It’s a Washout

January 2, 2023

Previously on Town Mouse, your intrepid/foolhardy (delete as applicable) heroine was cycling through flooded roads to get her paper safely home. The road was closed shortly afterwards, and even as the waters receded and the river reverted to its normal banks, it has remained closed. A short incursion past the ‘road closed’ sign* this afternoon revealed the reason why.

Road with the side of the bank all washed away

My intermittently working phone crapped out on me before I could get a better shot that shows just how badly the intact-looking tarmac was overhanging the washed out road, but it really doesn’t look safe at all, and it won’t take too much more rain for the road surface to collapse altogether.

I was at a virtual briefing about the Scottish Government’s target to reduce car kilometres driven by 20% by 2030, and one of the officials basically said ‘we can do it intentionally, in an orderly fashion, or we can do it the hard way as climate change starts to destroy the roads infrastructure.’ I thought that was putting it a bit strongly at the time; now I’m not so sure.

Selfishly, I’m rather hoping they take their time fixing it and keep the road closed. I ride this road every day and it’s narrow and twisting and there’s really nowhere along it where it’s safe for a driver to overtake, or even where it’s easy to pull in to let someone past. It doesn’t serve any houses except at the top, just acts as a short cut between two slightly busier roads, one of which is also very heavily used by cyclists. Keeping it accessible to pedestrians, cyclists and horseriders, while eliminating the SUVs too wide to comfortably pass anything on this road, would make my life so much nicer. And might even tempt a few more people out on their bikes as well. Filtered permeability, rural style.

* And if you’re thinking ‘bloody scofflaw cyclists’ (I was feeling it a bit myself, TBH), at least I wasn’t driving a massive van, like the delivery guys who squeezed through the traffic cones to take a short cut along the road while I was taking this photo

Periscope Depth

December 30, 2022

I thought I’d been a bit cunning in finding a window in the weather for today’s ride down for the paper. We’ve had an amber weather warning for rain, but it was forecast to stop at lunchtime and then the dangerously gusting winds weren’t due to kick in until an hour or so later. Just time to make the 11-mile round trip to the garage without being drenched or blown off the bike. So as the rain duly eased around noon, I hopped on the bike to take advantage.

Road flowing with water and covered in stones and debris

What I hadn’t factored in was that, for all it was no longer falling out of the sky, there was a hell of a lot of water lying about on the ground. I mean, we’re used to flooding here and I’m used to dealing with surface water, but for some reason I looked at the fact that the road outside our gate had transformed itself into a fast running burn and didn’t even go back to change into wellies. I just picked my way as carefully as I could through the running water and the banks of debris, trying to remember where the worst potholes were and wondering if we’d been right when we’d all laughed at the concept of an ‘all-road bike’ and whether, in fact, they did an amphibious model

Once on the main road things improved a little – at least apart from the driver who was in too much of a hurry to slow down going past me through surface water so sprayed my feet and lower legs with their wake. As it happened, this wasn’t going to matter long. For as I turned off the main road and headed down towards the river, it was clear the flooding was extensive. On my way into town, it was pretty bad, but not the worst I’d ever pedalled through. But water runs downhill, and it takes its time doing so, meaning that things had got worse on the ride back. One long deep section of flooding left me no option but to pedal steadily through it rather than try and coast with my feet up, even though that meant filling my shoes with icy water. I was relieved to note that the little car waiting for me at the other end of the stretch of water just turned around and went back the other way – I was a little worried that the driver would think ‘well if that bike can get through, then my car should no bother’, rather than ‘if the cyclist’s feet are underwater, then important bits of my electrics will be too…’

The (soggy) boot was on the other foot as I turned into the next road and stopped to let a tractor through. Its driver was then very reluctant to let me proceed at all, suggesting I take a five mile detour rather than continue along that route, something I was not that up for given my feet were by now freezing cold in the brisk wind. I have to admit, I thought he was being overly cautious because I had cycled in with no real problems, but he was insistent that things had got worse and when I got to the part he meant, I had to admit he had a point. One flooded field was basically emptying into another and it was as if the road wasn’t there, just a brown fast-flowing river. I just had to guess where the tarmac was and hope I didn’t hit any rocks or chunks of wood, keeping pedalling forward as the flow of the current tried to carry me sideways. This did feel like the sort of Very Bad Idea that usually opens an episode of Casualty, but by this time I was committed, so I just took it slowly and made it to the other side before lighting off for home as quickly as I could.

(I have just seen this tweet which confirms the tractor driver’s concern)

And for those of you wondering why there are no photos of this epic flood, well, that may be the subject of another post, but basically my phone is currently on its last legs and requires coaxing into life before it will take photos or do anything, really. I wasn’t about to do that when there were dry socks waiting for me at home, so you’ll just have to use your imaginations.

One Dam Thing After Another

January 27, 2016

It was so wet this morning, I was actually somewhat reluctant to evict the giant spider which was in our bath (not as reluctant as the spider, though, which managed to cling on to the edge of the window frame and scuttle back in towards me, whereupon my reluctance dissolved and it got batted fairly sharpish back out into the rain). By the time I was up and dressed, the waters were rising in the front yard and threatening not just our wood supplies, but the bikes in the shed…

flooded yard

(this is not quite as alarming as it looks as the buildings you see are all outbuildings, rather than our actual house which is a crucial few inches higher)

Time to revisit the landlord’s flood defences

flooded drive

And add a few of my own.

shoring up

I’m not sure exactly how effective my efforts were but combined with some leaf clearing and stick poking, the waters soon receded in our yard, if not elsewhere – the farmer’s field bears the brunt of all the road drainage and he may have to switch to water buffalo if this goes on. Or fish farming, perhaps.

water draining into field

But what of the ford, you cry? We were hopeful of a good high score, but in the end it was rather average so by way of compensation here is the ford in action:

Then there was just time to wander up the road and try and capture the brief moments of sunshine before the rain started again.

winter trees

I may have had a little play …

leaf-based engineering

More rain warnings on Friday, hey ho

There’s a Reason they Call it a Weather Warning…

January 26, 2016

There was a moment this morning when I thought that I was about to feature in one of those infuriating ‘cyclist collides with car’ headlines – and for once it would have been accurate (under ordinary circumstances it is usually the car doing the colliding, on the whole we cyclists prefer not to hit cars because it hurts). I was just approaching Bigtown and the wind was blowing me sideways into a row of parked cars, including one that was just at the point of pulling out when (thankfully) the driver saw me and stopped long enough for me to wrest control of my bike back from the weather gods and pedal safely away.

In truth, I probably shouldn’t have been out on the bike today, at least not in traffic. It wasn’t that I was getting wet and having an unpleasant time (I was) but the wind was gusting so hard that maintaining a straight line was a problem. I made it to yoga where I was greeted with fairly uniform horror that I’d even attempted the trip. Today was definitely a day to have taken full advantage of the fact that I work from home and done my commute in my slippers from the bedroom to the dressing gown.

The problem was, I have just signed up to a new regime in my life: I’ve got myself some shared office space in Bigtown so that I have somewhere to work that isn’t the kitchen table, and can make better use of times when I have to be in town. I’m also hoping that I can impose a bit more discipline upon myself and start to create some sort of separation between working time and non-working time. I won’t be using it every day, but I had calculated that as I tend to be in town anyway on Tuesdays and Thursdays, that I should turn those into proper working days complete with an office to go to and – more importantly – leave.

That’s the theory. And, looking at the weather warnings yesterday, I probably should have postponed testing it out until Thursday but no, I was both stubborn and stupid and decided to start as I meant to go on. Which meant not only almost cycling into the side of a car and convincing my entire yoga class that I was bordering on the insane, but also spending two hours sitting in wet socks, thinking that, while my new office has lovely speedy broadband, and shops nearby, and people who pop in and ask if I want a cup of tea while they’re making one, and all the other amenities of offices, what it didn’t have was either a Rayburn or a stash of dry socks (I had actually thought of this and brought a spare pair of socks but my boots had got so epicly wet on the ride in from the flooded roads that the dry socks then got soaked in the five minutes it took me to cycle from yoga to the new office …)

Whitesands flooded

So at about 2:30 having done enough of what I wanted to do that I could call it a success, of sorts, and with the rain in temporary abeyance, I undraped all my wet kit from the radiators where I had draped it and decided to get while the getting was good, especially as the police had closed the riverfront, including the cyclepath, and who knew how much flooding there would be on the way home. By this time the wind had died down a little so that I was at least able to make more forward than sideways progress. The rain also waited until I was out of Bigtown before it started again, this time with a headwind, and so it was just a matter of putting my head down and pedalling through the storm for home…

flooded fields

I did stop to record the conditions, and even thought about making a diversion to the ford but you know what? I’m not that dedicated a blogger after all.

waterfall in spate

This is not the ford …

Remind me not to do that again if I don’t have to, would you?

Squelching Through

January 7, 2016

wet cow

George Monbiot said what??

There’s been a lot of talk recently about flood defences and the perils of over-zealous drainage of uplands, and how we might save our towns and cities from flooding if only the river catchments could hold more water. It’s an attractive idea, and I’m all for working with nature, planting more trees, not building massive flood barriers (Bigtown is planning to build a massive bund along its river front which, while practical and undoubtedly cost-effective, doesn’t exactly gladden the heart as a prospect) and definitely all for reintroducing beavers to help slow river flows – not because I think that they will necessarily do much for our flood defences but mostly because I just think it would be really cool to have beavers in Scotland again.

saturated field

The sad part is, this field actually had extensive drainage put in this autumn…

There is one tiny problem though. I don’t know about the rest of the country, and I’m sure that elsewhere there is more that could be done – but speaking as someone who lives in one of the catchment areas that is supposed to be holding all this surplus water, I really am not sure where exactly it is supposed to go

swollen river and waterfall

Or how the land could hold any more of it.

cows seek the higher ground

The cows don’t, either

So I expect we’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that, as most things are.

Speaking of flood defences, I was finally able to get the story of our own impromptu ones from the horse’s mouth. It turns out one of the junior landlords, up from London for the holidays, was responsible for the major works. ‘Well, we’re very grateful, and thank him for his efforts’ I said. ‘Oh don’t worry, he had the most wonderful time,’ was the breezy reply.

To be honest, I’m a bit jealous, because I love mucking around and damming things. Maybe that’s why I’m so keen on them bringing back the beavers…

I Promised you Interesting Drainage News

January 4, 2016

… and I realise now I might have oversold it somewhat

But, for what it’s worth, we came back to find that our yard had mysteriously developed a small dyke on one side and a dam in the gate leading to the back – while our neighbour (who was away having a baby at the time) found that all of her stuff had been piled up at the back of the garage, presumably to get it out of the way of flooding in the yard. It means that when the burn at the side of the house bursts out of the confines of the ditch it runs through, it heads straight for the road rather than half of it pooling in our yard We can only assume that the landlords were busy over the break, for which we’re very grateful, or else someone has gone ahead and introduced some extremely resourceful beavers. It makes cycling home in the dark a little hazardous but into every life, a little* rain must fall.

flood_defences_1 flood_defences_2

Anyway, I’ve now more or less caught up with the local gossip in the village having cycled through it for the paper on Friday and bumped into various neighbours out and about, as well as attending the community council meeting. I was happy to meet the neighbour’s new baby, delivered safe and well, and saddened to hear that one of the people I regularly met out on the road had died over Christmas. He owned a mad sheep dog of the kind that would have your throat out if you looked at it wrong, and I think he was on a mission to walk it into submission because I’d see him out on the roads with it, often miles away from the village. He always had a cheery word for me when I cycled past him. In latter years we had stopped to chat on occasion, although it was always a bit strained as he would be occupied trying to stop the dog from chewing my leg off. As is so often the case, it was a few months before I realised I hadn’t seen him for a while, and by the time I found out the reason (and, indeed, his name) he was gone.

In other news, we heard at the community council that someone in the coonsil had finally taken decisive action over a spot of subsidence on the road that leads up to the village from Big A Road. Year after year, this has sunk down, and year after year it has been patched up by the addition of another layer of tar, in what must by now be a rich geological record. But this year, at long last, someone decided to stop papering over the cracks and sort this out for good and for all. So they have put up a sign. It says ‘dip’. So that’s all right then.

*little, please note, Weather Gods little

To Be Frank

December 29, 2015

It’s never a good sign when people keep tweeting you the weather forecast in your area. We’re heading off home tomorrow and it looks like we’ll just miss Storm Frank* but not, perhaps, his soggy aftermath. SEPA’s flood warning manages to be both vague and ominous, talking about highest water levels ever and basically putting the whole of Bigtownshire on flood alert. Despite living on the side of a hill, we can still get flooded and this time two years ago we were sitting in Salt Lake City airport under an improbably blue sky getting tweets about the rain at home and we returned to find that the flood water had got into the shed and found our heat logs, which was how we learned that when super-dried pressed wood products meet water, they turn rapidly into piles of fluffy damp sawdust. This year we did move the heatlogs to higher ground (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘the other half’, obviously) before we left but not, I realised guiltily last night, the bikes. What kind of a terrible owner am I?

yard flooded

Hopefully we won’t be coming back to something like this. Bikes live in the shed to the left behind the bench…

Here it’s been cold – too cold to make cycling or walking any real fun (we were reduced to stretching our legs in the Pueblo Mall the other day, don’t judge me) especially after I developed a clogged-up ear possibly from insisting on going out for a walk in sub freezing temperatures. But I can hardly complain given what everyone else is suffering, from tornadoes wiping out parts of Texas, to the horrible flooding in York and Hebden Bridge.

Now all we have to do is cram all of our purchases (you can buy an enormous amount of secondhand books for a $50 gift voucher, I’ve discovered) into our suitcase and hope we’re not over the weight limit. It’s been nice, as ever, to see a bit of winter sun and real winter cold. It will be even nice to get home too, however soggy it may be. If only to discover what’s happened to my garlic …

Trees and December sky

* And can this be the last year we give them names? It’s clearly just giving them ideas above their station.

Flood Defences

December 7, 2015

There was only one choice of footwear for the ride down to the papershop today

cycling in wellies

I have yet to work out what additional information a ‘Flood’ sign brings to the party here, or most places, to be honest. This has long puzzled me (it’s not as if this one was any deeper or more dangerous to cross than any of the other stretches of flooding we see without the benefit of signs).

flood ahead

Still, they do seem to lead interesting lives. This one has clearly been in the wars. If may even be the one that had all but grown into the landscape on the outskirts of Papershop Village – perhaps washed free by the recent flooding?

battered flood sign

On the way home, I was rewarded by the sun coming out and catching everything with a fleeting brush of glorious light

fleeting winter sunshine

Meanwhile, up at the greenhouse …

garlic emerging

But I (and you) will have to wait for the next thrilling installment of GarlicWatch because tomorrow we pack our bags and head to Glasgow (trains and weather warnings permitting) to fly the next morning to Colorado where we shall, hopefully, be seeing a lot more of the sun, and a lot less flooding. And hopefully, a restored river path.

Don’t tell the Weather Gods…

Blow, Desmond, and Crack your Cheeks

December 6, 2015

I hope you all appreciate the fact that at the height of ‘Storm Desmond‘ – with the coonsil having called a major emergency and repaired to their secret emergency bunker* – I ventured out to check the level of the ford for you.

Ford in December - 2 foot

I don’t want to be too flippant because the flooding further east was pretty serious and things look truly dire in Cumbria (and of course Bigtown flooded but Bigtown floods two or three times a year), but up here we have seen worse, in fact we’d seen worse on Thursday evening when I thought my friend’s car was going to drown as she gave me a lift into town, and the water in the yard nearly reached the shed door. That wasn’t one of your named storms though, that was just a wet day in Southwest Scotland, and if they’re going to start giving every wet day in Southwest Scotland a name, we’re going to need a longer alphabet…

That said, the water yesterday did overwhelm most of the drains (despite regular stick poking) and we kept getting brief powercuts each of which lasted exactly long enough for us to feel our way to the kitchen shelf where the torch lives, and we’ve not had mobile reception since yesterday afternoon. We were even forced to watch both episodes of the Bridge back to back (I prefer to spread them out) because we weren’t sure the power cuts wouldn’t interfere with the recording. I know, my flooding hell, send in the army…

All through September and part of October, when the weather was uncannily warm and fine, we were rather looking at each other nervously and wondering when we were going to pay for this.

I think that time might be now.

*This genuinely exists, and was built to withstand a nuclear war although even so I would have thought an underground bunker wasn’t the best place to sit out a major flooding event


November 29, 2015

Well, the weather continues grim. We haven’t had the snow that Scotland was getting further north, but the rain has been coming down stairrods and then coming sideways stairrods, if that’s possible, which now I come to think of it makes more sense for stairrods. It did ease off a bit this afternoon and the sun even came out but only for long enough to lure us out for a walk, before resuming in earnest before we could even contemplate checking the level of the ford.

road flooding

But who needs a ford, when your whole road network consists of running water? The other half was slightly disconcerted to notice that, when I cleared the leaves out of one of the drains, the water started to bubble up directly through the tarmac. Further up the road, a culvert must have got blocked somewhere and a burn has redirected itself into a field, through a wall and across the road into the field that the farmer spent all of the summer extensively and probably expensively draining.

water everywhere

It was also flooding somewhat outside our gate so I duly went out with the stick* to see what I could do. A bit of leaf clearing aside, the answer was ‘not much’: the field drain was draining water as fast as it possibly could, just not as fast as it was falling out of the sky.

field drain draining

None of this bodes well for the outside garlic, although I did manage to dash up this morning before the worst of it started and give it some protection with some bottle cloches before the soil got even more waterlogged (I know there are holes in the top of some of them; they still seem to provide a bit of protection from the worst of the weather). Whether they will make a blind bit of difference when the whole county is effectively sloshing about, remains to be seen.

garlic under cloches

*Oh and drivers? Please don’t try and rush me when I am out in the middle of the road with my stick. I am out there for your benefit and no, I’m not going to move over so you can roar past at top speed through the flood. And yes, the more reluctant you are to slow down when you see me, the longer it will take me to get out of the way.