January Floods and How to Teach Your Dog to Swim

Much of southern England has been covered in flood water over the past few weeks. You will recall my little sister almost not making it home due to flooding on Christmas Eve, and all the power cuts and people who were flooded over Christmas. The flood waters are still rising here, and elsewhere I imagine. A quick look at the news will tell you that for many people this has been a horrible Christmas. There are entire villages on the Somerset levels (as the name suggests, a particularly flat, low-lying area) which have been cut off for weeks. Muchelney is a village which often appears on the news because it is such a pretty little place with beautiful old hamstone houses and a lovely church, as you can see from this BBC interview with a friend of ours. It was also badly flooded twice in the past few years, and I really feel for the people who live there.

It must be terrible to have all your things ruined by floodwater. I know certain items are replaceable of course, but family photo albums, furniture that has been passed down through generations, that embroidered cushion that you made your Mum in primary school, those things, the memories and treasured possessions that make your house a home, cannot be replaced. To re-build your home after it has been flooded once must be a terrible thing, but you try to get back to normal. Once it happens again, I imagine there was a sentiment of “how unlucky for it to happen again, but we will do our best to get back to normal”, and the walls are replastered and repainted again, furniture replaced, and bits and pieces bought to make it feel like it used to. The third time, which this winter has been for so many families, must be devastating. I can imagine them wondering, “Why bother? Maybe we should just live in the attic”.

Local authorities and the Government are doing their best to put flood defences in place, and in some areas these have really been effective. Here in Maidenhead, the Jubilee Canal has meant that the Thames has not yet burst its banks as it has done in the past, flooding all the homes on the riverside, but I understand that the project has meant that the water goes elsewhere, to the end of the canal in Staines, which now suffers from flooding as a result. Local press however reports that the Thames may still rise 5-10cms over the next couple of weeks, though it seems to me that the water is actually receding now.

If the rain keeps coming, and it can no longer go in the ground, where can it go? And is this an unlucky phenomenon of recent years, or is this now a permanent feature of British winters? I hope not, especially for those unlucky enough to live on a flood plain.

We have been very lucky not to have been badly affected by the floods. However, our garden backs on to a little stream, usually a couple of feet deep and two metres wide. Our neighbours have lived here 30 years and never seen their garden flood, yet this year the little trickle has turned into a raging torrent two metres deep and six metres wide in places, engulfing half of the bottom of our garden and drowning our newly prepared vegetable patch. When the waters subside I hope they do not also take our carefully cultivated compost heap with them. Our housemates have also had to find a new route to work, as the village of Cookham, further upstream, is almost completely underwater. It often makes the press too, because of the number of millionaires and celebrities who live there on the banks of the river – an area known as the Thames Riviera.

Between here and Cookham, the large tract of National Trust land on which we usually walk the dogs, which is dotted with small streams, has become one enormous lake. Last weekend we donned our wellies to explore. The waters got too deep in various places but we eventually managed to make it onto the moorland, to be treated to an absolutely stunning landscape. It is true that floods are terrible and cause so much damage, but they aren’t half beautiful, reflecting the trees and the skyline in the vast pools of completely still water. We went out in late afternoon, so the sun was slowly setting over the trees, adding the ambers and rays of sunset to the mix, and I couldn’t resist taking some photos on my phone.

Billy wasn’t too sure about this altered landscape at first.

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With some encouragement from little Toto the pug, who was ear-deep even in the shallowest waters, he started to enjoy himself.

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Then we found a big stick to throw in for him, which he was gleefully retrieving.

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We got to the end of the first flood and were amazed to see, floating in the middle of a wheat field, a huge swan! We usually run around this field at weekends, so it was a bit of a shock to see it turned into a lake.

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We managed to walk through the fields on the built up paths alongside the hedges, though it still involved a certain amount of wading, and poor Bart only had walking boots on!

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The dogs were absolutely loving it though, even if they did start shivering on the way home.

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Billy just couldn’t get enough, much to my surprise as previously even dipping in a paw has proved too much for him. For one stick we threw particularly far, he was up to his shoulders, and then decided to try a little swim, but gave up after one half-assed paddle.

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We all headed home, bathed and dried the poor muddy, soaked dogs, and made some hot tea for us. It was a wonderful walk, but I felt guilty for enjoying it quite so much knowing floods aren’t all about being picturesque and splashing about in. I sincerely hope that those badly affected are managing to see some silver lining to the clouds, if only the sense of British doggedness of spirit and cameraderie that only things like borrowing your neighbour’s canoe to paddle to the shops can engender.

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