The last few days have been – for us, for anyone in front of a telly or a newspaper – pretty bloody jaw-dropping. It’s been nothing short of horrifying to watch the decimation of areas that hold a deep connection to this site, places many of our friends and contributors call home. We were due to head to Hebden Bridge for the inaugural Caught by the River Calder festival at the end of January. Seeing everything unfold in hi-def from London, that name looks pretty badly judged. For us, Caught by the River has always been about a positive feeling, a transcendent moment of refection and solace. It’s hard to imagine many people feeling that way right now (and for very good reason).
Having talked to Mal, the promoter at the Trades Club in Hebden, with heavy hearts we collectively agreed that we should postpone the festival. The gigs (Field Music on Friday 22nd and Lonelady & Gwenno on Saturday 23rd) will go ahead as planned – the daytime events and talks will be rescheduled for a later date. Refunds for the cancelled events are available from Mal – email him (Mal Campbell) at firstname.lastname@example.org
In order to find out more about what’s happened in Calder Valley, we spoke to regular contributors Rob St. John, Ben Myers and Richard Carter. They all live and work in the area – their thoughts are printed in full below.
Upper Calder Valley is a unique place and it wouldn’t be so great and beautiful if it didn’t rain all the time. Most of us who live here live here to be close to nature and the landscape and this week we saw nature at it’s most awesome and powerful. Hebden Bridge and Mytholmroyd have been wrecked but spirits are intact and we shall rise again.
We live up at 1000ft above the Calder Valley, and even here at the very top of the watershed, on Boxing Day, the road was a river and the moor became saturated and mobile, with the top layers of dense peat spilling out over the road and leaving our little village marooned, an eyrie island surrounded by water and wet soil.
Call it climate change, the anthropocene, weird weather or whatever: it’s pretty clear that we’re living in times of strange and unprecedented environmental change. The sweep of a super-charged El Niño exacerbated by warming oceans has brought wave after wave of heavy weather to Northern England this year (with more expected over the next few days).
And no amount of flood defences are going to reasonably stop the weight of water that poured off the fells this week, bringing silt, sewage, rubble and mud into people’s homes, shops, factories; leaving tidelines above buckled floors and ruined possessions. I’ve been flooded before, and the smell, the damp and the sense of vulnerability all linger long after the waters recede.
In the towns up and down the valley – Todmorden, Hebden, Mytholmroyd, Walsden and surrounds – people are getting together to help each other out with offers of accommodation, trade skills, cleaning, food and clothing. It’s incredible to witness, and testament to the inherent kindness of people.
I hope that somehow the events of these strange weeks might similarly bring people together to tackle the big environmental issues that affect us all. We hear a lot of politicking after the event – underspends on flood defences, cuts to the Environmental Agency and so on – but these inevitably seek local and often engineered responses to what are increasingly global environmental issues.
If you can get here this week, I’m sure there’s plenty of people in need who’d be glad of your help with the cleanup. There’s information about what help is needed on the Calder Valley Flood Support page.
We were unaffected. We woke to the sound of flood sirens on Boxing Day morning. They sound just like Second World War air-raid sirens, and must raise similar levels of dread for the people living in the valley bottom. The sirens had also sounded earlier in the week, when Hebden Bridge had narrowly escaped a flooding, so I hoped the same might happen on Boxing Day. I drove down into town late morning to see if I could pick up a newspaper, only to find the main square and a several of the town’s roads feet-deep in water. People were just standing around looking shell-shocked and taking photos. I decided the best thing I could do was to get out of the way, so I headed off down the A-road towards Mytholmroyd to try to get some diesel, only to be turned back by a second flood. Turning the car round, I shot this short video of the River Calder before returning home.
I passed through Hebden Bridge again this morning. The waters have subsided now, but the town looks dreadfully sad. Nearly all the shops have been gutted by their owners, with large piles of ruined furniture, equipment, and Christmas decorations dumped outside for disposal. There is mud everywhere.