The devastation the floods have wrought in Cumbria is truly shocking. With its soaring peaks and gorgeous countryside, the Lake District is one of the most beautiful places I know. Now the area around Cockermouth, Workington and Keswick looks more like a mud swamp, with towns and villages cut off from the outside world and predictions that many people won’t be able to move back into their houses for months to come. A grim prospect, especially with Christmas less than five weeks away.
It’s only a fortnight since I was in Cumbria for the weekend. It rained non-stop but we had the time of our lives. We picnicked in the drizzle, climbed majestic Maiden Moor and Catbells and strolled round Newlands Valley, best known for its associations with Beatrix Potter. Although she lived further south, Beatrix Potter often stayed at Lingholm, a massive pile on the shores of Derwentwater. It was on one of her walks nearby that she met Lucie Carr, the local vicar’s daughter, and she later wrote The Tale of Mrs Tiggywinkle for her, complete with sweet drawings of Skelgill Farm and the isolated village of Little Town.
But in the last few days the landscape has been utterly transformed. My elderly father-in-law was staying near Keswick with friends when the rain began and said he’d never seen anything like it. His house is set halfway down a peaceful valley, but even so, his long, sloping drive was turned into a wild, tumultuous river in Friday’s storms. Water spewed into the house and the sturdy wooden bridge crossing the stream at the bottom of the valley was completely swept away in the deluge. He, however, was one of the lucky ones – able to sit tight at home and keep warm.
There’s no doubt that the floods will take a terrible toll on the whole area. The Lake District economy depends on tourism and it’s going to be months before hotels, pubs, shops and other businesses are up and running again. The latest news reports say more than 1,300 homes have been affected, more than 1,000 families left without power and by yesterday around 94 people were still sheltering in reception centres. Worst of all, the family of PC Bill Barker, who was swept to his death when a Workington bridge collapsed, are now facing life without him…