Storm Arwen – and beyond …

We were warned it was going to be nasty – but I don’t think we’d really taken in exactly how nasty it was going to be. The XCW weather forecast pictured above shows extreme winds (for us), so, early in the day, we bolted down and removed everything we thought might fly around in the garden …

How naïve we were!

It was horribly wild and noisy from early afternoon – far too rumbustiously noisy to sleep upstairs where the bedrooms are just under the eves. And the cats were more edgy and nervous and unsettled than I have ever seen them before. So we unpacked the emergency bedding …And made ourselves comfortable, offering what security we could to the cats, as the storm raged around …The electric went off as I was starting to cook our evening meal at 7. So it was out with the candles, the torches and mobiles for entertainment. Cold cheese and crackers for supper … A very long, frightening and wild night with crashes and bangs as goodness knows what flew around about the house, hurtling into the conservatory and garden. Far far too dangerous to venture outside.

Despite the terrifying noise of the night, I don’t think we really expected the destruction that we woke up to in the morning. In the garden …And at the back of the house …And when we finally went outside and saw the size of the material that had flown off the roof – all those heavy ridge tiles!Fences down …And the conservatory roof dented, a panel missing …Later we discovered exactly how far the wind had carried our roof tiles …I can’t adequately convey the shock we all felt – immediate neighbours, and people living in nearby Berwick and further inland – many of whom had sustained substantial damage to their properties.

But my goodness, how lucky we have been since! Almost all our ridge tiles had come off, but our star roofer was out and up on the roof even in the cold, wet and very slippery dark …It was too big a job for that night, so he just patched up and we did have a week or so of leaks about the house …Until he and his mate were able to give the roof serious attention. Of course, part of the problem has been that everybody else needed roofers, builders, glaziers, woodmen …There were days and days without electricity, then without water, then without electricity again. But for some folk in the outlying parts of Northumberland it was much worse with fallen trees making reconnection very very tricky for the power people …

And through it all we had the fire – so many people nowadays don’t have any heating without electricity …It took us a long time to recover, and get back to our usual pattern of weekly walks. Partly the weather wasn’t kind, and partly we honestly were so shaken.

The other big problem we had was that so many of our walks are in wooded areas, and we knew that Storm Arwen had caused immense damage to trees.

So our first good walk wasn’t until the 9th December, and we settled for a walk along the coast to Cocklawburn beach …The beach to ourselves …Our faces say it all – how invigorated and cheered we felt!Emboldened by this walk, later in December we decided to drive inland to the village of Wark to walk the old Berwick-Kelso railway line to Sunilaws station – not exactly a wooded area, but with more trees than around us.

It was a bitterly cold frosted day …But so very beautiful in the sun …We saw nobody – just a couple of grazing deer up on the hill …We had to pass some fallen trees on parts of the track not used by local farmers … But mostly it was a pleasant walk in the sun, with little or no obstruction …Fantastic glimpses of colour …And an icy cold picnic. We didn’t linger …But walked quickly on to the old Sunilaws station (closed in March 1965). Those are the old railway platforms on the left of the picture … Here is the station manager’s house. The NER clock permanently set at 11.35 …Parts of the level crossing equipment are still standing … And in wonky fashion, this station still announces itself as Sunilaws …Four days later, we set out to climb up Chatton Hill, thinking again this would be a relatively tree-less spot. The weathermen said it would be still – and they promised sun!

There was no sun, admittedly there was no wind, but it was very very grey and very very cold too. However, it was clear enough to look over to the Cheviots …And we did find the rock art. It remains a message of mystery from the ancients – nobody knows its purpose, nor exactly when it was done. But it is very beautiful and extremely fascinating. I find it extremely moving to read this evidence that others left on the land many many years ago …Work had just started to take down a damaged tree, and we were struck by  the extraordinary orange of the inner wood …As we drove to Chatton, we saw real damage. Plantations of soft woods suffered particularly badly from Storm Arwen …Huge root balls casually chucked aside by the storm …Our next expedition was to Doddington Moor earlier this week. Travelling on the Wooler road, we saw much much more damage. Wooler was particularly hard hit by the storm, being without electricity for many days because fallen trees had brought down powerlines and blocked access.

We spoke to one resident in Doddington who told us he had been without electricity for eleven days! Luckily he had a generator – but many were not so lucky (or provident).

And how extremely lucky this tree just missed the nineteenth century Dod Well Cross!A fascinating start to our walk as we looked back to that low-lying mist hanging at the foot of the Cheviots …It got a bit sunnier as we set out to cross the moor …The heather and bracken glowing a deep reddish brown …We paid our respects to this rock art …And then the gloom descended …Parting dramatically as we started to walk down the hill …To reveal the lands of the Glendale Valley …More damage here. The storm had found the weak point of a rotten gateway …And – as we drove home – yet more damage.  This will all take much money and hard work to sort out. It is not only a matter of removing the fallen trees. All the other trees in these plantations will need checking to ensure their roots have not been disturbed …We long to revisit some of our favourite wooded walks such as those at Kyloe  and Hepburn. But it may be a while until it is safe to do so.

In the meantime, we are counting our blessings  (even though I had to put another bucket out this morning to catch drips from the damaged conservatory roof).  Our neighbours’ huge high roof still has plastic flapping round to cover the holes.

We are just hoping the locals are right to say it was a Once-in-a-Hundred-Years storm…