Matt Baker: Stormy weather takes its toll
The Countryfile presenter goes behind the scenes on his shows and family farm in the aftermath of a year of terrible storms.
The fire’s on in the kitchen and as the wind whips around the farmhouse, we’re sitting at the table reminiscing about some of the storms we’ve witnessed over the years.
The instigator was Dad, saying, “do you remember when an owl was sat in the fireplace staring back at us?” It had been disorientated in a gusty storm and somehow ended up falling down the chimney into the grate – fortunately not lit at the time! I learnt at this point that owls are one of the only birds that can fly vertically upwards. As quickly as it dropped into the sitting room, it was up and off again as it realised it was well away from its usual roost in the woods.
There’s evidence all across the farm of the power of nature as a storm sweeps down the valley, none more so than in the woods. Anyone who has seen our show Our Farm in the Dales will be familiar with the size of some of the old oaks we’re lucky enough to have in our ancient woodlands and the fact they occasionally fall victim to the Durham storms. It’s a job and a half clearing the rides and avenues for access to the woods if fallen trees end up blocking our way around. Sometimes it's only chainsaws and horse loggers that can help remove the huge chunks of wood from down the bottom of the valley and carry them up to the farm buildings.
The clean-up after severe weather is a sobering task; the calm after a storm is often so still as we collect roofing sheets, slates, barrels and buckets that find themselves far from where they should be, often only revealed after the winter snow has subsided. The last of which is often piled up until Easter in the corners of the highest fields, as the wind drifts any quantity of snow into huge piles, easily covering fence posts so you can’t see the field boundaries up the dale.
It’s easy to laugh after the event, but clambering under the very kitchen table we’re sitting at to take shelter from a lightning storm is very much a reality. The house has been struck by lightning twice, earthing itself down the telephone line and blowing out our broadband. As far as the farm is concerned, prevention is better than cure if we hear a storm is on its way. Battening down the hatches, bolting the stable doors and chaining up the gates help keep everything where it should be in the wind. As well as watching what I get up to on Countryfile, at this time of year my mum and dad are, understandably, far more interested in what the TV weather centre is reporting!