Summer 2008 part 2:
Wild thunderstorms and wild food!


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It's now mid-August and most of the way through the second rather poor summer in a row. Not incredibly wet as such (remember last years' floods?) and not incredibly cold either but rather breezy most of the time - too rough to get out to sea on our 16ft Dory most days -  which is a bit frustrating to say the least! It's been the kind of summer where you get on with other stuff and hope for an Indian Summer in September!

Photogenic thunderstorms occurred on July 29th when I last spent a whole afternoon/evening out with the cameras. There were more on August 12th but these were nowhere nearly as impressive. Fishing has involved the occasional snatched day out, maybe once a week or even a fortnight at times!

Onto July 29th. A major thundery outbreak coincided for once with good visibility, tremendous precipable water in atmospheric soundings and the risk of getting stuck in flash-flooding. With all of that in mind, and with the rainfall radar showing storms moving up Cardigan Bay, I set off for the coast at Borth.....

Sunny borth beach with thunderstorm beyond

Here's the view upon arrival. A beautiful sunny day was about to take a different turn. The storm was  moving along a N-S line of activity which was itself slowly edging eastwards (the view is looking south-west), so one of these cells would doubtless reach the beach in due course. Lightning could be seen striking the sea a couple of miles away.....

heavy thundery showers, borth beach new cells started to drop rain to the south of this mature one.

thundery shower, borth

Getting closer! The thunder was becoming a bit noisy now! The people in the sea seemed unaware of the hazard though. It is a general rule of thumb in thunderstorm lore that if you can hear thunder, you are at risk of getting struck. If you can hear fairly loud thunder, you should always seek shelter. I was OK in the Faraday Cage of my jeep, except when popping out to take a quick pic!

majestic thunderstorm over Borth

The line had now moved much closer to land, and this developing cell took on a striking appearance (if you will forgive the pun). It very quickly intensified and became electrically active....

thunderstorm approaches borth

....with this being my parting shot, grabbed quickly with my digital compact. Soon I would lose visibility as the torrential rain started to move in. Time to head inland....

convection brewing up over the mountains

...where I was greeted by further intense convection to my SE. To my west, the storms over Borth were now crossing the Tarrenhendre ridge. Thunder boomed from side to side of the Dyfi Valley. I love the sound of thunder in the mountains - it is quite different to the sound over flat areas due to the echoes from the mountainsides.....

heavy showers break out over cadair idris

A pause in the precipitation on the line to my west but strong convection was ongoing as exemplified by the hard, dark cloudbase. Before too long precip-shafts could be seen falling over the Corris area. Cadair Idris forms the backdrop.

heavy shower over the dyfi valley

In due course a heavy and again thundery rainstorm was in progress. This was the last intense one of the day and after it had passed it was time for a pint back in Machynlleth!

distant gust front at borth

August 12th was one of several thundery days around mid-month: however most of the activity was in England and southernmost Wales. The 12th did produce a cell with a nice gust-front on it.....

gust-front approaches, borth

....although not comparable in quality to the July 29th activity!

gust-front passing, borth

A shot of it passing over. Nowhere near as dramatic as the one I caught in April at this same spot!

distant thunderstorms from pwllheli

On the 14th, I decided to have a day off fishing. Thunder was again forecast for S England and southernmost Wales. This time I saw the storms - from Pwllheli! Thunderheads can be seen from many tens of miles away because the cloud-tops are so high.

So - onto fishing. Why go fishing at all?

Fishing, Aberystwyth Stone Jetty

I hope this image shows why, if not the one below! Good company, fresh air, beautiful scenery and food as fresh as possible from the sea. This was taken on the Stone Jetty at Aberystwyth, where I took my friend Bryony for an evening's mackerel fishing - she caught her first fish and was delighted!

fresh-caught mackerel

This haul of over 100 mackerel (later split between the three of us who own the boat) was taken on the one day recently that we were able to get out afloat. Fresh mackerel are quite delicious - unbeatable really. The old wives' tale that mackerel eat sewage is a bit wide of the mark - they are a fast, streamlined predator that will eat any small fish they can catch. They work in huge shoals to round up whitebait and sandeels and then set about them with murderous ferocity - that's why people use shiny lures to catch them, as when in a feeding frenzy they will snap at anything that looks remotely like a small fish.

Grilled, barbecued or smoked the flavour is amazing. I also freeze down a few dozen for winter bait as bits of mackerel will catch other fish in their season, such as whiting. Nothing gets wasted!

Porth Iago on the Lleyn Peninsula

As the weather deteriorated, the only fishing has been during the occasional 12-hour window when winds died away and it was dry. Visits to favourite bits of rocky coast were then in order - this is Porth Iago on the N coast of the Lleyn Peninsula. This spot is good when the tide is coming in as a riptide forms between the rocks here and the small island. But on my last trip the rough weather had scattered the mackerel shoals and I had to work hard to catch just a few.... luckily there was a compensation on the way home:

chanterelles the form of the first chanterelles of the year. If you get to know your edible mushrooms (and very importantly, learn to distinguish them from the poisonous ones), there are some great feasts to be had. I found these in some woods not far from Dolgellau.....


.....and these!

chanterelles and mackerel

So the day's catch was enough for a tremendous feast for two. Grilled mackerel (with peppered butter), chanterelles and runner beans (from my friend's garden) with fried onion in white wine & cream, and organic new potatoes - fit for a king indeed! The contents of this bucket had all been eaten just a couple of hours later!

So - will we see any really summery weather this year? That's the question everyone is asking. My gut feeling is that pattern-changes always occur sooner or later - look how the 1976 drought suddenly ended on the August bank holiday! So it's not a case of if, but when. Hopefully within a week or so!!


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