Thursday, March 28, 2024

Drought memories as Oxford is cut off by high waters

I think we're in the longest wet weather spell I can remember.  The table at the end of this post illustrates it well.  But first, the longest dry spell I can remember was 48 years ago and I have good reason to remember.

Kath and I got married in the September of 1976 after months of the longest drought in living memory.  Down in Devon and Cornwall water was being rationed and there were standpipes in the streets in some towns.  

We were pretty skint at the time, we organised our wedding reception with the help of friends - we made all the food and  made our own wine using free ingredients kindly donated by local home brew shop, a friend made a barrel of beer, our musical friends made up the band for the ceilidh.  A neighbour got us free hire of  The Old Gospel Hall in town which by then was occupied by the local drama group so it had a stage and theatrical props draped around the walls.  Kennet Morris dancers (of which I was one at the time) processed us from the registry office to the reception.  Someone remarked that it was all like something out of Thomas Hardy.  

Next day we set off on honeymoon in our beloved Citroen Diane.  Having little money we took our small tent and headed for Dartmoor stopping off at Cheddar on the way for cheese and cider.  I recall it was the weekend before the government introduced the alcohol tax on cider so we got it really cheap from a farm shop.  5 gallons of it!  Wizened old locals sat on a bench at the farm drinking free tasting samples.  One old fella got up to go for a pee and Kath asked "Have you been drinking free samples all day?" "Yas misssus," he replied, "I shall be glad when I've 'ad enough!"

Dartmoor was lovely. Kath fed the campsite chickens from the door of our little tent and we lived mostly on cheese and cider.

Then on the Wednesday, four days into our honeymoon, the months of drought broke with a vengeance and it poured and thundered and poured and poured.  We headed home to complain to our friends who worked at the Met Office.  People were rejoicing at the return of the rain, but another few days of drought would have been better for two honeymooners!

My next drought memories are of the extraordinary dry winter of 2011/12 when the canal reservoirs were drying up.  Here's a picture I took then of the Welford reservoir  that feeds the Leicester arm of the Grand Union canal.  I suspect you may have been able to wade across the middle and keep your shoulders dry.

Over at Marsworth reservoirs which feed the GU main line it was the same story.

So here we are in 2024 and it couldn't be more different. Reservoirs are full.  I suppose we're lucky on the canals because they don't flood anything like as much as rivers do. But down on the Oxford we have the problem of the Cherwell river which in two places joins the canal.  Like a lot of boaters we get the updates from CRT telling us when these places are not safe to navigate.  This week I noticed that these emails contain not only the latest information but also all those events since it was last safe.  So for fun I made the following table.  It reminds us strongly of how long this wet spell has continued.

It shows conditions at Nell Bridge, where the canal joins the river for the short stretch to Aynho lock and at Bakers lock where the canal drops down to the Cherwell just south of Enslow.  If these bits are unsafe, then you can't boat down to Oxford where the canal ends.  Nor can Oxford be accessed by the Thames at these times because the great river is always in flood if the Cherwell is.  

Anyway here's the table Red means not safe to navigate.  Orange means stream increasing  so be very careful and Yellow means stream decreasing from red but still requires great care.

So it looks like it has now been more than 5 months since the All Clear at Bakers lock.  As I write this, it's raining heavily outside so we can't see an end to it yet. Oxford cut off from the known world!

1 comment:

Vallypee said...

Crumbs, that's high. And bad. I do wish we could be sure it isn't going to pour again here. We too have had enough of it all!