Posted by: anthropologyinthewind | February 10, 2013

The Winds that Blow

I’ve been living here since September 2012 and finally, last Monday, we had a windy day. I knew it was going to be windy because all through the night the wind had whipped around my little house, blowing in through all the nooks and crannies. I heard it whistling through the keyholes, screaming through my ventilation shafts, moaning outside my window, banging on the doors and rattling the letterbox. I could feel it moving inside the walls and under the floor, and I could see it fidgeting with the curtains and rippling the water in the toilet bowl. I was looking forward to experiencing the effects of the wind outside in the daytime, but, as it happened, the wind had managed to disconnect my power supply and I spent the day shivering indoors awaiting an engineer, looking through the window at the sheep across the road as they attempted to find shelter from the weather in their exposed field.

Sheep seeking shelter

I was disappointed not to be out of doors because I’m fascinated by the influence that wind has upon ways of life. It’s such an everyday experience that we often disregard it in its ordinariness, and yet the wind is an integral part of life on earth, and its effects are legion. From the breath in our lungs to the physical form of the land, from the settlements we live in to the transport systems we design, from the practical to the frivolous, the wind unavoidably informs the shape of our lives.

The wind and the world mutually influence each other’s development, caught up in a relationship which facilitates a continual dialogue of power and resistance, adaptation and compromise. In an article entitled ‘Earth, sky, wind and weather’ (2007), Tim Ingold depicts this idea of wind and world developing together beautifully in this simple sentence:

“Every tree, in the arc of its trunk and the twisting of its branches, bears testimony to the currents of wind in which it grew.”

Wind-grown tree above Thurso

We see in our sensitivity to the shifting wind, and our ability to respond to the constant changes it wroughts in our environment, as indicated in subtle adaptations such as the loudness of our voice, our altered gait, or the side of the street we decide to walk upon, that this common experience of power and resistance is one that is familiar to us all.

And yet I know I’m missing so much: the wind must affect agriculture and building, sports and hobbies…even housework: my windows are filthy after all that wind! I’d love to know how the wind affects your life or livelihood…do you have particular techniques to mitigate the impact of the wind? Or perhaps you harness the wind for your own advantage? Please contact me, either using the comments section below, or privately, using the contact form, to tell me your stories of the wind.

Washing blowing in the wind

I suppose that, over time, people become accustomed with the nuances and rhythms of a familiar place, learning to orient themselves and their activities in relation to it. This, of course, includes the winds that blow there. Having spoken with a few Caithness old-timers about this meteorological familiarity with place, there seems to be a general consensus that Caithness is less windy than it used to be. The past decade in particular, I have been told, has been especially lacking in wind. Prior to this, gale force winds were a more common occurrence during the long winter. Nowadays, gales are remarkable: they stand out in people’s memories. For example, everyone I’ve asked about it since I arrived here seems to remember the winds of December 2010 – what are your memories of it? Have you noticed the dwindling of the Caithness winds? Where do you think the winds have gone?

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Responses

  1. A great post Lou, really got me thinking about the wind where I live and how it does affect my choices. Just little ones really, like if I get the bus and it’s really windy I walk a different route home because it’s more sheltered by houses. Once it was so windy the lid blew off my shed and landed in a neighbour’s garden a few doors down. Now that could have been lethal! And I’ve sometimes seen wheelie bins drifting down my road on their bellies. On a positive note it’s a great place to live for drying washing outside x

  2. Thanks Jolene – it’s astounding how much the wind influences life when you really think about it – we just forget to notice it most of the time unless it’s blowing a gale!

  3. I love the Caithness breeze…..and surreptitiously I managed a few years ago to find a wee house that sits on a southward wind tunnel…blowing straight at my front door!! It blows in smells and scents and clears the air, throwing hail,rain and gusts into my life….refreshing and reminding!! Having come from down the line, each southerly gust makes me smile…it is the wind that blew me all the way up here!! It’s the wind that will keep me reminded that this is where I love and where ill stay …..

  4. I never tire of getting on with life in the winds of Caithness. Being of small stature it sometimes means getting round on foot is especially hazardous but it all adds to my love of our weather. And having to feed the animals in all weathers leaves no choice but to go out in gales. I have a favourite corner near where I live that challenges me to get round it every time there’s a hoolie. I used to attempt using brollies when I was a teen and folk would laugh at me for my vanity but many broken brollies later I opted for hats. Thanks for your blog, glad I found it.

  5. indeed. Contrary to predictions by “climate scientists”… Storminess in northern scotland is on the decrease not increasing.

    http://www.northisles-weather.co.uk/weather/FI_2007_Binder.pdf

  6. Very true my dear x

  7. I remember back in January (must’ve been about January, 1998) in John O’ Groats, such a fierce wind; definenelty of hurricane force !! Our next door neighbours 6 berth caravan was completely blown over (obviously somer-saulted !) a massive (at least 30 foot long by 10 foot tall) hedge and landed on it’s roof. My husband went out the next morning to try and help out our neighbour ! He went into the caravn and found a “potato masher” from the kitchen, completely imbedded into the top of the wee fridge !! Also plates were stuck in the “walls” of the caravan, almost like frisbees !!

  8. Thanks Jane – I love the idea of the winds carrying things into your life, particularly smells, which are such evocative things in themselves.

  9. Thanks Ostaras – I’m glad you like the blog. Although I don’t have animals, I do love having tasks that force me outside in bad weather – it’s always far more enjoyable being outside than I think its going to be when I’m watching the weather from the comfort of the living room.

  10. Knitting queen, you’ve got me thinking about whether or not wind is on the decrease all around the world or whether the winds that used to blow so strongly here have somehow moved along…

  11. Oh my word! I wonder if vulnerability to the wind is a consideration in insurance quotes, in the same way that flood risks are?

  12. isobel, THAT is interesting. Storm systems like that, hurricanes, extra-tropical cyclones and tornadoes can act like a big tesla coil producing strange anomalies and field effects produced by the energy of the storm system.

    See an article about Casimir force here..
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1559579/Physicists-have-solved-mystery-of-levitation.html

    After tornadoes and hurricanes you often see strange photos of cars balanced atop wooden fences, cars impaled by standing trees, pieces of straw and wood through standing trees, large lorries picked up and placed into fields unharmed several meters away, cars turned upside down and placed directly back on their tops in the same parking space with untouched cars either side of it and levitation of all sorts of objects not caused by wind strength alone amongst other anomalies which seem to defy common sense.

    Anthro, well, it seems the central belt of Scotland is experiencing increased storminess which may just be a function of changing behaviour of the jet stream and where it is pushing the storms.

  13. anthro, to your questions of caithness specific ways of how people “deal” with wind. Buildings you’ll notice largely have steep pitched gable roofs, hip roofs or often I notice council built buildings have salt box roofs which cope with high winds better. I do believe if you look at the planning guides for caithness and sutherland you’ll see they recommend the steep pitches as all most other buildings have them. They look at it from an aesthetics point of view though than for their true purpose which is structurally they cope with high winds better. Also, notice most buildings/houses have no eaves or very short eaves. All designed to avoid uplift from the wind as these are the most vulnerable areas of the roof. Any local builder will tell you that roof strappings are essential here! Generally, these are S-shaped metal straps that hold the roof rafters to the walls.

    If you go back in time in Caithness, you’ll see that turf and thatch was used more often then slates on roofs and my guess is not only was this a cheap and practical solution but, the weight of these held the roof down better than the skimpy tiles they use these days which seem to fly off with great regularity. In Orkney where it is even windier, it was common to use flagstone tiles on the roof which are incredibly heavy. I also marvel at the brochs which were round and aerodynamic. Even the burial cairns reflect these aerodynamic shapes.

    There are probably loads other building design methods used to cope with wind but, that’s a few I can think of. 🙂 generally, I think people inherently know that everything built here needs to be attached/bolted to the ground and just that bit beefier. Just like you won’t see many caravans here that are not strapped to the ground in some sort of fashion!

  14. Thanks Knittingqueen – brilliant comment, I really appreciate the detail. I’ll be staring at everyone’s roof from now on! And I’ll certainly look up the planning guidelines.
    One of the first things I noticed when I moved into my rented house here was that my wheelie bins are fixed to the house. I have to kind of lever them off to put them out for collection. My first thought was that it was to deter thieves – my last job was with a Youth Offending Service and we had a big problem with groups of kids stealing and setting light to bins – but having lived here for a few months I can now appreciate how daft that first thought must seem: firstly, I live miles from any young people who might want to cause havoc, and secondly, of course it’s for protection from the wind – how could I have assumed otherwise! All these tiny, almost imperceptible adjustments for life in a windy place – even if it’s not that windy at the moment – are fascinating to me.

  15. […] here – this post’s just for fun! My favourite line of inquiry has been asking people about the wind. When we think about the way we live our lives, we rarely consider the impact that the wind has on […]


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