We had some plans for today. Julie’s son was coming up from Hertfordshire with his girlfriend, and we were going to meet up with her other children, and all go out to eat in Norwich. The table was booked, and our spare room prepared for the overnight guests. Julie had made brownies as a treat, and for once, everything was well organised. It was going to be a family Sunday. We were not expecting particularly good weather. The TV forecast had mentioned heavy rain was possible, and there could also be strong winds, up to gale force. After so long with blue skies, and uncomfortable heat, it seemed rather cruel that nature should pick this weekend to shuffle the deck. Julie’s son had to turn back. The M25 was closed, the weather appalling, and the surface water was becoming too dangerous. With the prospect of local road closures, weather disruption, and the chance of being stranded somewhere, we decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and scrapped the whole thing.
Sure enough, within the hour, the sun had appeared. Blue skies and gusty winds blew away the rain, and we were left wondering if we had been too presumptuous with our cancellation. Either way, I had to take Ollie out, and we left for his walk in pleasant temperatures, and brightening conditions. I decided to wear a light coat, just in case. We had been informed by the weatherman, that these conditions were the result of catching the tail end of Hurricane Bertha, as it made its way across the Atlantic before fizzling out somewhere further north. I did a couple of tours of the meadow, and cheered by the warmth, decided to take Ollie across to Mill Lane, heading for the route behind the pig farm. I hadn’t got very far, when the sky darkened rapidly. Bertha had arrived. Perhaps she had gone for a look around north of Gressenhall, and decided she preferred the Beetley area. Whatever the reason, I suddenly found myself in the middle of a very unusual weather experience.
Once past the few houses, Mill Lane becomes a dirt track, shaded by large trees that meet overhead, and form a closed glade. Even in the brightest and warmest weather, this section of the path is usually dark and damp, and the ground always remains muddy. As I entered this, the sound of building wind became louder, and different to any I had ever heard before. In a moment, it was as dark as night, and all around me small branches, twigs, and leaves began to flutter down from the trees. They were caught in the strong winds, and began to swirl around just above ground level, as if they were trying to get back up into the trees that they had fallen from. Loud cracks advertised the falling of larger branches, which plopped down into the mud. And it was raining. Not just any rain, but hosepipe rain, coming at me horizontally, as if unseen Firemen were hosing me down. I didn’t really feel able to continue forward, or to turn for home. I had to close my eyes against the debris lashing my face, and within seconds, I was wet through to the skin. I wasn’t in the ‘eye of the storm’, I was directly in the storm. And it felt very strange.
I opened my eyes to check what Ollie was making of all this. The answer was that he was continuing as normal. Sniffing around up ahead, and trotting about as it it was just another day. I managed to pull up my thin hood, but that was soaked before it covered my head, and if anything, made me feel even wetter. I trudged on, shoes now black with water, and filling with mud and twigs, trying to remind myself that it was still August, and that this must soon pass. Once clear of the glade and into the open fields of battered blackcurrant bushes, the rain could really make its point. It lashed down with renewed fervour, causing me to turn sideways to avoid the worst effects. I contemplated going home, but Ollie had run off a few hundred yards ahead of me, to sniff at the rabbit burrows, so I carried on, hardly able to see for the water running down my head. And then it stopped.
In the blink of an eye, the sun was out again. It was bright and hot, and it was as if I had imagined the previous ten minutes. I started off once more, following Ollie, who had by then reached the plum orchards up ahead. Much of the fruit had been blown to the ground, and the stumpy plum trees looked buffeted and bruised. The hot sun could be felt on my back, and although I was still wet underneath, my thin coat began to dry out. I looked over to the south-west, and could clearly see the cloud that had passed over me. Low, black as pitch, and still swirling. It was accompanied by nearby thunder, and someone in the direction of Wendling was no doubt getting the same treatment I had recently received. I checked my watch, and realised that I had only been out for forty minutes. I had spent twenty of those minutes in the company of just the tail end of Hurricane Bertha, and it had been a far from pleasant encounter. I decided that Ollie needed to have his usual walk, so I carried on. The sand around the pig farm was damp, and reminded me of a beach as the tide comes in. The pigs showed no signs of being bothered by the storm. If anything, it had provided them with muddier than normal wallows, so they seemed content. I made it up as far as Gingerbread Corner, then turned to retrace my steps for home. Near the fruit farm, Ollie had other ideas. He spotted a rabbit, and took off along the rows of blackcurrant bushes, disappearing a few hundred yards inside the fields. I followed him up there, as I knew he would soon be back, looking for me.
Sure enough, he soon returned. But so did Bertha. A few raindrops, accompanied by darkening skies, and I knew she was back. I walked into some hedges lining the fields, and waited for the worst. Just heavy rain, and plenty of it. Ollie looked up at me, wondering why I wasn’t walking. This time, I was going to wait it out. After fifteen minutes that seemed like an hour, the rain stopped once again. In hot sun, I set off briskly, determined to get home before the next cycle began. We arrived back in warm evening sunshine, and a stiff breeze that made the leylandii hedges wave at us. I discarded my wet clothing, and gave Ollie a good dry with his towels. Julie made me a coffee, and resisted the urge to chuckle at my dishevelled appearance.
I had survived my walk with Bertha, and I sincerely hope that she never feels the need to return to Beetley.