By: Blonde Two

I am not an expert in this matter but, as far as I can tell, we are not currently experiencing an Indian summer. The weather down here in Devon has been ‘sunny with wind’, which is one of my favourite combinations and seems to be being appreciated by the few tourists that are still enjoying our fair shores.

To my mind, September in Devon is (like the months around Easter) one of those lottery months. The seaside and moors are near to belonging to us again (we don’t mind sharing during the summer) and, if we close our eyes and concentrate very hard, we might just get some remnants of summer weather in which to make the most of the relative peace and quiet.

The Met Office definition of ‘Indian Summer’ was first made in their Meteorological Glossary (I wonder if they have other types of glossary) in 1916 as ‘a warm, calm spell of weather occurring in autumn, especially in October and November.’ Whilst hoping that we get one, I have been doing some investigations into the meanings and origins of this intriguing phrase and meteorological phenomenon.

The warmest Indian summer temperatures ever recorded in the UK were in Gravesend (29.9 °C on October 1st 2011) and in Prestatyn (21.7 °C on November 4th 1946), so if you are planning an autumn getaway in the next few weeks, you might want to bear these locations in mind.

Indian summers were never about the Indian subcontinent, they refer instead to weather occurrences in North America. The term was first used around the 18th Century and refers to Native Americans. Although clear reasons for this choice of words appear to have eluded the weather vocabulary etymologists, suggestions include the possibility that Indian summers were more common in areas that were inhabited by Native Americans.

The term ‘Indian summer’ first appeared in American literature in 1778 where it was part of a description of how warmer weather appeared even after a time of first frost and snow. It grew in popular use and also became a metaphor for a time of happiness or bounty after a difficult time. It later became popular in the UK, where it all but replaced other terms such as ‘St Luke’s summer’ or ‘St Martin’s summer’, which referred to similar meteorological events (St Luke’s feast day is October 18th and St Martin’s is November 11th).

I found and liked this poem on the matter by Norman Nicholson, he is right about ‘brown October days’ but for today, I am off out to enjoy the Devon wind as it whips around summers’ remaining blue and white seaside skies.


St Luke’s Summer

The low sun leans across the slanting field,
And every blade of grass is striped with shine
And casts its shadow on the blade behind,
And dandelion clocks are held
Like small balloons of light above the ground.

Beside the trellis of the bowling green
The poppy shakes its pepper-box of seed;
Groundsel feathers flutter down;
Roses exhausted by the thrust of summer
Lose grip and fall; the wire is twined with weed.

The soul, too, has its brown October days —
The fancy run to seed and dry as stone,
Rags and wisps of words blown through the mind;
And yet, while dead leaves clog the eyes,
Never-predicted poetry is sown.

Norman Nicholson, Rock Face (1948).