Hooray! Kingswear Castle and Fort Clonque have just reopened after nearly two months out of action. These two august forts felt the full force of the storms that hurled their fury at Britain in the first days of February. Poor Kingswear was overwhelmed by enormous waves, smashing down the battlements and windows to let the wild sea water cascade in – the dramatic photos even made the national papers. On Fort Clonque thrashing channel seas broke doors as well as windows and flooded the buildings.
But was February’s tempestuous weather the worst they had seen? The truth is probably not. The storm of 1703 must have done more damage. Daniel Defoe described its destruction as worse than the Great Fire of London: thousands died, 4,000 oak trees were flattened in the New Forest alone, the roof lifted off Westminster Abbey, hundreds of naval vessels sunk and a windmill at Shottesbrooke (now home of the Landmark Trust) ignited by lightning and burned to the ground. On the Somerset levels boats were carried 15 miles inland while the Bishop of Bath and Wells was found dead in the rubble beneath his bedroom - the collapsing chimney-stack of the bishop’s palace having fallen with such force that it crushed him and carried the episcopal bed a storey down.
As I was stuck at Glasgow airport for three hours yesterday, with all planes grounded due to extreme fog, BBC News 24 was playing mutely in the background news of the report of the United Nations’ panel on climate change. I had already been alerted to it by my brother in a state of high excitement. My sister-in-law Lyndsey, a marine scientist, was named in the report! Sure enough her study of the Lophelia Pertusa coral featured in the section - chapter 6, sub-section 22.214.171.124 as it happens - on the effects of changes in water temperature on marine animals. (Looking up Lophelia Pertusa I discovered that as well as sounding like a 1960s pop-star, it resembles one of those bright yellow bath hats covered in flowers they were given to wearing.) The IPCC report says that no-one on earth will be unaffected by climate change, and so it has felt over the past few months.
In 1703 the cause of the storms was clear: God’s fury at the sins of the nation for which the remedy was contrition and reform. Now, thanks to my sister-in-law and her like, we have a rather more scientific explanation for today’s changing climate, but it is not without its own moral quality. Just as we all have our weird weather stories, so we all have our green reforms. Fourteen Landmarks are now heated by air-source heat pumps, plus three others by ground-source, water-source and woodchip systems. The fact that there has always been climate change (remember the ice age?) and inexplicable storms should never lull us into thinking we should not be doing something about it now. But it does at least remind us that we are not the first to see our buildings battered and bruised, and to put them back together again.