The other day I had a call from The World at One asking if I’d like to comment, from a tourism operator’s perspective, on the news issued by the Met Office, that 2012 was officially the wettest year on record. I replied that here in the Lake District we are not in the least intimidated by the prospect of rain, and it’s not long since that we were getting visitors from East Anglia who were coming just to be reminded what rain looked like. Rain is a part of our life here, we wouldn’t have any lakes without it, and it’s one of our great advantages that visitors aren’t at all disappointed when it happens. I was almost tempted, but managed to restrain myself, to use that old chestnut “liquid sunshine”.
But it turns out, (and why am I not surprised by this?) that the Met Office weren’t being entirely honest with us. 2012 was only the wettest year in the period since 1910, which is the period during which they have digitised records. In fact (as Paul Simons of The Times tells us), they have records going back to 1766, and if you go that far back 2012 was only the third wettest. The wettest was 1872. This information sent me scurrying to my gardening magazines from that time, to see what people at the time were saying. The ‘Cottage Gardener’ reported that “1872 has achieved the painful notoriety of being the wettest on record”. Well put, I thought. William Robinson’s “The Garden” calculated that 50,000,000,000 tons of rain had fallen, and their correspondent from the Lake District, Mr Isaac Fletcher, the MP for Cockermouth, wrote that “the amount recorded on the Stye – nearly 244 inches – is marvellous, and is greatly in excess of any previous record”. Robinson had published his book “The Subtropical Garden” in the previous year, which will be one reason why he is much better known now for “The Wild Garden”.
The truth is that there are huge variations in rainfall across England and the average of 33 inches in 2012 says nothing about the rainfall in any particular area. Here in Grange our yearly average is 40 inches, so if we were to get only 33 it would be comparatively dry. Just a few miles away in the central lakes, they get 120 inches a year – for them 33 inches would be a drought, and in Stye it would barely wet the surface.