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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 July 2006, 16:55 GMT 17:55 UK
Watching the temperature rise
Catryn Jenkins
Catryn Jenkins
BBC News

Temperature at 1536
It's 38C in Cat's car - that's 100F in old money
Wednesday has been confirmed as the hottest July day on record in the UK, while the RAF Valley Met Office weather station on Anglesey set a new Welsh July record of 33.9C.

That beat the 33.6C set in Usk, Monmouthshire, 30 years ago.

Read on to see how Usk coped in the sun as I tracked the (unofficial) temperature on my car thermometer.

IN THE HEAT OF THE DAY

Taking the plunge
posted at 1700BST 37C (98.6F)

I've done it! All day I've been wanting to take a dip in the River Usk, and I wish I'd taken the plunge hours ago. I rolled up my trousers, slung my bag over my shoulder and walked along the stony shallow water into the river complete with sandals on and it was amazing.

Catryn paddles in the River Usk
The coolness of the water took Cat's breath away

The water was cool on my burning feet but after stepping in I could tell why the guys in the water weren't keen on going any deeper than mid-thigh. It was pretty cold. As I went in almost to the knee it took my breath away but it was worth it.

For the first time today I have felt truly comfortable. I could see little minnows swimming in the shallows and someone shouted that they could see an eel.

But then I spotted something dubious in the water. It was probably my imagination, but anyway, I decided enough was enough. And I got out of the water and squelched my way back to the car.

The temperature is now 37C. I fear the folk of Usk are in for a sticky night. I've got the air conditioning on in the car, and it's probably the coolest place in Usk today.

Hot as Egypt, would you believe it
posted at 1630BST 37C (98.6F)

So what can a girl do to try and keep cool? I seem to have exhausted most of the possibilities.... until I spot Brian Burke, an Irishman from Kildare on a visit to Usk. He's standing in the shade licking delicious-looking ice cream.

Brian Burke
Irish visitor Brian Burke finds a cool way to keep cool

"Usk is an absolute gem of a place," he says.

"I've never been here before, but it's lovely. It's very hot though. It reminds me of being in Egypt. All the locals there find any shade they can, and it seems the same here."

And he's right. As I look round people are sheltering from the sun's rays in any shaded patch they can find. Imagine that though: Usk, in the heart of Monmouthshire, in a country more known for being wet and rainy, being compared to Egypt. I'd never have believed it until I spent the day here today.

But now it seems as if the sun is losing its sparkle. Clouds are starting to appear across the blue sky and more of a breeze is blowing. Boys, wet from their river swim, are walking home and the temperature at last beginning to drop. It's now 37C.

Inhibitions and fantasies
posted at 1536BST 38C (100.4F)

It's funny how as soon as the sunshine comes out people lose their inhibitions about what they wear. Sitting at the riverside I spy two older ladies in the water. They're sitting on a rock, half submerged in the water, both wearing what seems like normal black one-piece swimsuits. But as they stand up to get out of the water, I noticed the swimsuits are equipped with a weird skirt bit. I presume it is to cover the tops of their legs and bottoms - but it doesn't work. They remind me a bit of older, overweight ballet dancers wearing tutus. I'm pretty sure shops don't still sell swimming cossies like these any more, do they?

Catryn cools down with an ice cream
Call this work? Cat cools down with an ice cream

The heat has now driven most people sitting around the river to seek out the shade under the trees. Not many are brave enough to sit in the glaring sunshine with no cover. I feel like I'm melting. It's horribly hot.

I've been fantasising about ways I can cool down. I found myself dreaming about walking through the fridge aisles in supermarkets, jumping into the river, and then it struck me: I need a cool summery drink.

So here I am outside a pub in the town. I have a glass filled with icy Pimm's, and it's working. I'm cooling down, but for how long? The temperature is now 38C, says my car thermometer.

I think about my colleagues in the office - an office which in the winter feels like a freezer, and in the summer a greenhouse. I imagine there are hundreds of thousands of workers sitting in similar conditions at the moment. I can only commiserate with the agony of sitting in that oven - oops! I mean office.

So forgive me for moaning about the blazing sunshine, the sticky clothes and the blistered feet. I know where I'd rather be.

The heat doesn't seem to affect the scores of children coming home from school for the day. Boys carrying footballs looking as if they have got no concern about the heat whatsoever - long may it continue.

Record breaker! (according to me anyway)
posted at 1420BST 36.5 (97.7F)

My feet are covered with blisters. My sandals that I've worn to death so far this year and have always been so comfy have today for some reason turned into feet cripplers.

I left the sanctuary of the river bank in search of plasters and despite being the hottest time of the day Usk town centre is the busiest I've seen it today.

People swimming in the river at Usk
Plenty of swimmers in the river - but where's our reporter?

Admittedly, most people are wandering in the shaded areas of the street, but, well, I've had enough. This heat is too much. It's now 36.5C according to the thermometer in my car and I'm wilting.

My feet are in bits from the blisters and the plasters keep rubbing off. The sweat is just running off me. My clothes feel welded to me and I've become extremely lethargic.

I've walked back to the river bank and I'm going to sit here until I cool off but I'm being forced to duck away from another enemy of mine, butterflies. Butterflies to me are like colourful versions of moths. I don't like them, but I'm too hot to even wave them away.

Chillin' by the river
posted at 1230 BST 35C (95F)

I've found it. Ok, it's not quite the swimming pool I was looking for but I've found the place in Usk if you're looking for a place to chill out, cool down and totally relax. It's the River Usk.

Clarke James and his friend Alex Evans
Drying off after a dip in the river....

On one side there's a little walkway, and on the other a kind of park where it seems the entire town of people are laid out flat sunbathing.

There are families sitting under umbrellas having picnics and there is the usual bunch of teenage boys, bikes thrown down, shirts off, with their eyes focused on any passing female.

The problem with the sunshine is that it can make you slightly disillusioned. For example as I walked past a group of teenage boys I heard one of them say to his friend: "Check her out".

My head swelled. I stood up straighter, pulled my stomach in and thought, 'you've still got it, Cat'. That was until I spied the beautiful blonde teenage girl walking towards us. Ah well, for a second it made me feel good anyway.

The shade from the trees around the river is bliss but it's not as cool as the water and I'm jealously watching dozens of children splashing about.

River Usk
...a popular option among the town's children

Even two-year-old Jamie Hamer was taking a dip with his father Matthew. It's the first time the toddler has been in the river but I suspect it won't be the last.

Clarke James, aged four, his friend Alex Evans, aged five, were drying off from their paddle. Clarke's mother Julia told me: "I thought I'd bring them down here to cool off."

I'm sitting under a tree on a shaded bench and I've spotted my arch-nemesis, a wasp and I'm not the only one. A family nearby is being hassled by the stripy monster who is attracted by their picnic.

Always find it pretty amusing to see someone doing the wasp wiggle, you know arms flying, jumping from one side to another, usually accompanied by loud screeches.

I shouldn't laugh I know, because I'm an expert at the wiggle. In fact, I think the entire population learns the moves without trouble.

Keep covered up - please
posted at 1120 BST, 29C (84F)

Ok, now it's hot. My clothes are sticking to me and it's pretty uncomfortable anywhere that isn't in the shade.

I've been walking around the town and now the only thing I'm wishing for is an outdoor swimming pool. But I've yet to find one in Usk.

Temperature at 1100 BST
It's risen six degrees in two hours - how high will it get?
So I asked myself where would be a nice cool place to go? Then I spotted the church. It was cool, and quiet and such a relief from the heat of the sun. I can't believe it's only quarter past ten.

Inside the church was so relaxing. This weather has got to be good for pushing congregation numbers up hasn't it?. An hour in a cool church building, away from the baking sun, and I'm pretty sure problems of attendance would soon disappear.

Following my church visit, I began another little walk when horror of horror, there was a sight before me among the pretty little shops, the cobbled streets, and the cute little cottages that had my cringing to the pit of my stomach.

St Mary's Church, Usk
The cool of the church is a blessed relief from the heat

A man in his 50s, balding, and who obviously didn't go to the gym, striding towards me wearing nothing but the tiniest pair of shorts that were last on the catwalks in 1982, a pair of socks with sandals and the worst crime of all - no shirt.

I mean, why? Why inflict this sight onto the rest of civilisation? It is just wrong. I can think of no one person who has ever said, 'isn't that guy showing off his hairy beer belly cute?'

But then I suppose as I walk round with my clothes sticking to me, at least that guy is comfortable. Pity the rest of us have to witness it.

From dawn to Usk
posted at 1000 BST, 25C (77F)

When I woke up this morning the thought of sitting in a non-air conditioned office for what is predicted to be the hottest day for 30 years filled me with dread... But a call from the office changed that in a second.

"Go to Usk, Cat," came the order. "Spend the day there and tell us how people are coping in the heat. It's supposed to be the hottest place in Wales today."

Usk
Is this the hottest place in Wales today?

Hard work, but someone's gotta do it. So, armed with a bottle of sun cream, sun glasses and a pair of shorts to change into, I head 25 miles from Cardiff to Usk.

At 0822 outside my house the temperature gauge in my car was showing 23C but when I passed the sign showing I'd got to Usk at 0902 it had dropped to 22.5. Not quite what I thought was going to happen.

A quick wander through the town, which isn't very busy at the moment. A few vans are unloading, mums are walking back from dropping their kids from school and older folk wearing sun hats are collecting their papers. It's warm in the sun but there's a fresh breeze. So far it's just nice.

Tanya Bates runs a tea shop in the town which boasts full air conditioning, but despite that she's not expecting a busy day. "People don't come into the town when it's hot," she says.

Air conditioning sign
The sign everyone wants to see

"They stay away. It's been a pretty quiet week for us and I'm not expecting it to be busy today."

But further down the street an ice cream stand is already fully equipped and hoping to attract some business.

I'm writing this sitting on a bench outside Usk Rural Life Museum. This is so much more civilised than being stuck in the office.


SEE ALSO
Gorse mountain fire flares again
17 Jul 06 |  North East Wales



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