I scampered over to the northern edge of the Priory grounds the other day. (I do quite a bit of scampering when no-one’s about). Here, a small river forms the boundary to the estate. In summer it can dry up almost entirely, leaving just a broken line of deep, shady pools; in winter it can be a raging torrent, threatening to burst its banks and flood the house itself. (For some reason the builders of the Priory chose to erect it on land that floods, rather than higher up on the sides of the valley. Maybe the topography of the land was different five hundred years ago, though that is unlikely; maybe more extensive woodland held onto rainwater for longer, only slowly releasing it into the river. Maybe whoever built it just wasn’t very bright).
In the north-western corner of the grounds a public footpath crosses a tumbledown, brick footbridge. This was the main route from the Priory to the nearby village of Weydon Priors (not its real name), before the age of the motor-car. Nowadays, the path is used only by dog-walkers* and ramblers, and I use the arch of this bridge as a gauge to check on how high the river level is; should I blithely carry on with gardening duties or do I need to run about in a blind, shrieking panic because the house is in danger of flooding?
Leaning over the post and rail fence, I noticed that a branch had got wedged into the bridge arch and that around it a dam of leaves and twigs was forming. With the through-flow impeded like this, the blockage will only increase. Couple that with heavy rainfall and the bridge could soon act like a dam itself causing the water level to rise very quickly. There was only one thing to do. It was time. Yes, it was time to pull on my waders.
Resembling nothing so much as a giant romper suit, I use the waders when doing wet mucky jobs and to get out to the islands in the ponds. Thankfully, I am one of those rare people who can wear waders without looking preposterous.
Half an hours work and I was able to clear the branch and all that leaf and twig. Reminded me of playing in streams and building dams when I was a kid. (I love my job).
Some of the trees that line the river are (a bit) Amazonian in size. These mighty ash and oak can make me to do a double-take – they’re so flaming big. It does worry me how the river, when in full spate, washes deeply away at their roots. A couple of these giants have come crashing down already; luckily when there has been no-one about.
For now the river is running clear again. If we get heavy rain over several days, and the fields about the Priory become saturated, the run off will swell the river and its level will swiftly begin to rise. And I will need to keep a close eye on it. Though truth be told, once the river gets to a certain level, and water starts running back up the ditches into the estate, there is precious little I can do about it. Waders or no. The house has flooded before and, one day, it most certainly will again.
It’s just a matter of time.
* My first experience of The Priory was walking my dogs along the same footpath, trying to peer through the beech hedge (not that I’m nosy); wondering about its history and who lived there and what the inside of the house might be like. It is odd now to think back on a time when The Priory wasn’t part of my life and I didn’t know it intimately.