Sunday, April 16, 2017

Rain - Melissa Harrison

Rain: Four Walks in English Weather, feels like an appropriate book to discuss over an Easter weekend where inevitably both will feature. My walking will be through a city and to work - but I'll still try and make the best of it.

After being blown away by 'At Hawthorn Time' a couple of years ago I've been interested in anything with Mellisa Harrison's name on it, 'Rain' had been sitting on my wish list for a while, basically waiting for the paperback. It was worth the wait.

It's a short book which (it's all in the title) takes four walks through the rain, one for each season, and uses them as a starting point to explore a whole range of things. It starts with Wicken Fen on a January day with discussion of flooding, peat, reclaimed land, the problems caused by drainage, and the diminished amount of proper fen left to us. After that it's Shropshire in April (a showery Easter weekend), the Darent Valley in an August thunder storm, and finally Dartmoor in an October mizzle.

There is also a moment (in the Wicken fen chapter if I remember correctly) when Harrison talks briefly about how difficult she finds it to read the agricultural (arable) landscape in winter. It's something I guess you'd have to be a farmer (and the right sort of farmer at that) to be able to do with any accuracy. It's economically done, a quiet reminder of how out of touch most of us are with where our food comes from, how exactly the landscapes we look at are being used, and of the increasing gap between producers and consumers - it also hints at the tension between farmers and heratige custodians.

The National Trust (who's badge is on this book) and the RSPB (to a lesser extent) are major landowners and landlords. It's not always a happy relationship with their tennents, and this is only one of dozens of tangential issues this book has me listing to explore further.

There's a list of 100 words concerning rain that comes after the epilogue, and is as good an illustration as any of the British preoccupation with the weather, and our reputation as a rain sodden nation. (Is this a particularly British thing? I'm used to thinking of it as our national stereotype, but when I think about it more it's hard to imagine anybody not being preoccupied by the weather.)

It's a book that covers a surprising amount given its modest length, providing plenty to contemplate from poetry, to the revelation that owls aren't very waterproof (the feathers that make their flight so silent get easily waterlogged, it's one reason why they need to nest in enclosed spaces), and wider environmental issues. All that and it encourages us to see the beauty in a rain washed landscape as well. Altogether recommended.


  1. When I could walk for any length of time I would always get dressed appropriately and take a long walk in rain, it feels so much more refreshing than in the sun. I shall put this book on my TBR list, thank you.

  2. I like walking through a light rain, I'll be honest and say I could skip the whole thing in a proper downpour though. One of the things I really miss about living in open country side is being able to watch the weather move across the landscape - I really love being able to do that.

  3. I have just bought this too! I have read both Hawthorn Time and Clay, and thought both wonderful. Really looking forward to Rain after reading your review.

    1. I really enjoyed it, I haven't read Clay yet, but really should get hold of it as I've enjoyed everything else so much.