Last year, for our Big Summer Holiday, my boyfriend and I chose to have a week in the Scottish Highlands. The bonny Scottish Highlands, where we needed a hot water bottle every night in August.
I'll be honest, I worried. I spent the entire run-up refreshing forecasts, pitting the BBC and iPhone weather apps against each other until they both ganged up on me and said the same thing: rain. Packing my jumpers, big socks and cag-in-a-bag, my espadrilles whimpering forlornly from the wardrobe, I panicked that a grey and drizzly holiday just wouldn't hit the spot. Would it actually feel like a holiday? Would we come home grumpy and bickering, and immediately need to book an emergency package deal to the Algarve? What would I even Instagram?
That last one is the million-dollar question; almost literally, given the platform has just announced that users will soon be able to book holidays directly off the back of other people’s travel snaps. Holiday envy is big business, and – at least from May to September, after the ‘looking cute in a snowdrift’ season ends – sunshine is its most valuable currency. I feared my Scotland grid would be less #hotdoglegs and more two spears of white asparagus, glowing phosphorescent next to a loch.
It’s not just about showing off on social, though. When you live in a climate as unreliable as Britain’s, the idea of a holiday becomes forever linked to hot, dry weather. You start to crave that feeling of heat in your bones, stepping off the plane to be greeted by the smell of sun-warmed tarmac, and the thrill of heading out for dinner without an emergency cardigan. If it pisses it down on your holiday, every minute feels like precious time wasted. We didn’t come here to stand under a tree with our hoods up! We can do that at home!
But I needn’t have worried. Yes, it rained; yes, it never went above 18 degrees; yes, we almost got mauled by cows (is there any moment that makes you feel more like a pathetic millennial than googling 'how to walk through field of cows' while staring down a wall of huge bovine eyes?) but the trip was bloody gorgeous. Partly because Scotland is bloody gorgeous, of course – but also because I’d forgotten that grey and drizzly holidays have a joy all of their own.
Of course it’s more normal to recognise this ex post facto rather than turning round as you wring rainwater out of your socks in a bus shelter to say "Don’t grey and drizzly holidays have a joy all of their own?!" but they really do. There’s a special, stoic loveliness in gently steaming anoraks, card games and emergency tea shop pit stops. In watching funny crap telly in a foreign chalet, with a huge bag of paprika Lays in your lap. And best of all, that feeling of pure elation when the sun actually bursts through the clouds for all of four minutes.
When I think about it, some of my favourite holiday memories are rainy ones. Like the time my parents and I ended up zipped inside one of those tiny child's play tents in the middle of a deserted Devon beach, knees up to our chins, playing word association games while we weathered a biblical downpour. Or navigating tiny, winding lanes in Cornwall with sheeting rain lashing against the windscreen and The Beach Boys blasting merrily from the car speaker. To me, the very essence of a family holiday is killing time in a series of adorably terrible local museums, taking it in turns to peer upwards and decide if there's "enough blue sky to make a pair of sailor's trousers from" yet. It’s character-building stuff. The stuff that, in a decade or two, I’ll probably be trying to instil in my own children while they roll their eyes and ask why they can’t go to Santorini.
Even as an adult, you can find as much inner peace in rounds of cheese on toast and mugs of tea in a damp cottage as you can on a golden-hued vay-cay. If you’re the type of person who tends to see holidays as an exercise in competitive scheduling ("If we get up at 5am we can do all three cathedrals and the boat tour before lunch!"), a week of rain gives you permission to actually, properly relax. No point in leaving the house/villa/tent anyway, it’s gross out there. You may as well read that trashy book, watch the Portuguese version of Cash In The Attic and have another nap.
What else? No sunburn. No peeling nose, or guilt for abusing your epidermis. No straining your core muscles trying to look nonchalant on a pool float. You just have normal hangovers, rather than the mega hangovers you get from day drinking on heatstroke and too much poolside calamari. And best of all, no need to be having an amaaaaazing time all day long. Once the pressure to be living your best life is off, we all know, that’s when it’s more likely to happen.
So I guess what I’m saying is, don’t let a shitty weather forecast dampen your spirits. Pack sensible, pack spare socks, pack playing cards, but leave your Perfect Sunny Self at home. Because when it rains on your holiday, you’re allowed to have a small tantrum. Then a big pastry product.
And that, of course, is what you Instagram.