Flash floods leave a tale or two to tell
THERE was a ‘spot’ of rain the other morning outside the gallery in Padfield and someone commented that it must have been a flash-flood. Well I got to thinking, a bit like Crocodile Dundee, and wanted to say, as he did when referring to a very large knife, ‘Call that a flash flood, this is a flash flood!’
I’ll tell you a tale of two flash floods in the Valley: firstly, thanks to John Davies, the old railwayman from Crowden, when he shared a memory from the 1940s.
“I remember that night well. There had been a sudden deluge as we sometimes get, and the signalman at Crowden Station was having trouble getting hold of his counterpart, so rushed as best he could to wave the red-lantern from side to side to warn the driver to stop. There was an obstruction on the tracks near the gamekeeper’s cottage, right opposite the George and Dragon, and what had happened was that some giant boulders had come down the clough in the storm, and one, must have been six foot round, had virtually sealed off the tunnel which went under the embankment, causing the water to build up and eventually it over-topped the rails, carrying lots of smaller boulders with it, and washed away the ballast. They were just hanging like skeletons, we’d a few dead sheep, and a couple of trees among the tangle for good measure. The track were a right mess and very dangerous. Aye, he saved the day did Bill that night, driver pulled up as though nowt were going on and shouted to Bill to get a brew on. There were no passengers, just a few men and twenty wagons o’ stone.”
I was able to picture, and understand the destruction that John described as there had been a similar, and very localised ‘flash flood’ in 1982, quite remarkable in fact, as it was possible from my vantage point outside the valve house at the end of the Bleak House garden, to watch the whole thing unfold. It began with a sudden darkening of the skies above Shining Clough, as though someone had thrown a bucket of black paint into the white clouds, causing them to billow angrily in a hundred different shades of grey, spinning in and out of each other like the very bad CGI in the original ‘Jason And The Argonauts film’, it was unreal, and almost in slow motion.
There was no thunder or lightning initially but, the rain began, not with the usual tiny drops, before building up to a steady flow, because these ‘drops’ were like an egg-cup full of water, which drenched you on first strike.
Boom, then came the first thunder, the ground shaking, followed by Zeus firing down his electric thunderbolts from on high, zig-zagging, darting and crackling out of the Heavens, and one, a direct hit on the reservoir, sending up an anti-plume of steam and arcing rainbows as the late sun pushed through from Mottram beyond.
On the hill, movement was afoot. Dry became wet and tiny oxbow lakes were transformed in seconds into tormented rapids of mud, rock and vegetation, which moved down the hill as a menacing lava taking anything in its wake, including, I found out later, the blanket and picnic items of two American ladies who had decamped on the edge of the clough; they were fine but the clough was instantly re-shaped and 20 feet deeper in places, as the moraine-like debris descended towards the back road and Skew Bridge.
One more enormous boulder did it, and there was an audible ‘pock’ as the mighty rock jammed into the mill-race of the old Crowden Paper Mill, and over she went, a tsunami of soupy brown detritus, cutting off and washing away the single track road to the lodge, before laying a two feet thick carpet of mud and guts across the Woodhead Road. Rain stopped, job done, road blocked for three weeks. Well done Zeus, Gods 1 Valley 0.
The whole affair was over in 15 minutes, and with a month’s rain in one go, I thought that there was more than just the roads that needed looking at.
But I was wrong. The storm, in relative terms, was literally in one place at one moment in time, and although some of the stone walls on the reservoir side had succumbed, and the steady flow re-routed streams which had been shaped over one hundred years, it was business as usual everywhere else.
That’s what you call a flash flood.
The Laughing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Padfield, Glossop