Uphilldowndale

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


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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.

 

 


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Death of a maiden

Holly Cross church Illam, Staffordshire,  there has been  church here for a long, long time

Ilam was not recorded in the Domesday Book, though there was without doubt a church and settlement here at that time. The earliest written record comes from 1004 when King Aethelred confirmed the gift of Ilam to Burton Abbey in the will of a lord named Wulfric.

It’s a church in need of a little TLC, but then most are, but it had a smell, a little more on the side of decay than just old and dusty. There were several things to intrigue the curious ( with a fair wind, I can probably spin it out to three blog posts).

Now what are these, hung in the arch?

Illam church

It was tricky to get a good look, and we could see no information (even when we had found the light switch, which we were invited to use so long as we turned them off when we left). Clusters of paper flowers and a glove? I’ve never seen anything like them before in a church.

Illam church Maiden Garland Crants

Later I turned to the Internet for answers.  I discovered they are maidens’ garlands or crantses, they were made for the funerals of young women,

a special garland for the funeral of a young, unmarried girl; i.e. for one who had died chaste. These “maidens’ garlands”, also known as crantses, from a Dutch word meaning a crown or chaplet, were originally a simple circle of flowers placed on the head of a deceased maid to symbolise her purity. They were perhaps an echo of the bridal crowns which are still to this day held symbolically over the heads of a couple during the wedding service in the Eastern Orthodox church.

The earliest surviving crantses, that can be dated, was made in 1747  

I may have to and see if I can find some more, when I’m on my travels, there is a full history here

A poem by Anna Seward, 1742-1809

‘The gloves suspended by the garland’s side,
White as snowy flowers with ribbon tied,
Dear village! long these wreaths funereal spread,
Simple memorials of the early dead.’

Illam church Maiden Garland_

And now I find Anna Seward was involved with the Lunar Society and that her friend was married to Richard Edgeworth.  It was a small world then?

You have to wonder how on earth any Crantese have survived,  now I’m off on the history of paper making in the UK, would they be paper or vellum? I might be gone for hours, I love how blogging does that.

There were two major developments at about the middle of the eighteenth century in the paper industry in the UK. The first was the introduction of the rag-engine or hollander, invented in Holland sometime before 1670, which replaced the stamping mills which had previously been used for the disintegration of the rags and beating of the pulp. The second was in the design and construction of the mould used for forming the sheet. Early moulds had straight wires sewn down on to the wooden foundation, this produced an irregular surface showing the characteristic laid marks, and, when printed on, the ink did not give clear, sharp lines. Baskerville, a Birmingham printer, wanted a smoother paper. James Whatman the Elder developed a woven wire fabric, thus leading to his production of the first wove paper in 1757.

Illam church Maiden Garland Crants 2

Mr Uphilldowndale observed that the  untimely death of two maidens, didn’t seem very many, considering how short life expectancy was back then! (Maybe he’d been looking at the Mills and Boon books at the back of the church.)

Mills and Boon_

Many garlands have passed.

For all their fragility, many garlands would have survived but for being discarded during church restorations or simply removed, as at Hope, where in 1749/50 churchwardens were paid one shilling and sixpence for ‘removing ye Garlands to make ye Church lighter’.

If there were enough to keep the light out of the church, that was a lot of maidens.


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At a crossroad

I’m still here, not that you would think so, from the lack of posts.

I’ve been busy putting a project to bed, its nearly done now, I’ve only a couple of days work left to do. What next, I don’t know,  I suppose you could say I’m at a small career crossroad .

20190522-IMG_4648.jpg

This extravagance of signage for a modest little junction, is at Wetton Mill in the Manifold Valley


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Downy nest down

Spud the dog and I found a nest today, a crushed cornucopia, a squashed tricorn hat, with an extravagant plume of horse hair. Mosses, lichens, feathers and webs, felted into a snug bivi bag of a home.

nest

The fact we found iton the ground suggest its not a story with a happy ending.

nest 2

We found it under the apple tree, near the conifer. I think its the nest of long tailed tits, one of my favourite birds. I’m guessing a magpie had something to do with its demise

nest down


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Galloping towards Spring

Coltsfoot,  Tussilago farfara, I’d  recently been thinking how I’d not seen this sunny little spring flower for donkey’s years, I’d even thought about going to see if it still grows in the place I remember it as a child (funny how I can remember where that is, but not where I’ve put my phone) and then I stumble upon a magnificent clump a few hundred yards from the house.

Coltsfoot 2

Historically it was used to treat coughs and asthma (although  the toxins it’s now known to contain wouldn’t have done your liver any good) my book also says it was dried and smoked, so that’s not going to improve your cough is it?

Gypsy folklore has it that wherever it grows, coal will be found below. And I have to say, that for the sake of my neighbours house we have to hope its a coal seam (which is entirely possible) and not a coal mine.

Coltsfoot

I’d been reminiscing with some friends about coltsfoot rock, a sweet we used to buy as children, it became apparent from the conversation, that it is a bit of northern delicacy (its made in Lancashire)  

Three sticks of Coltsfoot Rock

My memory is that it tastes not unlike liquorice, and a few weeks later I stumbled upon some in an old fashioned sweetie shop, I was looking for Parma Violets at the time, but that’s another story. I can confirm, it still tastes like liquorice. I bought some for my friends, one was so taken by the memory of it, she took some sticks home, broke them into pieces, so that she could make it last longer, I doubt we did that as kids.