Years ago, I remember lying on a Cornish hillside above grey tumbling seas with my sisters, staring up at sky making animals and faces out of the clouds. They would fade and reshape into something new and it kept us occupied for hours. The colours, depths, movements and layers of clouds can be so beautiful and magical, the light is reflected, scattered and coloured. The highest clouds – cirrus – just dust the blueness above us whereas the ones less high were like lightly torn cotton wool. However, it is the lower ones, which are I think are called cumulus or stratocumulus, which have many more imaginative possibilities as they are more deeply fluffy.
In fact, clouds are not really fluffy at all, instead being, far more prosaic, they are the visible suspension of condensed water droplets. There are general classifications and specific species of cloud, all of which are complex and diverse. I am not sure I fully understand their architecture, or all their names, and only can feel the complex updrafts and downdrafts which are created. I do know that the weather system sits within the climate systems and we are affecting both and then trying to survive the consequences.
Orange skies seen across here last week were a consequence of the wildfires currently burning 5,000 miles away on the West Coast of America.
The word cloud is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word “clud” meaning a hill or rock outcrop. Perhaps earlier ancestors also lay watching the clouds and thought that they looked like hills in the sky. Certainly, like us, our ancestors spent time trying to anticipate the weather, to read the signs and predict rain or sun. We still recite old proverbs such as “when the wind is out of the East, ’tis never good for man nor beast” which, in the UK reminds us that bitter weather can come across from the European and Russian land mass. Or “rain before 7, fine by 11” which may again be true as the weather tends to pass through.
Since weather forecasts are shared through a multitude of platforms, it is easy to keep googling until you find one which suits what you are looking for. At Highclere, where our events are often weather dependent, we have become very adept at rifling through the forecasts and luckily even the gloomiest predictions can often change a couple of days ahead. Equally addictive, in this country, is the shipping forecast on the radio each night even if we are tucked up safely inside hoping those on the ocean are adjusting their course accordingly.
Today at Highclere, after weeks of rather damp cloudy weather, it looks as if we have a few days of sunshine and blue skies ahead: a last hurrah of summer. In some ways, such days are not as interesting to photograph above the Castle as the days with clouds and their beauty is harder to capture as it can look slightly one dimensional. I have no idea if this is where the phrase” blue sky thinking” came from – apparently it is about meetings that are open to all creative ideas regardless of practical constraints. Certainly, at the moment, there are some practical constraints in that meetings are currently very difficult to hold and, personally, I find zoom slightly tiring and not necessarily conducive to creative ideas.
Equally, thoughts of seeing friends “out of the blue” is becoming more of a distant memory as social restrictions start to bite. Soon the autumn mists will start, suspending the Castle in the early mornings in a sea of flimsy white so that it almost seems to float at times – just as in the song from Les Miserables “There is a castle on a cloud. I like to go there in my sleep.”
More cheerfully, Winnie the Pooh was keen on clouds too: “How sweet to be a cloud. Floating in the blue!” I have a sneaking suspicion however that, like my dogs, this was possibly more about his endless search for snacks, in this case honey, than a real appreciation of the natural world.