Smashed and Topped; Clearing Up; Abandonment and Signs of Life

2016 begins with some pretty impressive new records. Maximum rainfall levels across many areas of the UK have been smashed, not just broken, and any readers in the UK will no doubt have followed the flood devastation images, (if they had TV or internet access…) as the fall out from Atlantic storms, driven up from the South West have pounded the North West, North East and Scotland. Bridges have collapsed, castles have teetered, homes have been evacuated, possessions trashed, livestock drowned and businesses wrecked. Not so many benign Christmas Eve rainbows around in these regions I guess, with crocks of gold inside the house …S1010014 (2)

Was it coincidence that this year was the first one that the Met Office decided to name individual approaching storms, in the style of the American hurricane season? Did they have an inkling of what was in store for us, when this decision was taken? If not, how prescient. Actually to give them credit, back in the autumn, they did forecast a milder and wetter than average start to winter, with a sting in the tail of very cold weather towards winter’s end. We wait to see on this one, but storms ‘Desmond’ and ‘Frank’ will be remembered for a long time in those parts of the UK which really suffered. Or at least until rainfall totals are surpassed again. And this is the thought that I’m left with after our own weather experiences this winter.SDIM5217 (2)

The rainfall total hasn’t just been exceeded a bit, but the previous maximum has been well and truly smashed. A veritable Bannister 3 minute mile performance. Our earlier Gelli monthly record high of 411mm in December 2013 (you’ll perhaps remember that 2013 was the wettest winter ever in Wales) was eclipsed by this December’s total of 534.5 mm. And we have now gone from November 1st, with only one 24 hour period without any rain. And light levels barely registering on our PV system.SDIM5187 (2) But daily rainfall totals have, so far, been within the normal maximum range, with a peak of 49 mm towards the end of December. However it’s the cumulative impact which can still be devastating, once ground becomes saturated. For the first time ever between Christmas and New Year, our benign stream, the Afon Melinddw (- ‘mill water’), which has its source barely a mile away, became a raging torrent which topped the four foot bank and spewed debris in a long trail over our lower meadow.S1020001 (2) We’re certainly grateful that the first folk who tried to tame this land, opted to build their long house high up the hillside, away from the valley bottom.SDIM5244 (2)

What would the effects have been around here if we’d had the 341 mm which fell in 24 hours in the Lake District as storm ‘Desmond’ passed through? That would certainly have been a ‘red sky in the morning, shepherds take warning‘ day, as it was indeed today, January 13th … SDIM5241 (2)

An inconceivable prospect? I’m no longer so sure. We certainly have the topography and position of rising land mass, in Mynydd Llanllwni and Mynydd Llanybydder to catch the warm moisture laden air rushing in from the Atlantic, and force it to rise and cool over these first mountains in its path…SDIM5202 (2)

Which brings me onto my final point to ponder. Much is always made around this time of the year, with the Las Vegas consumer electronics show just finished, about disruptive new technologies, and the impact that they might have on existing businesses and the way our modern society works. (Click here for some selected ideas from this year’s show – the GoSun Stove – a solar powered grill looks fun. Click here for more. Pity there’s not a lot of sunshine around here right now though!) But our Prime Minister has recently highlighted the £2.0 billion earmarked for flood defences for the whole of the UK for the next 5 years. It seems to me that government needs to wake up to the reality of the disruptive potential of extreme weather events, and begin to plan and think more creatively. No doubt this won’t happen until the Thames barrier is topped and the streets of London are underwater.SDIM5220 (2)

What price then the disruptive technology of an uber app to get a taxi to where you stand, within 3 minutes? A discussion with our son, a civil engineer, on why the government isn’t making flood defences a higher priority resulted in a simple explanation. There just isn’t enough money to design systems to cope with such extreme rainfall. Maybe towns should move up?

For more detail on the rainfall data for several recording stations in the UK for December, and how our own totals above compare with this mix, click here. And click here for a discussion by the Met Office’s Chief Scientist, Dame Julia Sligo, as to why the UK has been affected by the severe weather systems seen so far this winter.SDIM5228 (2)

As keen gardeners living in a high rainfall region, we’re used to doing things a bit differently to the mainstream. For example Snowdrops Galanthus ‘Galatea’ and Pride ‘o’ the Mill above, and species Galanthus rizehensis below, are some of the 23 types ‘in flower’, by which I mean the buds are like this, at the turn of the year in 2016 – another record. And many growing in our retired matrix garden – see later.SDIM5231 (2)Reading a lovely article recently on Great Dixter, I noticed that their annual rainfall is about 75 cm – compared to nearer 200 cm here. One critical difference the high rainfall makes is that we always aim to cut back most of our herbaceous perennials early in autumn. Otherwise they decay to wet sludge – we rarely get the oft mentioned benefits of frosty seed heads to admire in mid winter. But in spite of starting in early October this year, there were still some areas to do, as we headed into late November, and by then the ground was already becoming saturated. So next year, we’ll begin even earlier. Also the annual harvesting of fallen autumn leaves from along our green lane, using the lawn mower simply was never possible.SDIM5221 (2)

They fell wet, and have stayed wet, waiting for a chance to shovel them up.

Fortunately most of our early spring bulbs and corms are incredibly tolerant of even higher rainfall, coming from mountainous regions where annual rainfall often exceeds our high totals, providing that they have a drier summer, and that the ground is reasonably free draining. But even this latter point doesn’t seem to apply with some snowdrop cultivars, where local  ‘naturalised’ clumps will seed and spill over into sodden ditches at the base of banks. A useful trait for a section of the garden, below, often flooded by a drain overflow from our yard…SDIM5234 (2)

I’ve noted in the blog before that there are no (or none that I’ve been able to track down) named snowdrop cultivars with certain Welsh provenance. In addition several named cultivars originating from drier parts of the UK are very slow to bulk up with us, even in the much freer draining conditions of our retired matrix garden (see garden history page for more details on this part of the garden).

Combining these 2 observations with the point that ‘naturalised’ snowdrop colonies are often quite discrete, in effect ‘island’, populations, because of the limited potential for insect pollination in our climate at this time of the year, gave me the idea for a project which I’ve tentatively embarked on. Perhaps more next time, but for now just a hint that I’m always intrigued to see whether older properties have any hints of these very early flowers having been planted in their vicinity.

When I say older properties, I really mean derelict ones. And there are vast numbers in this part of the world that have all but, or completely disappeared. Often bulbs or other cultivated plants are the only hint of what was once a presumably much loved home…S1010027 (2)

So as Christmas Day dawned, or more accurately deluged, with another 34 mm, we struck out with umbrellas for a walk in the nearby Brechfa Forest. Taking a new turn down off the forest track onto a wonderful green lane, come bridleway, come stream; which was narrow and steep enough and with such moss and fern carpeted banks, we really marvelled at the rigours of travelling it on a regular basis in years gone by. Half way down we reached a clearing between towering firs, with a few mature deciduous trees standing sentinel, wrapped and trapped in the low light levels and moss festoons.S1010023 (2) And then incongruously, a spindly and obviously very old shrubby bush, or even small tree, with little foliage remaining on its mossy boughs …S1010025 (2)The leaves looked like Box (but larger), or Cotoneaster perhaps?S1010026 (2) No hint of any fruit or flowers to aid its identification, but growing amongst a few low moss covered stone walls, it seemed to hint at a former dwelling. (Much of Brechfa Forest was created after the compulsory purchase of farmland during the 1930’s).S1030006 (2)

On a return visit a few days later we spotted the earlier dwelling, missed on our first trip, and blending so well into its setting. Abandoned to the all pervading, wet greenery…S1030007 (2) No snowdrops I think – I’ve found few really close by, so when the rain briefly eased we headed down to the National Botanic Gardens of Wales (NBGW) to see whether any of their’s were blooming yet…S1010058 (2)Actually there were very few yet in bud, though amazingly these Marsh Marigolds by the lakeside were already flowering …S1010057 (2)Always a delight to visit, entrance to the garden is free to everyone (a minimal charge for event weekends) until the end of January, so it’s worth arranging to get there soon, if you can …S1010059 (3)They even have a planned Snowdrop day on January 31st. And if you can visit, do call in at the courtyard gallery to see the wonderful range of artwork on display produced by a group of different artist students from the University of Wales. Inspiring stuff.S1010060 (2)

There were few visitors either with a chilly, penetrating wind. But the sun shone, and as we returned via the Broad Walk, it became perfectly positioned to illuminate the water feature at the entrance, through the hole in the circular roof …S1010062 (3)

The NBGW is in fact established on the site of another major Welsh estate from the late 1700’s, Middleton Hall, where the original mansion no longer exists. For a long time abandoned, a millenium project to create a new National Botanic Garden for Wales began a process of regeneration, and there are now grand plans to recreate the landscape features of the estate in its heyday, with a necklace of lakes extending to the South and East. Click here fore more details and images showing how at the time, it was one of the premier landscaped gardens in the UK.

You may gather from this post, that at last we have had internet connectivity restored. A completely new satellite system had to be requested, (obviously at our expense) and we are very grateful to the marvellous satellite expert Craig, for doing it speedily and efficiently. Craig works for a subcontracting satellite installation company, and has his own sky diving blog (which you can see here), and so could not imagine that we had been without any access for so long, from his first visit in early November which confirmed that the old dish was still correctly aligned…S1010043 (2)Particularly since our mobile frequently has no signal, and even our portable land line phone got taken out in early January by a near overhead lightning strike – in spite of surge protectors. A dramatic pop and blue light as the fuse blew perhaps protected us from the fate of neighbours a few years back, when the lightning nipped down the phone wire, into the electrical circuitry through just such a portable phone, and blew most of the circuitry and nearly burned the house down!S1010044 (2)

Still it was reassuring to receive a round robin email to all customers, from Beyond SL our ISP, just 4 days after restoration of service, beginning:

At Satellite Internet, delivering the highest customer satisfaction is really important to us. That’s why we’re always looking for ways in which to improve our levels of service to you, our customer and to provide you with the best possible user experience when using our internet connectivity….

SmileSDIM5203 (2)

8 weeks of grief and stress, stacks of non returned calls, 2 dud replacement modems, 5 different staff, 2 requests for us to realign a correctly aligned dish, numerous email messages sent to us, in spite of requests for phone calls ( hang on …. we didn’t have internet, guys? Get it?) and an inability to ever be able to get talk to whoever is the boss – I still don’t know. And neither did many of the staff, it seems.

Yep, that sounds like customer satisfaction is right up there on their list of priorities. Such a shame that real competition doesn’t seem to thrive in the communications market for rural customers.

Fortunately the plants have sensed our mood, and come to our rescue. Although we had to leave ‘Robert’ outside…S1010012 (2)… Mrs Macnamara and Jacqueline Postil were able to join us at the table for Christmas Day as appealing dinner guests …S1010003 (2)whilst outside, the Eye Lash Fungi, Scutellinia scutellata, never before seen here (or perhaps not sufficiently mascara’d to be obvious), seemed to revel in her festive colours…S1010067 (2)

Thanks for reading.

12 thoughts on “Smashed and Topped; Clearing Up; Abandonment and Signs of Life

  1. Hi Julian, glad you have internet, slightly alarmed to read the house nearly burnt down during the whole process of getting modernised. I followed your link to the tech show but instantly felt overwhelmed and much preferred your Christmas Day walk. The ‘Box’ looks like Sarcococca possibly. Eye lash fungi is new to me, I hope we get to see one in the flesh, its quite beautiful. I’ve read and followed the Met Office blog too. I hope there is a decent break in the dreadful quantity of rain you’ve had there.We certainly picked the right time to visit.

  2. What a fascinating post. I was relieved to see that the slashed/etc. of your headline did not refer to trees down around you! The eye lash fungus is absolutely superb. Have never seen one.

  3. Hello Julie, I really don’t know what would have happened without the surge protectors. But the galling thing was we’d discussed the issue barely an hour before when walking round the fields when the lightning started, and mentioned the neighbour’s phone incident. So decided to unplug the phone on our return to the house, which we did. Not wanting to have it wrecked! An hour later, with no more thunder, we plugged it back in, and half an hour later this amazing clap directly overhead, and the blue flash and pop. Fiona had just left in the car, and said it was the biggest lightning flash she’d ever seen.
    Thanks for the thought about Sarcococca, I hadn’t thought of that. I’ll check our leaves as a comparison. The fungus is listed as common, but I’ve not seen it before, and its a very striking thing. Sunshine forecast here for Saturday. Still can’t believe how fortunate we were with the weather in October!
    Best wishes
    Julian

  4. I am happy that at last you are linked to the Internet again after such a frustrating delay. I had not been properly following the floods in the U.K. and had not realised how heavy the rainfall has been before reading your post. amelia

    • Thanks Amelia,
      I also like the way that blogs can take you quickly to what’s going on in other parts of the year – I do get a sense that extreme weather events are indeed becoming more frequent all round the world – and in a way reading what individual bloggers record, or say, by passes the slant that politicians or the media puts on things – I wonder how France has fared ? ( I must catch up on your posts now) And how the Paris climate conference was viewed in rural France?
      Best wishes
      Julian

  5. Some absolutely stunning pictures, not to mention insightful observations, the flooding infrastructure (or lack there of) in the UK is a real challenge no doubt about it. Very entertaining reading, thanks!

  6. Another entertaining read, not that your troubles were entertaining but hopefully you’ll know what I mean! I always start writing and then forget what I was going to say – so, before I do! – your couple of woodland photographs into the sun are just wonderful; full of atmosphere and superb light and colour.
    The mossy glade (not sure it’s a glade as such, but anyway … ) is fabulous – a lost world. I love stumbling across old, derelict houses and ruins like that; they are always so evocatively haunted by past lives – likewise the old sunken lane …

    • Thanks, Noeline,
      I know exactly what you mean about older places, hints of other lives lived, and lost …with this in mind I’ll mention a link I’ve found recently which I’m going to write about next time, in a related way. I think that you as a fellow photographer will love what Paul White has achieved – it’s an amazing site, which I’ve only just dipped into…a real labour of love, on the photographer’s part, and an insight into this part of the world and its previous history… You might already know about him, of course …

      he prefers not to have direst links, so if you google Paul white and welsh historic ruins, you’ll find his amazing site

      Best wishes
      Julian..
      Now I need to start the title for the next post, or I’ll forget what it was meant to be about!

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