So here I am, back home. While the rest of the UK has baked in record temperatures and relentless sunshine, my little corner of Scotland has remained cool and green. Driving north is like stepping back a few weeks in time; the tired greens of the trees perk up, the crisp brown lawns turn green, and the wildflowers rewind. The crops, being harvested at the beginning of my journey, are barely turning golden. Sometimes, if I travel up and down enough, I can end up with two springs, or two autumns.
Waking to cool grey daylight after two weeks of heat comes as a bit of a shock. Stepping out into a damp, foggy morning is like walking into middle of a pearl - a gentle luminescent glow as the sun tries to penetrate the mist. (Hmm - that image leaves me as the grit in the oyster - ah well!) As I drive inland to work the mist thins, becoming a fairly bright and sunny day.
It’s been a feature of this area as long as I can remember. Waking to the bull roar of the foghorn, leaving home in dank dimness, only to find that ten miles inland has been basking in sunshine. It’s the haar. The sea fog. It lies along this coast like a grey veil for most of the summer.
So why do we have the dubious privilege of this phenomenon?
When the air gets warmed up by the sun, as happens in the summer, it can hold a lot more moisture. When this is suddenly cooled, the moisture condenses out. Pass warm air over a cool surface such as the sea, and this happens; and the North Sea is cold. Believe me, I’ve been in it, it’s cold.
So fog forms. Add an on-shore breeze, and the fog is pushed inland, covering town and countryside indiscriminately. Now although the land is warmer, and this clears the fog, the breeze pushes more inland to take over - where I used to live, you could watch it ebbing and flowing like the tide, making its way up the fields, sneaking along the hedges until it was beaten back by the land’s warmth. So there’s a band of land along the coast that stays foggy. With a stronger breeze, or if the land is cooler, it can travel a long way inland, tracing cold clammy fingers up the rivers and glens.
Sometimes the sun is strong enough to warm the land; it burns through and the haar clears. Sometimes it doesn’t, and we spend our days in a strange shadowless brightness.
And the name? Haar - I’m not sure where it comes from. The word has a Scandinavian feel to it. South of the border, it’s called a sea fret, and locally in Yorkshire a sea roak. (Bird-watching one day at the seashore, someone commented that there was a sea roak. After a short while, a visiting birder enquired what was the difference between that and a normal rook….)
It’s a feature of the east coast, and is why the land stays greener, and the inhabitants paler, than elsewhere. And why we shout at the radio, when the newsreader talks of heat-waves.