A sea-fret, or haar

August 21, 2018

Fr Hunwicke mentioned a “sea fret” recently, and I imagined him looking through some wrought-iron latticework near the shore:

If you don’t know Ramsgate, as I didn’t, you should follow my lead and remedy the omission (preferably during S Augustine’s Week). I peered out through the sea fret almost hoping to see a phantasma of S Augustine’s boat bringing the purest Roman Christianity to the people of Kent; then i looked round the Church which now houses a relic of the Saint. Forgive me for going all wet on you, but I felt a great sense of being ’in on’ the foundation of the English Church, a millennium and a half ago.

Helen Dalby, an editor at Chronicle Live, based in Newcastle, explains that the Northeast of England in particular sees so many sea frets, or haars, because they’re on the shore of the freezing North Sea. When warm wet air passes over a cold surface, you get a cold wet fog.

Mulier Fortis, in Ramsgate, writes about her own experience of a sea fret:

Living across the road from the beach means that, since my relocation, I have had ample opportunity to experience “proper” fog. I love it - especially the way it deadens sounds… everything goes so quiet… and watching a bank of fog approach over the water is really fascinating! And then there is the disconcerting (and, to me, thrilling…) experience of being unable to see what is just the other side of the road… or even as far as the waterline…

Fortunately, the Venerable Editors of the Oxford English Dictionary noticed the word haar, from an Old Norse word meaning hoary:

Haar (hēɹ). local. Also harr, haur. [? a. ON. hárr, hoar, hoary: cf. hoar-frost.] A wet mist or fog; esp. applied on the east coast of England and Scotland, from Lincolnshire northwards, to a cold sea-fog.

1671 Skinner Etym. Ling. Angl., A Sea Harr, Lincolniensibus Maritimis Tempestas à mari ingruens.

1777 Nimmo Hist. Stirlingsh. 438 In the months of April and May, easterly winds, commonly called Haars, usually blow with great violence, especially in the afternoons.

1806 Gazetteer Scotl. (ed. 2) 389 The water of the lake [Loch Ness] .. never freezes in the severest winter, and, in frosty weather, is covered with a thick haar or mist, which has the appearance of smoke.

1876 Whitby Gloss., Haar, mist with small rain. ’A northern harr Brings fine weather from far.’

1889 N.W. Linc. Gloss. (ed. 2), Har, fog, mist, especially when it is cold.

1892 Stevenson Across the Plains 171 History broods over that part of the world like the easterly haar.

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