Flash floods leave a tale or two to tell

Macclesfield Express - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD

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.

Crow­den Sta­tion

The Laugh­ing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Pad­field, Glos­sop

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