The Summer of Mud

On April 1 it began raining and it continued raining until September. There were some good weeks throughout the spring and summer. The Jubilee Weekend in June was a washout, but anyone who watched the London Olympics knows that we had warm, sunny weather for most of those two weeks. By September it was declared that this was the wettest summer on record in England for over 100 years (or longer – it depends how you define “summer”).

This was our third summer in the Cotswolds. We moved here in May 2010. Our first summer was beautiful with hardly any rain, many warm sunny days and even some hot days. We moved here for the hiking and that first summer was a dream come true. Most days we packed a lunch and headed out on the endless footpaths. We hiked along rivers, through meadows, across farm fields. On hot days we walked in the woods.

That fall was nice and the winter mild. We kept hiking all year.

Cotswold Way at Edge
Beautiful day on the Cotswold Way above Edge

Our second summer, 2011, was also very good. Most Brits consider “summer” to be the school holidays which are in August. In 2011 we had great weather from May to July, but there was rain in August, so it was declared a “bad summer”. For us it was a pretty good summer, again with lots of hiking, lots of picnics.

In October we moved to our new house in Painswick and did even more hiking in the fall and winter because the weather was mild and several hiking trails start right from our house.

In spring 2012 we found out why we thought the weather was perfect in England – southern England had been in drought conditions for two years, the two years that we had been living here. Hosepipe bans were declared in the south east, warnings given for our area, the south west. Then, on April 1, after we arrived back from a short trip to the US and Canada, the rain started. Within a month the hosepipe bans were lifted. England was no longer in drought and the reservoirs were full.

I think it rained continuously in April, but I don’t really remember because I had a bad chest infection and was ill for most of the month. This was my body’s reaction to the change in weather. For the next months it rained a lot but we had a good warm week of sunshine each month. One week of glorious weather in England makes up for three weeks of overcast and rain, almost.

“Sitting in an english garden waiting for the sun.
If the sun don’t come, you get a tan
From standing in the english rain.”
I Am The Walrus, Beatles, 1967

We kept hiking, but trying to avoid the rain (detailed weather forecasts helped). One day while walking on the Cotswold Way near Haresfield we stopped to talk to a man from London who was doing the 100 walk from Chipping Campden to Bath. It had been a very wet week but he talked about the benefits of hiking in the rain – the fresh air, the beauty of the woods in rain, the soothing sound of the rain. It was a mind opening conversation for me.

Mud in July
Mud on the Cotswold Way near Cranham in July

Before we moved here, we came to the Cotswolds on vacation in spring for several years. We always hiked with rain gear and expected, and frequently got, downpours or drizzle.  For our first month living in England we kept up the old habits, always carrying rain jackets and backpack covers. Eventually we realized that it never rained, so we stowed away the rain gear. On the occasional wet days, we didn’t hike. Our rain jackets stayed in the back of the closet for two years!

But the wet weather had returned and we were pretending otherwise. It was time to adjust to the new reality. I found our rain jackets, rain trousers, backpack covers and we went back to hiking in the rain. The man from London was right, it was delightful.

Delightful until months of rain resulted in mud like I have never experienced before. We no longer avoided the rain, but we had to try to avoid the mud. Walking trails that are also bridle paths are bad because the horses chew up the trails making perfect conditions for rain to form puddles and mud. There is frequently a lot of mud at the entrance to a field of cows. For some reason the gates into a field are where the cows like to congregate and all those hooves create perfect conditions for mud.

You find the worst mud in fields of grain right after a rain storm. The dirt turns to a wet, concrete-like glue that attaches to your boots and splatters up your legs.

Mud in August
Walking from Winchcombe to Hailes Abbey

We had a friend visiting in August and took her on a short walk from Winchcombe to Hailes Abbey. Half way there, at the edge of a field of wheat, the rain started to pour down. We sheltered under a tree, had a nice conversation with a woman from Holland walking the opposite direction, waited for the storm to pass, and then continued our walk. The field was almost impossible to get through. Our boots where thick with mud. We were mud splattered and soaking wet. Winchcombe is a “Walkers are Welcome” town so after the walk I insisted we would be welcome in a tea room. I was wrong. The three of us stood dripping inside the tea room door, asking if there was a table, attracting a lot of attention – and they asked us to leave!

We had a different version of this experience years ago at The Bell in Sapperton, when we asked if we were too wet to come in and they said “Nonsense!” and pointed us to a table and a place to put our backpacks. Then they gave us a very good lunch. Maybe in Winchcombe they were at their wits end after a very wet summer and too many very wet walkers. Too bad, because what we really needed was tea and cake and a dry place to sit. We went back to the car, changed out of our boots, toweled off a bit and then went to another place where we had coffee and cake.

We ended up having a good walking summer after we realized that we had to adapt to the rain and mud. The cooler temperatures made the walking pleasant. We increased the number of days we walked and the lengths of our walks. We aren’t doing the 10 hour walking days that many people do on the long distance trails but two hours is our usual walk several days a week and we like to do a four to five hour walk once a week.

In August we booked a cottage on the Dorset coast two days ahead when we could see there was going to be a sunny week. We had a lovely week in Bridport and went swimming twice.

A warm, sunny Indian summer arrived in September just as we left for two and a half weeks in France, where we also had good weather. Towards the end of September, just before we got home, torrential rain hit with parts of England receiving a month’s worth of rain in a day. I had been hoping to return to dry footpaths, and maybe they did dry out in September, but the mud is back again.

Here’s hoping for a dry fall and mild winter. And fingers crossed for next summer!

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Pauline Kenny

Pauline Kenny and Steve Cohen are US expats living in Dorset. We moved to the UK in 2010. Read about our move. If you would like to talk about travel, please join us on the Slow Europe Travel Forums.

One thought on “The Summer of Mud”

  1. I saw a lot of mud on our hikes during our Sept/Oct visit, I must admit; maybe more mud than I’ve ever seen anywhere. For a while there, I thought there was a little rain cloud following us wherever we went. But like you, I do enjoy the “rain” experience as well as the dry side. Now I must get over my sore throat – probably my body reacting to the weather changes, too. Fingers crossed for a good fall and winter for you all, in your beautiful part of the world.

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