Earlier in the year, I commissioned an article on drought. It was going to look at why our water is more precious than Saudi Arabia’s oil – and what changes need to be made both to the physical countryside and our attitudes in order to preserve this, the ultimate resource.
It was late April and I’d just walked 50 miles of the Ridgeway over three days. I was exhausted and my leg joints screamed from pounding the pathway hardened into rock during the previous five dry months. Incredibly, I saw three badgers during daytime – emaciated and sluggish, unable to dig for worms. All predictions were for a long, dry summer and catastrophic water shortages.
The drought article has yet to see the light of day.
Even as I read the article, it began raining. In England and Wales, it poured down for much of May, the whole of July and June, much of August, September and October and now the whole of November. Not just scattered showers either: no, this is hard, biblical rain that causes floods and kills people.
Here in the Brecon Beacons, the land cannot take any more. My home mountain is saturated and bleeds water in hundreds of rivulets, streams and cataracts. I can hear the roar of our own tiny stream through the double glazing.
The steep lane leading up to the house is a tumbling brook, and the Usk valley is studded with silvery lakes of floodwater. The river itself is a brown, boiling monster.
Last weekend, I went out covered head to foot in waterproofs with my trusty azada (an all-purpose trenching tool) to clear drainage channels and pipes and try to man-handle some of the rivulets back to their proper course and away from the lane.
Hours later, muddy, wet and exhausted, I had made little headway. The sheer volume of water was too great, it was still raining and the lane was by far the easiest way for it to obey the laws of gravity.
We are lucky to be high on a hill – in the valleys and floodplains, particularly in low-lying areas of Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Somerset, the flooding has been devastating. Those high-living Ridgeway badgers will be counting their blessings, too.
My big worry is that a cold snap is now predicted. If the stream freezes on the lane, we’ll be relying on donkeys to get up and down (which isn’t a bad idea).
Still, one thing I’ve learned about living rurally, is that you have to take each day and each challenge at a time. Cross each bridge when you come to it – so long as the floods haven’t already washed it away.