I was prompted to write this post by the recent inundation of communities in this part of the world and my own (modest) experience of flooding. So whilst it’s not a post about hiking it is still about the oft wet moors that surround me and where I often walk. I’m conscious it’s a bit ‘rambling recollection meets essay’.
The inscription on the fountain in Marsden Park reads “Water is one of the best of God’s gifts to Man’. The fountain was supplied to the village in 1929 by the Marsden branch of the British Womens Temperance Association,the placement overseen by a Mrs Armitage. Armitage is a local name, most notable of current bearers being Simon Armitage, who has himself eulogised about water through poetry (google the Stanza Stones project) and prose (read his excellent ‘Walking Home’).
There’s quite a lot to pick apart in the fountain inscription but I’ll focus on the ‘gift’ element. Water is a necessity, that’s obvious. But recently, in this part of the world (from the next valley across from me, into neighbouring Lancashire and up to Cumbria) it’s been the gift that keeps on – unfortunately – giving. A lot of folk have been badly affected by winter storms and the resultant inundation that has occurred in their communities.
Supporting flooded communities
Quick Ad break – if you want to support both the Mountain Rescue teams who are working flat out in Cumbria, and the local businesses there have a look at ‘A Grand Day Out’: lots of events happening on 16th January 2016.
A flood closer to home
Whilst it was far far less devastating than others have endured, I know the feeling of seeing your house inundated by water. We were victims of ‘modest’ flooding during a summer flood some years back (my scale: anything up to, though no higher than, skirting boards is modest). Ripped up carpets, industrial dryers, floor sanders and a few weeks of inconvenience saw us back to normal.
We live at the very northern end of the Peak District National Park and beneath Scout and Binn Moor (part of the wider Marsden Moor National Trust estate). We’re down the hill from a substantial clough between those two moors: Ellen Clough. The clough is really obvious in its upper section but narrows to a stream / channel as the gradient decreases. It then disappears into a culvert and goes underground and (to my reckoning) runs under the park that’s opposite our house. Then under the A62/ Manchester Road, before joining the River Colne that flows through the village.
As can happen in short summer storms, a large amount of rain dropped in a short time period. Which meant that the usually benign stream in the clough could be seen as muscular braid of white water from across the valley. As mentioned, the clough gives way to a channel which runs down the side of the sloping field behind us, to then head into said culvert. It was this channel that took the strain (or not, as the case may be) of the engorged waters.
Mr Dyson was the incumbent of the property at the time, which included the field and water course, he had had the land for many years. He used what had been old cottages / terraced houses and an attached old blacksmiths as vehicle workshop, store-room and a panel repair / paint shop respectively. The blacksmiths had been used by his father at the turn off the century and it was a working smithy possibly much further back: I’ve seen reference to a blacksmith called Dyson in Marsden in 1743. Mr Dyson, despite being retirement age, enjoyed fixing up cars and his skills were in demand; so his hands were full with car repairs and specialist bodywork jobs. He had some classic cars turn up occasionally for his craftsman skills.
But other than keeping some chickens, he didn’t use or maintain the field. And wouldn’t have checked the water course, there never having been a flood in the 50 or so years he had the land and buildings. So the channel, as became apparent, had silted up and was home to wind-blown Buddleia, Elder and (if I remember rightly) some hawthorn.
The sheer volume of water hitting the moors that day couldn’t be soaked up quickly enough, so the clough was full in no time and the lower (shrub and tree filled) water course burst its capacity. Water spilled across the adjoining sloped field in a sheet and funnelled down between the steps of the two workshop buildings. Which sat a few feet behind our garden and on a higher gradient. The water then headed for the lowest point available to it – the steps down to our back door. And from there, into the kitchen and round to the wall of the dining room at the back of the house.
Which is when I got a call from Anita to say we were being flooded. That was a stressy hour’s commute home. Not as stressy as it was for her though, trying to soak up the initial water with towels. It soon became apparent that they really weren’t going to do it. The water never got higher than about skirting board level before it as it dropped down the step in our hallway and out of the hastily opened front door. Going where it ‘wanted’ to: downhill to the village via drain and road and the waiting, rapidly swelling river Colne.
Nature and inadvertently neglected ground works conspired to flood us. But it wasn’t just the field channel and adjoining culvert that hadn’t been kept clear – the drain at the back of our house had some silt in it, so the water couldn’t flow away quick enough. I had added to our problems. Clearing the silt would probably have only made a marginal difference – but any difference may have helped the situation. And I now check it regularly as you’d expect. Add to that: our neighbours had just built an extension which covered the drain at the back of their adjoining (terraced) house and that also meant a wall of the extension going up alongside our dining room and property boundary. So the sizable volume of water gathering behind our house couldn’t flow away in any direction other than down the one drain or through the house.
All these factors: land management, regular water course / channel clearing, ‘personal’ and public drain maintenance, changes in the routes that ‘excess’ water can run in after new or extended building works: these are all themes I’m seeing discussed in the news and social media, around future mitigation of floods.
Managing the water of the moors
I’m skipping any industrial heritage detail on the reservoirs, canals, catchwaters, conduits, spillways and more of the moors, interesting through the history of the area is.
Except to say: I can attest to some of the water conduits above Marsden becoming silted and clogged over the past few years. An example is Deer Hill conduit that runs above where I live – coming around from the Wessenden Valley and taking water to Deer Hill Reservoir above Meltham. At times the water is just a trickle, sitting almost as sludge at bottom of the conduit, or flowing as a shallow, relaxed clear body of benign water.
At other times (like this week) it’s a churning brown volume that grabs at large clumps of moors grass and peat as it progresses around the moorland contour and on to the reservoir. I can’t think that it’s been dredged in the last four of five years. There are now ‘islands’ of peat / soil stacks and grass that grow within the conduit. And its previously clear cobbled sides are covered in encroaching moor vegetation.
This isn’t a ‘Dear Yorkshire Water (or Kirklees Council?)’ moan – times are tight so I guess maintenance work is rationed nowadays.
But that said: one of the Victorian era bridges that heads over the Blackmoorfoot conduit (also above where I live) has been closed for maintenance for the last three years or so – but to my mind is now an accident waiting to happen. There hasn’t been any work done on the bridge since the signs went up. But in that time one of the concealed moorland springs above it has changed route and is now regularly inundating the bridge surface itself. I’ve tried to re-divert it but can’t figure out where it actually springs from.
It’s only a matter of time before the old bridge collapses into the conduit (which is close to the start of the Scout springs where the water emanates from). Sometimes there’s a LOT of water coming from those springs.. so it would pool rapidly behind the dam of the collapsed bridge and then most likely spill over and head down hill (to the Scout Farm hamlet by my reckoning). That’s a lot of water heading down hill. Actually, having written that I think I will contact Yorkshire Water.
UPDATE (2 days after I wrote this post): I did contact Yorkshire Water and they reacted quickly, calling me back to check they had the right bridge I had described via their website contact form. Friendly guy on phone, good work YW. The job is in the system now I think.
Water shaped the Marsden area.
It transported then ground down ancient rock into sands (when the region was a gigantic river delta), which then then made the equally ancient grit/sandstone rocks hereabouts some 320 million years ago. The resulting gritstone was later shaped by ice, which pummelled and abraded its way through the landscape, retreating around 12,000 years ago. Glacier gave way to tundra, birch woodland, cotton grass stands, and other fluctuating habitats which led in time to boggy peat moorland.
Water has shaped Marsden and the surrounding moors. Sometimes ‘tamed’ – channelled in the man made structures mentioned above – and sometimes feral, finding its own path through peat albeit corralled by gritstone.
The National Trust and also the Colne Valley Tree Society are endeavouring in different ways to retain the water on and in the moors. From gully dams, to sphagnum moss to Belted Galloways. These initiatives aim to stop water running off so easily (or disappearing up into the air) in an uncontrolled way. The Colne Valley Tree Society have actually planted trees around Ellen Clough mentioned earlier and now in the field that had the blocked gully that flooded us (new owners have worked with them to add trees to their field, it’ll look great in years to come).
Wetter moors rather than wetter houses – good for fauna, flora and folk alike.