Uphilldowndale

Watching nature take its course, from the top of a hill in northern England


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On reflection

A world of blogs and blog buddies is a good place to escape to right now.

There is only so much of the Covid-19 news stream that can be taken at one time. We need to pace our selves for the long haul, when we can’t see what lies ahead.

NZ self portrait

I’m planning to continue  blog the journey through the photos of New Zealand, from November 2019, when things seemed simpler and more secure. I’m going to try and find things of beauty to share here, to bring a little fresh air to our days. To nourish and to salve.

We are all going to need to look out for others as well as ourselves. When I talk to people who are carers,  I often use the analogy of the drop down emergency oxygen masks on planes, and the instruction to put it on yourself first, before you can help others.  Let yourself breath. A little bit of mindfulness, some exercise if you can, a warm bath, a phone call to a good friend. Little things can make a difference.

Before I disappear into the beauty of New Zealand again,

NZ Lupin pink and blue_

Please be careful where you take your Covid-19 information and advice from, there is a lot of misinformation out there  

Overseas readers might be surprised to learn that Derbyshire has history when it comes to containment of disease, of sacrifices by a community to protect others.  Dating back to 1665 in  and the  ‘plague’ village of Eyam   It seems all the more extraordinary when you think about how little they knew about how disease is transmitted!

An outdoor church service at Eyam in 1666, from a display in the local museum.

Stay safe.


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Don’t drink the water

More from our travels through New Zealand,  November 2019

You never know what’s up stream.

NZ Dead Horse Stream_

Every bridge and culvert in New Zealand is named and numbered. And indeed if you’ve that kind of enquiring mind you can read the rational for it, here.

These two were on the road out to Mount Cook, Mount Cook.

birch hill stream NZ 2

I’ve no idea what a worry line is, but it’s worrying me.  You can follow Birch Hill stream up to the snow fields of Jamieson Saddle, but you’d need to know what you were about. 

New Zealand’s roads don’t seem to get a good press,

NZ Rd to Mt Cook Lake Pukaki vista

New Zealand does not score highly in road infrastructure when compared to other developed  nations, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2015–
2016.23 The New Zealand road quality is rated as 4.7 out of 7, which places New Zealand in position 43. The perceived comparatively poor quality of our infrastructure may partly be due to our geography and population size.

As the saying goes, New Zealand’s roads are different,  but I thought that report seemed a little harsh, there’s a lot less pot holes in the roads than here in Derbyshire at the moment. And the challenges  that a feisty young  mother nature throws at New Zealand’s road infrastructure, such as earthquakes, floods, landslips, snow and ice must be challenging to say the least.  We shall return to this topic.

 


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Note to self

It’s always tempting when the seed catalogues drop through the letter box on the darkest of winters days, to get a bit carried away by the promise of summer, and spend a lot of money. (Sarah Raven’s catalogue is particularly seductive)

It’s even harder this year with the memory of New Zealand’s summer flowers still fresh and fragrant in my mind.

NZ Geum 2

However, no mater how much restraint I show, yellow and orange geums will be on the list  These  beauties were  in Christchurch Botanic Gardens.  Which felt very familiar,   very British (only sunnier) similar to Buxton’s Pavillion Gardens, in Derbyshire.

The gardens are home to The Peacock Fountain  which was made at Coalbrookedale Foundry in Shropshire, England; this blog has explored the Coalbrookedale  Museum of Iron in a previous post, and its easy to see this fountains linage.

Built  in 1911it’s not always been universally popular,  its quite ornate…

Erected by the Christchurch Beautifying Association from funds bequeathed by the late Hon. J. T. Peacock

Peacock Fountain Christchurch_.jpg

I think we can safely say it has been beautified,  however one writer told the press of the time 

 ‘it exhibited no more taste than the gaudy decoration used by travelling showmen to embellish their merry go-rounds.’

Which I feel is a little harsh.   Now back to the seed catalogue,  which of the Geums will it be?   And do they come with added butterfly?

 

 


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Picking up the thread

It’s been a while since I posted,  not since our little town was freed from the threat of  the failure of Toddbrook dam,  and whilst I’ve not quiet finished writing about the dam, I feel the need to share a  bright, light post to kick start me into blogging again.

We’ve been having some fun filled colourful days, Joe has been home for a month and we’ve catching up with friends near and far.

Here is a day out with my friend Mrs Ogg,  we went Chatsworth House, whilst our men folk went cycling.  What ever was happening in the big top, we didn’t get invited.

Chatsworth big top

Dahlias

Chatsworth red dahlia peach

and insects were the stars of the show

Butterfly chatsworth

It was that perfect, late Summer meandering in to Autumn weather, which must be savoured, before it is blown away.

Butterfly chatsworth 2

Spiky red dahlias, my fathers favourite flower, although my mother never appreciated the tubers being kept in the airing cupboard over winter!

Chatsworth red dahlia deep

Colours too hot to handle,

Chatsworth red dahlia flame

and gentle buttermilk yellows,

Chatsworth red dahlla custard cream

Cut flowers, prepped for the big house perhaps? They made my ex-florist fingers twitch.

Chatsworth cut flowers - Copy

Dahlias are somewhat ephemeral  as cut flowers, they don’t like to travel, get them straight from the garden, a generous neighbour or a market gardener if you can find one,  they are an endangered species, and enjoy.

Dahlia header_

Autumn is on its way

Chatsworth red leaves

 


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Dam of emotions

It’s been a difficult time. When the dam of our local reservoir, Toddbrook, started to fail on Thursday 1st of August, it was deeply worrying. I was very close to the dam, when events started to unfold. As the first emergency response was arriving, this is what I saw; brown fluid, like clay slip, flowing from under the spillway, and concrete plates, lifted up above the retaining wall at the edge of the spillway. My spine froze. I took this photo on my phone, my hand shaking and left quickly.

Toddbrook mobile

I felt sure that the only way to fix this would be drop the water behind where it was leaking. In the mean time, the breach would be washing away the dam, which has clay at its core. It was a terrifying thought. The water gathering pace and driving more and more stability away.  I also felt sure they would have to evacuate the town.

My very physical reaction to the risk came I think, not from the fact my family is awash with engineers, but simply years of summer holidays watching the boys dam the river on Mill Bay beach in Devon, not for hours, but for days, till their hand were blistered, their cries and shouts as the dam started to fail, ‘Come on you guys, it’s going!’ Joe would yell* and they would all pile in to try and save it with spades and chunks of driftwood as the sand and water swirled away down the beach.  I guess I’m a visual thinker, but the magnitude of what could happen to Whaley Bridge was there in a heartbeat and did not leave me for the next six days..

It didn’t take me many minutes to get home, well up into the hills above the town.  The police were closing roads behind me as I left, I tried to compose myself, I rang Mr Uphilldowndale to tell him. I got through to his answerphone and left a tearful panicky message.

This video show the early response and the work that went on through the night.

 

At 5am the next morning, just 14 hours after the town had been evacuated an RAF Chinook helicopter was bringing bags of stone into shore up the dam.  Working to photos provided by the engineers they skilfully places the bags, where X marked the spot. I watched as they dropped bags into slit on the right hand side of the concrete kerb at the edge of the spillway. I watched 11 tonne bags fall, they just disappeared into the ground, vanished into the void.

 

Toddbrook Chin 3

 

Over a thousand people have been working around the clock, what they have achieved was astounding: new roads, floating pumps, miles of pipes, tonnes of stone to block any more water coming into the reservoir.  For the people of Whaley Bridge, who could only watch the RAF Chinooks have become the iconic sight and sound, we found the distinctive wockwockwock  sound of their  rota blades strangely comforting.

 

 

It was something we could see and hear, from our homes (or the homes of family and friends on higher ground, out of the flood zone) from the kitchen sink, from our bedrooms, from the garden, we stood and watched.

 

Toddbrook Friday Taxal Moor_

 

On the Friday it was intense. I  joined many others and watched from the local cricket club.

 

Toddbrook Friday 2nd 2

 

I found myself surrounded by military aviation enthusiasts, with camera lens as long as a broom handle, who told of their delight at being able to watch Chinooks working outside of an air show. I realised we had very different reasons for being there.

On Sunday, the weather gods, having placed us in this crisis clawed back the threatened clouds and torrential rain that was forecast. You could feel the valley breathe a little more easily: the sun came out, the landscape sparkled despite its open wound.

 

 

Words feel inadequate to thank those who responded: from truck drivers, to the RNLI, Mountain Rescue, civil engineers to construction specialists, Fire and Police, surrounding villages sending food to feed the thousand, 4×4 clubs evacuating residents, local volunteers, social workers looking out for the vulnerable and a thousand and one tasks that I could only guess at.

I think that for many  involved in the Toddbrook dam incident,  it will not only be something they never forget, but a career defining moment, a challenge they may even have relished in both its urgency and complexity.

I can’t come towards the end of this post, without mentioning Deputy Chief Constable  for Derbyshire, Rachel Swann, her clear and decisive leadership was as inspiring as it was comforting. We felt we were in safe hands.  She features in this video.

 

 

On Wednesday, six days after the evacuation, residents were allowed to return home. Tears of anxiety gave way to  tears of relief.

I think our little town will come out strong from this. We will have a new dam, the safest, smartest, sexiest dam in the country! Ready for the next 200 years. We know and value what we so nearly lost, and we know that there is strength and a steadfastness  in our friends  family and neighbours, that we never recognised before.

I’d be lying to say that nerves are not still on edge. On Thursday, the day after the all clear, I was startled to hear what I thought was the sound of a Chinook. It turned out to be the the washing machine on a spin cycle! Stand down everybody stand down. It’s OK.

We’re like the flag at the cricket club a little frayed around the edges.

 

cricket club

 

Take a look at the weather vane on the clubhouse roof, we came very close to losing so much.

*Joe is now studying civil engineering at university, all things to do with water management are his passion!

 

 


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My little village

I can’t think of it as town, officially it is. But whatever you call it, Whaley Bridge in the High Peak of Derbyshire, is facing is biggest ever crisis. The  dam of the reservoir above the village holding 300m gallons of water, has started to fail.

Toddbrook droneand the town has been evacuated. We are safe, well above the flood zone, and we’ve family, two dogs and a rabbit staying with us.

It’s a fast changing and unprecedented situation.

whaley bridge toddbrook reservoir flood map graphic

More info here

Todbrook 5


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Sleeping with corncrakes

It was one of my Hebridean holiday aspirations to see a corncrake, a secretive little bird, that at one time used to live in our meadow,  here in  north Derbyshire so Freddy the farmer told me.

Killed off: The Corncrake

Freddy was born around 1920, and farmed from this house until the 1970’s, when during that life time the corncrakes disappeared from our meadow, I don’t know, but I do know that there are now only  just over a thousand calling males (and hopefully a similar number of females) in the UK. The birds demise has been a result of changes in farming practice, and the birds reluctance to break cover when the grass is mown, you can guess the rest.

One of the best places to find them is the islands of the Outer Hebrides, where much work is being done to give them the best chance of breeding safely.

One you’ve heard a corncrake, you will know its call forever.

We heard plenty but didn’t see a one.  They favour clumps of nettles and long grass.  I spent a long time staring at clumps of nettles, knowing the blighters were in there.

what no corncrake.jpg

They’d lure you in with a call, then fall silent for fifteen minutes or so, then, just as you were starting to think you’d move on they’d give another rasping call.

The best time to see and hear them, is at dusk, or dawn, or just after it has rained. the problem with dusk and dawn in the Outer Hebrides in June, is that dusk is very late and dawn is  very early.  We heard plenty, especially around four am. I have the badge to prove it.

I slept with corncrakes!

A calling corncrake is a lullaby I can sleep with.