Flooding chaos

You can’t have escaped the news of the devastating floods that are continuing to affect Carolina residents and farmers. The news clips struggle to convey the magnitude of the problem, but when, as a farmer, I saw farms completely underwater, farmhouse and all, it became painfully clear that they face a problem that eclipses anything we’ve seen locally in my lifetime, if ever.

Soon after the floods had begun to have a serious effect, my wife and I were due to attend a meal and night out organised by a group of like-minded farmers on twitter. For a variety of reasons, mainly transport related, we never made the meal, but I heard that they had a whip-round and raised a huge sum of money for the flooded farmers.

Having been unable to contribute on the night, I felt I wanted to do something to help out. At this point lots of farmers had started to offer Forage Aid, via the same network as had helped the Welsh farmers last year, but haulage was proving an issue. We don’t run a lorry in the business currently, but we do have a big high speed tractor and large low loader so I started to make enquiries about possible loads looking to go to Somerset that we might be able to take.

Initially we drew a blank as most loads were either too far from us to be realistic, or were full artic-lorry loads that didn’t want splitting up to fit our trailer size. A day or so later I spotted a Facebook post from a local farmer’s daughter, Georgina Haigh (who some of you may know as an Arable Reporter for Farmers Guardian) who was organising, on behalf of local young farmers (Wormleighton YFC), a series of loads to be sent down. I made contact with her and we discussed the options.

Initially it seemed that there wasn’t a suitable load ready so we were back to square one again, however twenty four hours later Georgina contacted me to say they had a possible load.

We both rushed around contacting the farmers who had so generously offered fodder, and made some tentative arrangements to collect the load and were just about to “pull the trigger” when word came through that Sedgemoor Market was full and loads were not wanted at that time, due to lack of cover for non-wrapped bales.

I won’t lie that I felt very deflated at this point as I was itching to get going. I contacted Georgina and we put the load “on ice”.

Later that day Georgina called me to say that because the load was mixed feed and bedding it could go straight to a farm and not disturb the, by now crammed, market at Sedgemoor. We were back on again!

I hastily prepared the tractor and trailer, and began checking out the route on the internet, being mindful of road closures in Somerset. It was very frustrating knowing that a motorway route would be quick and easy, but (as I’m sure you all know) the law bans agricultural machines from motorways.

We made a call to our diesel and oil supplier, Red Horse Fuels in Warwickshire, to tell them about the trip and as a result they very generously donated a large amount of diesel towards the run. A big thank you to them!

One of the farms donating was very close so I fetched their donation on the Friday afternoon, saving a lot of time for Saturday – time I was going to need. (Below are photo’s of my first loads)

First-part-of-the-load-2 First-part-of-the-load-3 First-part-of-the-load-collected

Saturday morning dawned and by 7am I was getting on the road to the first farm to collect the fodder. By 10:30 I had collected the load from the last of the farms, just north of Banbury, had a group photo of myself, Georgina, and the final donating Farmer taken by the local paper, and began the run to Somerset.

All loaded and ready to go

I stopped twice in the first few miles to check the ratchet straps as the heavy silage on the top of the load was still settling, and managed a few extra clicks on the ratchets in places. The load seemed settled now so I could crack on with the journey.

My route would take me across to Stow on the Wold, down the Fosse way to Cirencester, before taking the spur towards Chippenham, to avoid the low bridge on the Fosse. I took a brief pause at Kemble Airfield, posed the load for a photo next to the planes on the airfield, before taking the narrow back road across to rejoin the Fosse towards Tetbury.

Break at Kemble Airfield

Having negotiated my way around the weight limit in Tetbury, I struck south, past Badminton towards the M4 and Bath city.

The long steep descent into Bath certainly kept me on my toes, and gave the tractor and trailer brakes something to think about! Then a right turn at the bottom took me into Bath centre. The looks from Saturday morning shoppers had to be seen to be believed! Once through Bath I began the climb up the other side of the valley and on towards Frome and Shepton Mallett.

South of Shepton I left the last major main road and began the wiggly route across to Somerton and Langport. All the roads, from the tops of the hills to the bottoms of the valleys were running with water from recent rains and from saturated land – no wonder the water levels are still rising even now.

Langport itself is very tight, and there’s a lovely low railway bridge to negotiate. Safely under the bridge, under the watchful eyes of the local constabulary, I drove on into Langport centre. Narrow would be a generous description of this part of the town, but thankfully many of the locals seemed to know why I was there, and accompanied by a few waves and thumbs-up I had an easy passage through, with cars making great efforts to let me by.

Coming out of Langport I was struck by the proximity of the floods to the town, as the waters were lapping at the lowest buildings and approaching the bridge. The sheer enormity of the waters became apparent now as I looked south over a sea where land used to be.

I’m not going to try to describe the flooding I saw as I simply can’t fully explain the enormity of it. Suffice to say I was shocked by what I saw, and by the amount of water lying on the levels.

Unable to take the normal valley road across from one ridge to the other , where the village of Stoke St Gregory lies (my destination), due to the floods, I continued almost to the M5 before crossing the valley to North Curry. The small road where I crossed had reportedly been deep underwater just the previous day due to a flash flood.

The roads began to get narrower and narrower now, and I had a sinking feeling that I might be heading into somewhere from which I  would struggle to get out again – I prayed the directions I had prepared were right!

So with my phone set up to show my live position on a mapping program, to try and avoid taking a wrong turn, I forged ahead towards what I hoped was the destination. The road continued to narrow and twist as I passed through pretty Somerset villages, always conscious of the vast flood waters lying either side of the ridge I was driving along.

As I approached an extremely tight bend next to a church my heart sank, but I managed to squeeze around it without losing any paint, forage or my sanity! Soon I could see a welcome sight ahead – a farmer and loader tractor looking expectant – I’d made it!

The farmer and his wife were so welcoming and that alone made the run worth doing. We unstrapped the load, then the farmer’s wife took me up to the farmhouse and made me the most welcome cup of tea I’ve had in ages, and very kindly offered to feed me. She told me about some of the challenges the area was facing, and about their attempts several years ago to show the government what needing doing and the risks if they didn’t. While I was drinking my tea, a phone call came through warning of another hamlet that was about to be overcome by the floodwaters if sandbags and pumps couldn’t be deployed there within the hour.

By the time we returned to the tractor, the last bale had just come off and, with the sun starting to set, it was time I headed home.

Unloaded ready to return home

Negotiating the lanes and villages in the dark was enough to keep me awake and alert, helped by no longer being loaded.

I drove up to Bath again, but this time struck east along the A4 to Chippenham, where I paused for a bite of supper, before pushing on northwards to the M4, onto Malmesbury, back past Kemble and up to Cirencester.

From there the Fosse way took me all the way to within a mile of home. I reached the welcome sight of the entrance to Mill Farm at just before 11pm.

I tucked the tractor and trailer into the barn, patted the bonnet, and headed for bed. Job done.



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