of holiday which rose against autumnal melancholy, played outdoors with children, walked with bounce and swagger, picnicked as rooks yelled into the dusk and roosted with the windows open. “If only we had more of this, if only … ”
Those days left behind them a morning of curious, silver-blue patterns like the wing marks of huge migrating butterflies in the sky and a diaphanous mist to veil the valleys. It was a strange leaving. The swallows had gone, the harvest was in, the season changed, yet some rogue dream of summer was left by those days …
Silence now, breeze in trees, leaves will fall.