Ethos Group: Ja82Grg2

The Winter of 1982 in the Lower Wye Valley

   As the first snow of Winter melted away from the lower lands and the well-used places, and the mists hung about the hills as a little warmth came with the first weeks of the new Sun, so too came the floods.  The end of our road became a lake half a mile across where the road from the hills levels out to the valley floor.  Each day the River Monnow was a little higher up its steep banks, and the Wye a little wider across its flood plain.  But before the waters could rise far enough to claim the main streets of the town as they had elsewhere, Jack Fost waved his wand once more over the land and an evening came when I walked home bitter cold and coughing with the pain of it.  Next day the snow had returned, and so much of it I have never before seen in my thirty-three years.  Up to the top of the garden fence it was, and though this was partly caused by drifting, even in the shallowest places where there had been no drifting, it was several feet deep.  The front door lock was frozen solid and it took five minutes to force it open, and a further five minutes to force open the door against the weight of snow outside.  Then - thank the gods that a shovel was to hand - the only way out was dig a passage down to the road.  And even there, where a path had been made, it was hard going and I kept getting snow in my wellington boots.

 And so to Clawdd Du, or Black Dyke, which is never black but usually green.  I could now say that it was white, except that I could not see it, for it had been completely filled, so that the snow was level with the dyke bridge on either side.  As I crossed the Monnow Bridge into the town I saw that the fast-rising river had been clogged with ice and I wondered where the kingfisher would fish that hunts this stretch by the bridge, but all I could see was gulls skating.

   The town was still and quiet as it must have been of old.  A flattened path ran along the middle of the road, though no road or pavements could be seen beneath the wide avenue of snow.  The only vehicle I saw moving during my lengthy expedition for scarce food in the few shops open was a snow plough, and that in difficulty.  The next day there were some land rovers and tractors, but a few people had come to town on horseback - so soon do we return to the old ways when nature makes our contrivances useless in a night.

   And now, days later, the snow still lies thick all around.  Huge icicles hang from houses and many roads are still impassable.  Hundreds of thousands of wild things must have died in this weather.  But still there are many birds flying here and there in a desperate search for food throughout the hours of sunlight.  There has been a wood pigeon, looking more like a bird of prey in the distance with his puffed-up feathers, sitting on a hedge near the back garden for days looking forlornly at the snow which blankets the ground where he usually feeds.  What he is eating I do not know.  But for all of us now the main preoccupation is warmth and survival.  It was 23 degrees below freezing point outside last night.  Water pipes have frozen solid, and even inside the water in the toilet is icing over.  But better inside than out these long cold nights.  Praise be to our houses, our hobs and our hearth fires.  Pray now to Cynnes to keep us all warm.

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