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A fantastic community effort, but next time I’ll be a crayfish

Date: Tuesday 29th December 2015

Sir, So, here we are again with more of our furniture outside the front door than in the house.

We knew we were in trouble when we heard the first creak. We’d heard it before back in November, 2009 when the water came up through the floor. Now it was happening again. Although we had thought that our flood defences were more than adequate, we’d got all the irreplaceable stuff upstairs just in case.

It wasn’t long before the water appeared. The flooring started to swell until we were walking up slopes in the lounge. As it got deeper we retreated upstairs, taking with us what we could. Coming down for more things to rescue got increasingly tricky, wading though rising murky flood water, coming across tiles that had sprung up, presenting plenty of chances to trip over them. I did, and gashed my hand against a mostly submerged television cabinet.

From an upstairs window we watched the water in the road. It started as a trickle as the river burst its banks, quickly covering the width of the road, soon becoming a raging torrent that was impassable to people or cars.

Because of interior flood precautions we had to leave the external garage door unlocked. It didn’t take the waters long to open it, force the door wide, and start to empty the garage of its contents. We watched as bottles of car cleaning stuff and a couple of cans of lager went downstream.

More concerning was when we saw the base on which the freezer had stood also heading for the A6. It could only mean that the freezer had been tipped over.

The sticking plaster on my hand wasn’t enough. When we finally went to bed I had my hand inside a sock to keep the blood off the bedclothes.

And so it went until the early hours of Monday when we heard something drive past and knew that the road was passable again. Then for the clean-up.

We hadn’t been at it for long when a voice called from the open front door and an immaculately dressed girl in a white blouse came in with sandwiches for us. She was followed by a fairly steady steam of people offering more food and help in any way at all.

One of the first groups was from the Eden Rivers Trust who set to work moving furniture and cleaning the mess. They were soon joined by a group from Newton Rigg.

And so it went on. People were walking up the road, offering their help in any way. One couple were on holiday, but were giving their time to help. Vicky, our hairdresser, turned up three times to take away things to wash, and finally with a length of carpet to put on a flood-soaked settee to give us somewhere to sit.

Later came a group of retired firemen from London. Then a Cleveland mountain rescue team, and two Gurkhas who had each lost their legs in Afghanistan. Can anything be more moving than watching two people who had lost so much, cheerfully helping people who had only lost material things?

This has been a traumatic time, but has been helped so much by so many folk who have given up their time to support and help us. I know these are the views of all the folk in Eamont Bridge who have suffered, yet again, from the waters of the Eamont.

I’ve mentioned just a few of those who have helped us, but there have been so many more. All the supermarkets, North Lakes Gateway, GO Outdoors, which responded to an appeal for a portable gas cooker when we had lost all power. Help has come from all over the UK. I hope those I have failed to mention will know that this is due to poor memory and a failure to ask them who they were, and not to lack of appreciation.

Local councillors Malcolm Temple and Margaret Clark have been in regular touch. So has county councillor Helen Fearon. Malcolm has been round frequently.

Throughout all this, the village hall has been constantly open, with Chris Battersby and wife Audrey presiding over the overwhelming avalanche of donations of just about everything you can think of, and still managing to serve up hot food, meals and drinks.

At a distressing time, all the support from so many individuals and organisations has been a great boost for morale. Without it, it would have been a pretty miserable time. With it, has been a remarkably uplifting experience.

In the midst of all this generosity, the only thing that still proves to be a disappointment comes from the efforts of my son’s partner to find us somewhere to live. Her multiple inquiries found a home that sounded ideal at a quoted rental of £1,200 a month. Our insurance company gave us the go ahead. As soon as we indicated our acceptance, they said that they had rethought the rental and it was now £4,000 a month. I don’t know if insurance would have covered this. I didn’t ask. With so much generosity from so many people, it’s a pity that you can still come across someone whose only aim was to make a quick buck from the misfortune of others.

We are now holed up in Askham, where the people couldn’t have been kinder or more helpful. It’s a lovely village. We’ve been given a welcome, kindling, logs, a Christmas tree, and a warm fire in the Punch Bowl. The only drawback is that with the bridge closed, the journey is now via Brougham on narrow, wet, muddy, flooded roads ill-suited to the amount of traffic now using them. A one-way system is to be introduced. It will help.

This is now three times in 10 years. It didn’t use to happen. So what have we learned? Speaking to folk who have lived here all their lives, they tell me of the Diving Stone, just upstream from the bridge. If you dived from it now you would need a crash helmet. The river bed is so much higher.

There used to be a regular maintenance program and the river didn’t flood. Now there are computer models and regular measurements of deposit levels, and the river floods.

There is a weir downstream from the bridge. Its removal has been estimated to make a significant difference to the level of the water upstream. We can only hope that it happens.

And we have to consider the mythical crayfish. I’ve never seen one, but their presence contributes to restrictions on what work you can do in the river, and when you can do it. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I’ll come back next time as a crayfish. Yours etc,

GORDON LONGWORTH

Ex-Skirsgill Lane,

Eamont Bridge.


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