Well, it’s going to be hard to describe today, but I’ll give it my best shot. The river has been up and down like a yoyo all winter with the huge volumes of rain, it reached its highest level last weekend. Fortunately, our fields sit slightly higher than the fields on the opposite bank (not so good for that farmer but he doesn’t keep stock on there at least), so our fields don’t flood.
We get plenty of very large and seemingly now permanent puddles, but that’s it. And the two fields immediately against the river are higher than the ones you go over in order to reach these, so those two fields are the safest of all from flooding. All the locals have told us that many times throughout this wettest of winters.
So here we are now, this weekend. Saturday, it continued to rain all day. The river is filling from the flooding up-river, scenes on the telly are starting to show towns becoming submerged. We check the sheep regularly. Levels are high, but the fields opposite are still ok so the area can take quite a bit more. The Dove is staying largely within its main course.
Saturday night, it didn’t let up one bit, and I barely slept with the worry.
We took the Polaris out to the fields as soon as it was light on Sunday morning. As we neared, water was lying in places we’ve never seen it. Clearly this is a whole new level of flooding. As we reach a brow, the scene below us is sickening. The whole valley is one vast lake. Barely a hedge or patch of grass anywhere, just water powering through. We round the final corner and pull up at our gate. We can’t even drive on the land so we jump the gate and head across the first field to the brook line. This area is above water but a tide mark of debris shows the brook was even higher through the night than it currently is. We both feel like throwing up, literally, I’m already bracing myself for the worst, expecting most of our flock to have been washed down river and just praying that a few, just a few, may somehow have found somewhere to survive.
Through the trees, we spot a few white blobs and for the first time I realise that some at least are there. We round the final corner, there is a huge gathering of our girls on a tiny patch of green, huddled together. At this point we are wading through water up to our knees, holding the fence line for support against the current, and I’m in tears as I wade to the group. I can’t count them, they are too close together and immediately huddled around me, but a rough estimate seems to be about right. The second field, with the wayward dozen that point blank refused to come and join the main group yesterday, are harder to spot.
Finally, I see them, standing against a fallen oak, again on the tiniest patch of green. The relief was incredible, but we still needed to get them out of this spot and they are literally surrounded by deep water moving through at speed. Some of these girls are due to give birth in just 3 weeks time, and they’ve just spent the night in relentless rain terrified by rising water. I shudder to think how much higher the levels had been at their worst, I suspect many of them spent some of the night literally standing in water with nowhere to go.
We had to get them to higher ground and had a very difficult decision to make - try and lead them through the floods straight away which would involve a depth over the top of my wellies with a strong current, or leave them there until the water receded as the debris around suggested it was already starting to do. We decided as they were safe, to risk them through the path we would have to take was not the best option, so we walked away from them through the gate and back into the floods to go and check on everything else. They followed me to the gate, now up to their bellies in water, and I dreaded what they must be thinking and wanted to turn back and get them then, but I know they were currently safe and it was better to leave them for now.
We returned an hour later and the change was so clear as we approached them again. We still had to wade through a considerable stretch of water, but it had indeed gone down so much. I didn’t even need to shake the bucket, Phil simply opened the gate and they raced straight into the water and out towards me and followed as I picked a path through the next field, and finally up onto a higher area of land. Just the crazy dozen to rescue now.
The “crazies” are young, largely not pregnant, and will not come near me for love nor money. Shaking a bucket of feed makes no difference, they are carefree and laugh in the face of my wishes to gather them. Well, that is them on a normal day which is why they came to be stuck on their own in that field. Most of them had evaded capture on scanning day, and all had resisted attempts to join the big group on what I believed to be a safer field against heavy rain. So with low expectations, Phil and I enter that field with a bucket of feed. They skip away from us, staying close together, through water up to their ankles to a small newly-emerged bank of green. Clearly, they are not in the mood to either follow or be herded at this stage. They head to the gate but the water is considerably deeper there. One final throw of the dice. We tie the gate open and wade through and across the next field. It is underwater the entire way but, apart from the gate where the water would be up to their bellies, it is merely ankle deep and heading towards the green of the far bank. We walk slowly, finding the safest path, shaking the bucket all the while.
Suddenly, one makes a brave dive through the gateway, surprised by the depth but through it nonetheless. Two others followed tentatively, and suddenly the entire group burst through. I can’t believe this group of wild youngsters is actually following us and I’m overjoyed that they too will soon be safe with the rest. They keep back a considerable way, but follow us out of the water, through another gate, across another field, and through a final flooded gateway and into the field with the rest. A saturated field with almost no grass, but not underwater. They seem subdued, but they are safe. We’ve counted the main group too, and not a single sheep is missing. It seems incredible that they all survived that most shocking night.