I am especially happy wandering along the shore. I am fascinated by different approaches to the sea. Sometimes the beach is backed by a dense forest of skyscrapers and the bright lights of a vibrant city, sometimes a sprinkling of rickety wooden shacks, sometimes nothing but nature.
Here are two of my favourite beaches. The first is in the northwest of England, the second is in the northwest of Scotland. Both are without the company of a concrete jungle. Both are not immediately obvious, they require a little effort to discover, and so the peace is deep and the journey worth it.
I was honoured to be invited to speak about my work as a writer, to share my stories and landscape photography at The Spirit of Moray Book Festival, a prestigious event in the historic Royal Burgh of Elgin.
Thank you to everyone in the team from Moray Council who made me so welcome. And to all the great people who came along to my event and shared their own stories of the far north highlands too. It is a joy to meet people at book signings; I appreciate hugely how kind and patient people are as they queue to have their book, or books (many are bought as gifts!) signed. It is most humbling.
I especially enjoyed chatting with a couple happily purchasing several copies of my North Coast Journey, including one intended as a gift to their dear friend from Tennessee, who has named her children, Sonny and Cher!
While the community of Whaley Bridge takes stock of the traumatic events of the summer, during which the town was evacuated due to a deep fissure in the dam wall of the Toddbrook Reservoir, an influx of visitors is supporting local businesses impacted by the week long emergency.
Toddbrook Reservoir has become a tourist attraction though it appears more like a puddle now. Rescue teams are extending pontoons into the shallows to remove and relocate to Worcestershire any remaining fish trapped by the drainage operation.
A visit to the playground, perilously close to the foot of the dam wall, is a chilling reminder of averted tragedy.
Throughout the community there is praise to the rafters for the exceptional efforts of emergency services and volunteers who rescued their village. Superheroes came from across Britain, including Mountain Rescue Teams drafted in to organise thousands of body bags for the worst case scenario. In return, the people of Whaley Bridge are raising funds to support the continued work of these vital services.
At the Fab Makers Market around the canal basin, a modest exhibition expresses heartfelt thanks to the heroes of what is probably the biggest peacetime evacuation in British history.
Over coffee in Footsteps Cafe, Ann and Joan reflect on the tension of the summer emergency. ‘It was a weird mix of fear and disbelief’ says Ann. ‘I remember being told to leave the cafe all of a sudden and I didn’t know what to do for the best, all I could think of was putting the biscuits on a top shelf so they wouldn’t be damaged by water.’ Later that day she heard that the town was within seven minutes of being entirely washed away. The torrent of rubble would have reached New Mills along the valley in just three minutes.
Post traumatic stress is likely to be experienced by many members of the community. Some feel unable to return to their former lives and homes, others are doing their best to keep going. There is support for those who want it from the NHS and from the local community.
Determined that life goes on, the town celebrated the Annual Whaley Bridge Show and Garden Society prize giving for flowers, baking, arts and crafts. I cannot resist events like this!
The showcase takes place in the bowling club, also perilously close to the foot the reservoir dam, but best not to think about that!
Determined local cats are not admitted.
The exhibition is joyous. Blinging trophies are on offer. Aspiring winners submit entries in an ingenious variety of classes, a bargain at just 10 pence per exhibit.
To keep traditions alive, children are invited to exhibit their talents free of charge and they do not disappoint. Here’s the Edible Necklace section, won by Harry Stevenson, who also walked off with the Miniature Garden (not to exceed 15” X 15”) prize.
Harry also scooped Best in Show for his Animal Made From Vegetable or Fruit exhibit.
And the Picture Made From Pressed Flowers, Leaves, Grasses etc category!
The British summer of 2019 will be remembered for many extraordinary events, not least ongoing Brexit wrangling, but also the terrifying prospect of the dam at Toddbrook Reservoir, in the High Peak district of Derbyshire, bursting open to release 1.3 million tonnes of water upon the village of Whaley Bridge and beyond.
Heavy summer rain caused serious disintegration of the dam spillway, threatening the community at the foot of the cracking concrete wall.
The emergency resulted in what is probably the largest British peace time evacuation of households and businesses. Impending disaster meant that residents from some 600 households were given little time to gather precious belongings, make arrangements for their pets and seek refuge from ‘mortal danger’ with friends and family elsewhere or in community centres.
While a highly skilled team from Joint Helicopter Squadron at RAF Odiham deployed a Chinook helicopter to land hundreds of tonnes of aggregate on the the damaged spillway with exacting precision, emergency services and volunteers used 23 high pressure pumps to lower the water level of the reservoir and reduce pressure on the dam wall.
After almost one week of evacuation, the homecoming
The immense effort of hundreds of people to avert disaster is hugely appreciated by the community despite the trauma of unexpected evacuation from their homes for almost one week.
The village is especially popular with anglers and the fate of the reservoir’s 30,000 fish is unknown. Those that survive in the drained shallows are being netted and transported to the Bittell Reservoirs in Worcestershire. Government has confirmed that Canal and River Trust will rebuild Toddbrook reservoir and dam entirely.
As the community gets back to business, visitors are discovering the quiet attractions of the village traditionally popular with walkers and anglers. When I called at the Footsteps Community Cafe, the volunteers serving tea and cake were delighted with sales of their new fund raising postcards featuring the RAF Chinook helicopter expertly landing tonnes of aggregate to sure up the dam spillway at the height of the emergency.
The staff of the Little Fika cafe told the same story; a wave of curious tourists is flooding into the village almost washed away. They are welcomed warmly and appreciated for their support of businesses unexpectedly shut down by near disaster.
As the community reflects on the summer of 2019, a creative response to the reservoir emergency invites residents to take part in an art project capturing their experience as evacuees.
As these walkers returned to explore footpaths around the village, eye catching messages posted in shop windows by the police and Canal and River Trust made poignant reading. They express heartfelt thanks to the community at large for their understanding and support during the traumatic events of an unforgettable summer.
As summer gives way to autumn, Whaley Bridge no longer dominates the news headlines. Disaster has been averted and residents are reflecting deeply on the extraordinary experience of life at the foot of a reservoir.
Happy to learn by photo and text from a dear friend that my return to The Garden Theatre of Edinburgh International Book Festival is sold out! I feel so honoured by the invitation and by the support of everyone due to attend.
I am so looking forward to being there again! Thank you all!
I absolutely love the murals around the Victoria Quarter of New Brighton, a seaside resort on the northwest coast of England.
The vast sands at the top of the beautiful Wirral peninsula look to the Irish Sea, to the Dee Estuary and the mountains of Snowdonia and also across the River Mersey to the iconic docklands of Liverpool. New Brighton is a very special place.
After years of decline, the town is experiencing an upsurge of vitality. New developments along the seafront attract visitors to the lighthouse, Fort Perch Rock, The Floral Pavilion Theatre, a fun golf course, cinema screens, cafes and bars. Behind this lies Victoria Road and the Victoria Quarter.
The Victoria Quarter is a favourite haunt! Here independent businesses are springing up to create a new vibe. There’s good food and live music, and inspirational murals too.
The beautiful and thought provoking street art is astounding and well worth visiting. Hop on the train to New Brighton and discover these artworks just across the road from the station.
Here are some of my images of what you can expect!
There’s another mural hidden away, with a lovely invitation to a seaside day out! I’ll leave you to discover that one for yourself!