Friday, 25 July 2014

Word of the Week: Haar

A haar (pronounced like far ) is a useful little Scots word for the peculiar sea mist that comes to visit every so often on the east coast. This week it has made quite a few unwelcome appearances. While the rest of the country bathes in brilliant sunshine the haar will suddenly roll in across the North Sea and envelop the land around the coast in an eerie hazy blanket. 

Looking down at the haar rolling in
The word itself, as I understand it, derives from a German and Dutch term originally meaning a cold easterly wind but in this part of the world it specifically refers to the fog that rises off the sea. The 'cold' reference is appropriate because the haar is a most unseasonal guest. Its clutches are damp and icy and it's liable to cause those who get caught in its wintery grasp to scuttle home to find blankets and turn on the central heating, forgetting that we're in the midst of summer!

You never know when the haar will appear or how long it will stay. This week it arrived quite suddenly and ruined a bright sunny morning. It burned off by midday but then later crept slowly around the edges of the garden, extinguishing the afternoon's warmth with its chilly breath. I can understand how some locals are superstitious about the haar as it has an almost supernatural quality in the way it shifts and shrouds everything in grey.  If it was a character then I imagine the haar as a gloomy figure, perhaps like the Groke in the Moomin books.

The Groke (image credit:

Driving along the top of the coast road yesterday I came upon the most spectacular haar which quite literally rose up around the car obscuring all road markings. The sun was desperately trying to get through but the murky curtain was determined to keep it hidden. Once high enough and out of the mist, I pulled the car over and tried to capture the spectacular sight with my phone's camera. Normally, this is a good viewpoint; you can see right across the bay and out towards Dunbar and the Torness power station and on a clear day beyond to North Berwick Law and Bass Rock. Yesterday, however, the haar had completely covered the sea and the coastline with billowing waves of cloud. It looked a little scary like some science fiction movie but also rather magical and I found myself mesmerised. 

The usual coastline view

Yesterday's view: you can just see the cement works chimney peeking out

The Reading Residence