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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Missing him already

Joe has been home for the Easter break, it was as though he brought the fair weather with him, the sun shone brightly each day he was home.

No one could say he is a typical student,  one that lies in bed until lunch time*, he caught the 04:35 train from Cardiff, for two reasons he said, one it the cheapest ticket ( he is his fathers son) and two it gave him an extra day at home.  He arrived  at the station in the village, in time for us to pick  him up and collect breakfast from the bakers, and a couple of bags of pet food for Spud the dog and Jammy the cat from the pet shop too.

We seem to have packed a lot into a few days, and yet it’s been very relaxed. The hen house has moved, an old stone gate post has had the ‘stone henge’/ ‘engineers live here’ treatment of rollers and crowbars to move it up the yard, windows have been re-glazed, the drain from the pond cleared ( we are sorry about accidental the demise of a frog though). Friends entertained, ice cream devoured, a birthday celebrated a wedding anniversary toasted to.  Time sat chatting in the sun. Too much chocolate eaten.

Now he’s returned to Wales, and his the world of work and study, his bedding is washed and  on the line.

Duvet

Then the thunder clouds rolled in, a fist full of  delicious warm sunny days and 21consecutive days without rain came to an end, and I had to bring the laundry in.

*OK he does sometimes, but if motivated by a bargain or an archery competition, he will be up and gone before first light.


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You have reached your destination

We meandered our way through Shropshire, and the South Wales coalfields, to reach Cardiff, our boy Joe has been working in Cardiff on his industry placement year, what a cracking time he’s been having (he’s studying civil engineering at Swansea University). There is a very handy campsite, near the city centre, (book it is you can it is fully booked more often than not) this allowed us to catch up (and feed, what student doesn’t want mum and dad to turn up and take them out for dinner?) with Joe in the evenings and we got to have a good mooch around the city, with Spud the dog, close at hand.

We were on the doorstop of The Museum of Wales, at opening time, along with a large number of school parties, but we were swift of foot, and savvy to getting ahead of school parties, before teacher could raise their clipboard, we were off and in, to see astronaut Tim Peake’s *landing capsule, which has been touring the UK, it’s got a bit of a Sutton Hoo look about it, in the background, the parachute with which it drifted down to earth or came down with a bump, depending whose story you believe.

Tim Peake 8

It was very well lit, so you could see inside, not much room to swing a cat…

Tim 1_

it looks kind of basic doesn’t it, compared to the smart phone or tablet you might be reading this blog on?

Tim Peake 4

We were comforted to see, that if all else fails, there is a ring bider or two you can refer to for instructions what to do next.

Tim Peake 5

Not sure how you recharge it though.

Tim Peake 2

It looks like it took a bit of a knock, I’m sure a bit of body filler or gaffer tape would sort it though, no harm done.

Tim Peake 3

https://www.esa.int/spaceinvideos/Videos/2016/06/Soyuz_TMA-19M_landing

*Tim Peak is a bit of a hero in our books, not only for what he did in space, but with what he continues to do educating  and encouraging young people into studying  STEM  sciences and with his involvement of  The Scout Association

 

 


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Just my cup of tea

I have a little china cup, once upon a time it lived in the glass fronted cabinet in the ‘front room’ of my great, great aunt’s house, one of those late Victorian rooms of heavy furniture and creaking floor boards, the lids of the china teapots in the cabinet rattled as you walked across the room.  Here she is seated, centre, I don’t remember her a being very jolly,  but I do remember, in the 1970’s her then white hair, had a nicotine stained quiff of yellow,

Jenny

Time passes and the little cup then moved on to my mum’s dresser, and now it lives in my cabinet of curiosities. It’s marked Coalport China

Coalport white_

I thought I might find out a little about it at the Coalport Museum.  What I discovered is that my plain little cup has some much grander cousins (excuse the shaky photo).

Gold teacup

It seems Coalport sold undecorated china, and it was often decorated by other companies to their specification. I prefer my little white cup, just the way it is,  I like its simplicity.

I can’t think that this little print came from the dour great Aunts house, it seems far to whimsical for her taste, but who knows.

Chinacup

 

 

 


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Tale of Two Trees

A couple of years ago I purchased two Victoria Plum trees,  it was purchase made of nostalgia, Mum always used to buy me a bag of plums on our holidays each year, in my memory they were delicious, over the years I have deduced that they must have been Victoria plums, however these days they don’t seem very easy to find in the shops.  I’m not sure what I’m going to do with two trees of plums, Mr Uphilldowndale doesn’t like them, it will be the mad apple lady all over again.

However as time passes I’m not convinced the two trees are siblings. Have I been sold a pup, or is one a late developer? They are growing a few yards from each other, same amount of light etc.

Exhibit one

Victoria left_

Exhibit one, buds

Victoria left bud 2

Exhibit two

Victoria right

Victoria right blossom_

As a foot note, its true what they say, when you plant a tree you always wish you’d done it five years earlier…

 

 


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Cast in Iron

Shoreacres asked in my last post, about the difference between, cast and smelted  iron, the answer, both the long and the short versions can be found in the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron   But perhaps more readily accessible is this website

I enjoyed Shoreacres comment, this is what I love about blogging, things you’d never have known about, but for the comments of fellow bloggers…

This is so interesting. Now I’m trying to remember the difference between cast iron and smelted iron… I just learned that the difference is between cast and wrought iron. Wrought Iron is iron that has been heated and then worked with tools. Cast Iron is iron that has been melted, poured into a mold, and allowed to solidify. The difference came to mind because when I lived in Liberia, there still was so-called “Kissi money” circulating. It was made of iron by village blacksmiths, and circulated into the last century along with various other currencies.

I rather like the idea of a village blacksmith knocking out their own currency, a kind of quantitative easing?

There were many thing in the museum, made of iron that surprised me, whilst I’d seen garden benches before, I’d not seen household furniture, here a table chair and wall cupboard, how on earth did you fix a cast iron cupboard to a wall,? That’s what I want to know. It’s difficult enough hanging a picture at this house, with its ancient plaster.

Coalbrookdale furniture .jpg

As we left the museum, I was sad to see the nearby Coalbrookdale Foundry, the gates locked and in a sad state of dereliction, our old AGA would have been made there. It served many uses in our home from warming the dog,  To drying all manner of things

Snowy Mk11 Drying.jpg

And whilst our oil fired AGA is no longer with us  (it went on to a new home and will be working away somewhere) we now have a dual fuel range cooker, made by the same company, but not  it seems at this foundry.

I find this newspaper image so sad and poignant, as the employees left for the last time, after 309 years of production, they tied their boots to the iconic gates.