Above the waters

‘Risk of road flooding’ declared the black letters on a bright yellow sign.

The persistent rainfall would undoubtedly top-up the already filled ditches and rhines that criss-cross the landscape of the Somerset Levels.

It is hard to imagine how the country around would once have appeared in the times before the Abbot of Glastonbury determined that the wetlands should be transformed into productive farmland. A large scale ordnance survey map of the area is a page covered in blue lines, the network of waterways appears like a diagram of veins and arteries in the human body.

Of course, there was always flooding here, the authorities would not have dotted twenty-one pumping stations around district if there were not a danger of the drainage system being unable to cope with the accumulation of water from the rainfall on the surrounding hills. However, the floodwaters have become more common and more hazardous. Ten years ago, the floods made the national news, the village of Muchelney was cut off from the outside world for five weeks, local people collected supplies to send by boat to the marooned villagers.

Flooding in the past weeks is early, it has left the ground sodden and heavy, the prospect of a traditional ‘February fill-dyke’ is one that could present considerable problems for those who live in the local communities. The recent floods closed even main roads, including the A303, an arterial dual carriageway. Local towns, the streets of which were built in medieval times, could not cope with the sudden increase in traffic, simple journeys could take an hour.

Travelling the road that passes through Hambridge and Westport, it was hard to imagine that there had once been canal traffic from the River Parrett to the wharves at Westport. The places seem remote from the commerce of the Twenty-First Century.

Drawing near the village of Barrington, the ground rises, at the top of a ridge stand a line of former council houses, they are identifiable as such because there are identical houses in most of the local villages. I grew up in one such house, it is still home to my family.

The houses date from the 1920s, not a time of economic abundance, each village has six, or perhaps eight such houses, three or four pairs of semi-detached houses with substantial gardens. The feature of the houses that has become apparent as the waters have risen is that they are all built on ridges that rise above the land around.

Perhaps there was an old wisdom about where to build that has been lost with the passage of time and the desire to transform a rural area into suburbia.

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