It is the beginning of September, and all of a sudden, at first light, the birds are back. They have been almost silent through the summer, and reticent too. This is not the dawn chorus jamboree of Springtime though, with the promise of nests to build and young to rear; at this time of year, birdsong is serious, end of summer talk. And this is still very much the end of summer, not Autumn proper. Most of the school holiday tourists have gone now, so there are fewer oversized cars parked obstructively in narrow lanes, but although there is still a feeling of a few more weeks of warm weather, change is coming. There are ducks rooting around the riverbank, but until today no sign of the Dippers, which seem to have been driven away when the river was made threadbare by the heatwave. We watched them raising young back in May, the adult birds racing off downstream to get food, while the young squabbled on tree roots, or practised diving among the big stones. I’d also quite like to know how June’s Goosander chicks have done; the original brood of eleven was down to just seven in July. Of course the leaves are still on the trees, and despite the drought of early summer, everything is green. But the river isn’t right until there is a white bib dipping, and a little black bird flashing past at high speed, just above the water.
I have many reasons to be thankful and among them last weekend was that the storms and flooding that hit Cumbria on Saturday December 5th did no more than inconvenience my family and me. It’s true, we lost our car, which was already stranded and beyond saving in the early hours of Saturday morning, before “Desmond” actually arrived. The River Rothay finally swept it away up the road just after dark on Saturday evening. But the insurance has already covered that and, well, it was just a car, and not a particularly special one.
Compared with the people of Carlisle, Cockermouth, and many other places, we got off very lightly indeed. Rather unexpectedly we had heat, light and broadband throughout the weekend. Besides a slight worry that the floodwaters would eventually reach our elevated front door, and the frustration of being marooned, all we had to think about was just how extraordinary the rain was, and how awesome, in the proper sense of the word, nature can be. My memory of that Saturday is of darkness, and relentless rain. The air became mostly water. It is also full of the noise the river made as it barrelled down the valley, carrying with it large branches and the root balls of gigantic felled trees. There were few opportunities to take photographs–being outside was just too unpleasant and it was far too dark anyway–so these pictures were taken before the worst of the flood hit.
That roaring sound was everywhere, all the time. It is no great revelation, but true nonetheless, that the world we make for ourselves–the comfortable, carpeted, indoor world–is a lot more precarious than it seems.
Tourism is a major part of the economy in this beautiful part of the world, but there are businesses of all kinds, from art galleries, gift shops, and shops selling outdoor gear, to cafes, breweries, and of course farming. They are suffering: please use them. Visit if you can: don’t cancel that hotel booking if the hotel is still open. If you can’t visit, why not buy some of your Christmas presents from Cumbrian businesses online?
If you can spare some cash, please also give to the flood appeal.