Friday, 11 December 2015

Glenridding Floods

I spent part of yesterday in Glenridding recording some of the scenes from the flooding which hit the village over the last 5 days.

Despite the fact I make part of my living producing editorial news imagery, I have to be honest and say that at times I don't think I am truly cut out for covering stories that involve people suffering distress whatever the cause and in many ways would much rather spend my time capturing images of the weather's more atmospheric side - mountain sunrises, temperature inversions and snow scenes for example.  That said I strongly feel events such as this should be covered and recorded in various ways, which is a viewpoint that does at times create a bit of a dilemma for me.

On Thursday morning I had assumed the road to Glenridding would be closed and decided to bike to the village from a parking area near Dockray instead.   By the time I had puffed my way there the place was already a hive of activity with journalists and TV crews speaking to various locals and business owners.

I had expected the locals to be rather fed up with the media attention and the near constant picture taking of what was left of their businesses and homes, especially so as they were going through this for a second time in less than a week.  Fortunately that was not the case and while some people did look thoroughly worn out and rather dazed by what had happened, one thing that really stood out was the tangible atmosphere of true community spirit.  All around people were working in small groups to clean up the mess, or heading off to help others with mops and buckets in their hands.  The emergency services were of course there pumping water out of the hotel, while nearby the police directed traffic and generally managed to keep people and heavy machinery apart.


Everywhere you looked there was the evidence of just how violent these floods have been, with snapped tree branches, broken down walls and tons and tons of boulders, covering the car park and side road next to the shops.  Among all this were shop display units, cupboards, carpets and other possessions - it truly was a scene of devastation

Set right on the edge of all this destruction was a little picnic table, which had been set up so the people working here could come and grab some food and drink.  From this little oasis came a sound I had certainly not expected to hear - laughter.  Here people came up, grabbed a drink, had a chat and then left with a smile on their faces.  It was a wonderful sight and in some ways I wish I had grabbed a few shots.

To have done so however, would have felt far too intrusive and instead I moved away to grab a few shots of the diggers at work in the beck.  Shortly after I headed along the road towards St Patricks landing where it was a bit quieter.  Here the scene was no less poignant and there was a great deal of flood debris containing personal possessions piled up against the fences.  Amongst this there was everything from children's toys, TV's, clothing and even some Christmas decorations, all left just where the floodwater had dumped them.  The sight of it brought a lump to my throat and I had to make a bit of an effort to switch off and focus on capturing the scene in front of me.

While I was doing this, an elderly guy nearby saw what I was doing and turned his attention to me.  Expecting him to have a go at me he instead leaned on the gate and began chatting about how bad it was.  He was a local and spoke in that quiet, friendly, matter of fact way that suggests a lifetime of living in Cumbria.   Feeling the need to state the obvious, I said how awful it must be for folk losing all this, he on the other hand was more pragmatic about it and I came away realising it's only stuff and the important thing is, nobody got hurt.  He was a lovely guy and the conversation ended as quickly as it started when he sighed at the scene around, looked at a large green tank next to us and said, "looks like someone's lost their diesel tank" before walking slowly off to find his wife.

That short conversation really lightened my mood and I put his attitude down to the fact that as we get older life is less about the material things and more about the folks around you. 

Patterdale Mountain Rescue and evidence of just how powerful the flood waters were

A great deal of farmland has been damaged as well with walls, fences and pasture ripped up

Road near Hartsop
Today's experience in Glenridding really did bring home that the people here and elsewhere in Cumbria will bounce back from this because they really do have a genuine sense of community, they don't want anyone to feel sorry for them, they will want a lot of help certainly, but the main thing is they won't be beaten.  It will take a while to get their businesses open, their homes liveable and the infrastructure sorted, but perhaps one of the best ways we can help is simply by going there just as we always have.