When it snowed in Somerset

The weather forecast is for a dusting of snow tomorrow. It brought a conversation recalling the days of 1978 when a blizzard swept across the West Country, cutting off entire rural communities for days. The fall of snow was not heavy by the standards of countries that were accustomed to such weather, but the gale force winds had driven the snow before them, leaving huge accumulations between hedgerows at the roadside and against walls.

On Saturday night, it was wintry, but the roads were passable. Getting up on Sunday morning to go to the filling station where I pumped petrol at the weekends, my father told me I might as well have slept in: our country road was a series of drifts, nothing was going anywhere.

The following week was one when there was little to do other than look out at the whiteness and wonder when it would end. One day, I walked with my father as we made our way across fields that were almost snow-free to Langport, our small local town. We went to the surgery to collect prescriptions for various older people and then walked back in the eerily bright winter light. There were stories told in Langport that the road to Taunton was completely impassable and that a helicopter had landed in Langport car park to collect an emergency case bound for Musgrove Park Hospital. The BBC responded to the situation by establishing an emergency radio station in Taunton, its regular broadcasts of information, messages and advice were something very different from what one might now expect from a radio station. It is hard to imagine the isolation many people must have felt. Our house, like most of those around, had no telephone. There was no possibility of calling friends and asking them how things were where they lived.

The weather grew milder as the days passed, the roads were cleared, and, after a week of inactivity, life returned to its regular pattern; petrol was again pumped on the Sunday morning. Returning to the routine was a delight after the week of being trapped. The further education college I attended reopened on the Monday morning and everyone gathered with their own stories. Life in our small village seemed to have been dull and uneventful when compared with the tales from elsewhere, although there may have been a touch of embroidery in some of them.

Were there to be such snow now, the inconvenience would be as great, but the sense of isolation would only be a fraction of what it was in 1978.


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