Uphilldowndale

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


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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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Seasonal variations

My the weather is a little lively this afternoon!

moody cloud.jpg

Thunder, lightning, hail and a little sunshine.

It strikes me I  still have a whole holidays worth of photographs awaiting blogging, from our week in Cornwall,  back in March. If I don’t get a wiggle on, I’ll think they are to ‘unseasonal’ to post.  I’d best get cracking.


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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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Blue is the colour

It’s February, it’s not supposed to be this warm and sunny.  Nature is a little confused.

The pussy willow, has never been so big bold and fluffy,

pussy willow feast 5

its offered a feast for the insects over the last few days.

pussy willow feast

Blue and orange was always going to strike the right note.

pussy willow feast 4

It was so still and quiet this afternoon, you could hear every contended buzz and hum.

pussy willow feast 2


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The Luxury of Lux

The sun shone brightly today, it’s been so grey, I was quite giddy with it.

Tulips on my desk glowed

tulip sunlight

The hazel catkins, as hot as mustard

hazel catkins_

Pussy willow, shooting stars against a deep blue sky.

pussy willow star light

The Christmas lights in the kitchen window (I can never bring myself to take down all the lights, until at least late January, I need  a little sparkle on the darkest days) caught the sunlight and were truly solar powered

solar powered fair lights

Then in a magical moment they flashed a rainbow  across the kitchen sink to the north side of the house.

rainbow and the kitchen sink

(These swift  light markers of the changes of the seasons, we call ‘sun on the lintel’ moments).

Hummm, the light  also indicated that a little house work might be in order, cobwebs on the fireplace,cobweb fire place.jpg

but that can wait. I’m off out into the sunshine.

 


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The Berry Report

I was concerned in the heat of the summer that there would be a shortage of berries for the birds this winter, great swathes of the best blackberry banks had withered and died,

Blackberry bank.jpg

The winberries, had the very life blood sucked out of them by a young oak.

20180814_153651.jpg

And of course my beloved pink rowan, had failed to flower, oh how I will miss it this winter, the birds will probably be more adaptive about it than me.

But things have rallied, acorns are abundant, I thought I’d be seeing the jays with their stitching flight, working across the field to their favourite oaks, but I’ve not seen one, I think they have found one tree and scoffed themselves silly, until they are unable to move

The red rowans are heaving with berries, well they were, the chickens have made inroads into them, further than you’d expect of a chicken.

Chicken berries_.jpg

They seemed to be having training seminars on how to get to the best position,

Chicken seminar2.jpg

I wouldn’t mind but I’d put the wire cloches there to stop them digging up my plants

Chicken rowan.jpg

The same flourish can not be said of the grass. Farmers are still very short of feed for the winter.