A nightmare in York for Steve, while Kevin goes back to the, er... BCN
Of course, we knew its reputation. You can’t have boated for as long as we have not to be aware of the horror stories about the River Ouse at York. Blimey, you only have to watch the news to know about it. Even so, I probably thought the stories were exaggerated. Surely, no river could rise that fast? I mean, it hadn’t been raining much, hardly at all, in fact...
Then I called Em. I’d been giving a talk at Barton Marina 100 miles away and the trains were running late. “If I miss the connection I may have to stay in Manchester,” I said. “I wouldn’t do that,” she replied, “the river’s rising. fast.” By the time I crossed Lendal Bridge for the short walk from the station, I could see what she meant. Even at that distance it was clear Justice was engulfed by water which had already breached the towpath. At this stage, though – it was midnight by now – the water was still shallow enough for me to wade over in wellies.
We had to keep watch all night in order to loosen off our lines. In the first hour it rose three inches. In the second hour, twice that much and in the third, twice that again so it was now going up at the rate of a foot an hour. Soon we were floating over the towpath, beginning to ride up the angled wall which leads to the esplanade above.
There were two potential dangers: one, that the waters would continue to rise and we’d find ourselves floating off towards the Minster. The second – more likely – was levels would abate as quickly as they had begun, either sinking us if we tipped or, if we stayed level, depositing us somewhere from which it would take a substantial insurance claim to rescue us. The river was raging now, bringing tree branches and riverside bushes down with it.
Loosening our lines became a nightmare as we struggled to hold the boat against the force of the flow. Eventually, at about 4am, with us exhausted, our worst fears materialised and we lost control of the bow line, the power of the river ripping it from our grasp and swinging the boat around 180 degrees. It was now held precariously on a single rope.
Dawn brought some relief, as did the realisation that although the water was still going up, the rate of rise had slowed. This – bizarrely – was a great comfort: while the water wasn’t falling, we couldn’t be grounded and this meant we could at least move under our own power. By now we had decided that we’d head upstream where a huge workboat was moored with long lines as thick as a man’s wrist. Encouraged by its helpful crew, this offered a refuge until conditions improved.
It was three days before they did though, and I couldn’t help thinking for every moment of that time what might have happened if that workboat hadn’t been where it was.
The Environment Agency was worse than useless. Its website is aimed at property owners not boaters. And York council, which is responsible for moorings, seems oblivious to the dangers faced by the many boaters who visit the place. You’d have thought it’d have installed a floating jetty for visiting boats long before now. Or, at the very least, some poles set into the river bed for sanctuary. They could charge for both which would pay for them. After all, this sort of flash flood isn’t uncommon in these parts.
But you get the feeling York’s got enough tourists and isn’t going to put itself out for more. There’s no water point unless you count the one at Lendal Bridge where the trip-boats load and where you’d need a hose twice the length any narrowboat would carry.
The Elsan disposal point at the bridge is a disgrace, too. It’s badly signposted and you have to go through the old Castle wall to get to it; and when you do, it’s just a hole in the ground, so close to an adjoining restaurant that if it wasn’t that the Council fund environmental health, you’d have expected both to have been closed years ago.
Really, a city like this should do a lot better! Follow meonTwitter @Cutdreamer
‘The river was raging now, bringing tree branches and bushes down with it. Loosening our lines became a nightmare’
Safely alongside the workboat with the river still running high