From the vaults: A wet ending to a wet year (26/12/2012)

Asked to encapsulate 2012 in a single word, I would probably look no further than ‘wet’. Out walking today, we tried to recall the number of times when we had been able to just sit ourselves down on dry ground. We came up with two: the first back in May on Wenlock Edge, when we still put down waterproofs as security; the second in August, when we sat on sun-warmed boulders at the summit of Craig Bheag, above Kingussie. Other than that, it’s been logs, benches, rocks, walls and, unless we’ve overlooked something, that’s the extent of it. And although there are still 5 more days of 2012 to come, there’s no great optimism that the total will be added to.
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The photograph above was shot from a footbridge which crosses the Severn, near to the old mining village of Highley (Shropshire). There is usually a steep bank of around four or five metres in height, sloping down to the waterside. The trees in the picture are mature ones, which grow from the ground at the foot of the slope. Today the river was flush with the top of the bank, looks to have been even higher and may well be so again over the next few days. Higher, in a concave valley, inevitably adds up to wider, faster, more destructive.
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Familiar paths, on both banks, were barely passable and in some cases already claimed by the floodwater. The one pictured above, were it to be visible, crosses a ramshackle fence line by means of a stile, just about at the point where the top of the fence dives below the surface. The only way to make meaningful progress was by sticking to either the engineered trails on the higher ground, or to the cycle tracks.
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This apparent branch in the Severn is in fact flood water which has breached the top of the bank and is flowing through what is normally a dry fold in the meadows. Side streams and brooks, including some which would usually be little more than a trickle (and others which would not even exist) were pouring more water down from the steep, wooded slopes to the west of the river, prompting concerns for the preserved railway, which has suffered badly from erosion and subsidence in the past.
Everywhere, the noise of rushing water was inescapable and by the time we’d turned for home it was raining again; heavily. The last thing that’s needed right now.
The upper reaches of the Severn have a big catchment area, as have those of the Vyrnwy which, downstream in Shropshire,  adds its flows to those of the Severn. Heavy rain has fallen, is falling and is predicted to continue to fall over large swathes of the uplands of mid-Wales and Shropshire. With the ground already beyond saturation, the situation looks desperate for some of the vulnerable towns and villages downstream.
Even a 4-wheel-drive is no guarantee of security. This situation had arisen in a matter of the half an hour or so since we passed by going in the opposite direction. Whether the vehicle would be retrieved, or claimed by the river, we didn’t get to find out. Thankfully, it was unoccupied.
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