Tue 8 Mar 2011
The United Kingdom has a well earned reputation for bad weather. Unfortunately this reputation tends to give the impression that it is permanently raining here but, in truth, we have some incredibly warm and sunny weather at various times of the year. While the very south of England generally has the mildest temperatures and the least rainfall this does not mean that the rest of the UK is wet and cold. In fact, even in the Western Isles of Scotland, I have been known to be outside in little more than T-shirt and shorts (and I really feel the cold) in the middle of January. Admittedly this happens rarely but it highlights the point about Scottish weather in that it is “variable” to say the least.
It has been said, of various parts of Scotland, that you can experience all four seasons in a day. While it is common for people who say that the weather is cold to get a swift reply of “stick around it will change in a minute”, it is also true to say that if it is hot it could just as easily become very cold all of a sudden. If you are sunbathing on a warm beach the sudden drop in temperature can be an inconvenience , if you are hill walking or mountain climbing it could mean a life or death situation if you are not adequately prepared.
One of the main reasons why I am posting about the weather in Scotland is that I am sat inside on the Isle of Harris looking out across a stormy sea with the wind battering the house but I know that, even in a few hours, it will pass and we will see some better weather. In fact, even though it is very wet and windy, the sun is strong. Another reason I am posting about this is the above mentioned danger which, all too often, leads to death. Far too few people realise that it is extremely easy to find yourself in severe difficulty in the hills and mountains of Great Britain and this is extremely true of numerous places in Scotland. Possibly exaggerating the danger is the fact that Scotland has some rather vast expanses of wilderness and while this is exciting to explore it is also extremely dangerous if you are ill prepared.
Even when walking the glens in Scotland it is vital that you are prepared for all weathers! You should always were sturdy walking or hiking boots even if the terrain is not too rough you could easily find yourself with a broken ankle if wearing the wrong footware and imagine the discomfort of having to wait hours before you are found and taken to the relative comfort of the nearest hospital via an emergency helicopter. The truth is that the emergency services in Scotland are amazing but all too often they are wasting their time searching for, and rescuing , silly people who have set off on a walk in summer clothing as though they were taking a walk to the local corner shop. Even some experienced climbers have been caught out by sudden changes in weather and while most folk check the weather forecasts they can never, really, be relied upon 100% of the time.
Oh dear, I am beginning to make Scotland sound awful. This is, obviously, not the case but Scotland does have extreme weather conditions. In the winter the cold can kill but the summer also carries risks. Extreme weather in Scotland also includes the extremely hot and sunny kind. I’ve been in various places in Scotland where it has been the hottest place in Europe. Even Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis can hit well into the nineties in the summer and one year I was there it was indeed the hottest place in the whole of Europe, hotter than in Greece where there were many reports of people dying due to the extreme heat. While sunstroke, heat exhaustion and other heat related things such as sun-burn are distinctly possible in Scotland one of the greatest risks to life, especially with the middle aged and older, is swimming.
If it is extremely hot and sunny it can actually become rather uncomfortable. At such times many of us head to the seaside and take to swimming in the sea but again it is important to take precautions. Always wear a very high factor sun lotion/cream in Scotland as it is possible to get badly burnt even if it appears to be a rather dull day. If you are at the beach make sure the lotion is waterproof but even if it is you should apply it a few times throughout the day to be on the safe side. The numbers of cases of skin cancer continue to rise even though most of us know the risks you are still likely to see people without protection.
Another important point to always keep in mind when swimming is that fresh water will be much, much, colder than salt water. This is why I said earlier that swimming for the middle aged and older can be immensely dangerous. If it is an extremely hot day many people take a dip in water but if it is extremely hot and the water is fresh-water the shock to the body, from the sudden change in temperature, can be enough to bring on an immediate heart attack. Each year there are a number of deaths from people jumping into freshwater lakes on a hot day so please remember this very important fact and no matter how hot it is please ease yourself gently into that lovely loch you see before you!