17 JUNE 1972, Page 25

Country life

A day in the Dales

Peter Quince

It seems that we are in one of our periodic bouts of gloom about the English climate. For many weeks we have been invaded by Arctic air instead of the soft breezes we had expected during this portion of the calendar, and the chill has discouraged the growth of most things except a sense of brooding discontent. My neighbours stare morosely over their hedges and exchange portentous remarks about the times being out of joint. Evidently 1972, or the early part of it, is turning out to be the sort of year which stirred our ancestors to go out and build themselves an empire in hotter and sunnier parts of the globe. All the same, I echo only very faintly the prevailing complaints. I find the English climate perennially endearing, even when it is misbehaving in its own fashion; and I speak as one who has had his share of sunnier climates in his time. I concede that ours is pre-eminently a climate for the country and not for the town; what I like about it, subject to that proviso, is that it offers endless variety and drama, but all on a strictly manageable scale: no hurricanes, or tropical storms, or burning winds, or similar convulsions, but an endless succession of change and incident which (so long as I am in the right sort of place) suits me very well. I was visiting the Yorkshire Dales the other day, which is very much the right sort of place at this season. The morning began by being preternaturally clear and fresh. "Too cold for June" was the general view; but it seemed to me churlish to carp when the green hills and dark moors were flooded with such /brilliant light. Then, a little later, the blue sky was packed with spectacular, billowing white clouds, and the light across the valley switched on and off incessantly as they passed across the sun. After that a more dramatic change occurred. An enormous black cloud halffilled the sky — but really black, "black as a fire-back " in the local idiom. A storm built up before our eyes, in the most rapid and theatrical fashion. When it broke the downpour was terrific. The valley which had been as clear as glass was suddenly engulfed by a silvery deluge. Visibility shrank in an instant from many miles to only a few yards.

This kept up for some time and I had to make a journey by car. A boat would have seemed a more likely conveyance, the roads streamed and swirled so lavishly with flood water. All the little rills which pour off the hills (' becks ' as they are known in the Pennines) were swollen to starting proportions, and each trickle, which would normally pass quietly through a drainpipe beneath a lane, had become, in a matter of minutes, a roaring river which swept across the roadway.

Lightning, meanwhile, was playing about the hilltops. There was even an improbable moment when, cautiously proceeding across this scene of flood and downpour, I met a Land-Rover coming down into the dale from a high moorland road. The front of the vehicle had a thick layer of snow upon it. This in June! We saluted each other like mariners trying to ride out some terrific storm and crept upon our ways. And then the whole lot stopped, as if some cosmic master-switch had been thrown, and we were unbelievingly thrust back into brilliant sunshine, which glittered and flashed on the drenched landscape around us. Thereafter all was calmness and light. The day declined gently into a still and sunlit evening, and by nightfall the grotesquely swollen streams had already returned to something like their former size.

That evening everyone was grumbling more strenuously than ever about the weather, but I dare say most people had secretly enjoyed the neat, well-rounded natural drama of the day (as I certainly had). Most probably such a person as a Rhodesian settler, addicted to his incessant sunshine, would find this hard to believe: but there it is. At heart we like our fickle, swiftly-changing weather; we enjoy grumbling about it, too, of course, but that is really one of its incidental pleasures. We can never sink into complacency or take its character for granted. It is even possible that, by the time these words are printed, June will be showing its other face and we will all be complaining about the intolerable heat.