I had not been intending to write for this day as I was off path, at the wedding of the daughter of, who had taken me to the the previous Tuesday.
However, themes connected with the walk recurred during the day.
and I had stayed the night at the , a glorious place that has been trading since the days of the across the moors, and still captures some of the spirit of the , with four-poster beds and carved wooden chests. At 8:30 there is a knock on the door and breakfast is served, with a table for two overlooking the reservoir below. The peacocks call (as they had, loudly, with the dawn chorus) and sunshine plays across gold-green grass and softly rippling water.
But the scene was not always this idyllic. On the wall of the bedroom is an original, hand-written copperplate poster, a poem remembering the , when one of the local dams burst, drowning over 200 people and leaving thousands homeless as a wall of water tore down the valley, destroying everything in its course.
I assume it is the folk memory of this incident that inspired‘s ‘ ‘, where the gypsy gallops ahead of the rushing waters, on his full-membered stallion, and plucks the young woman, the first eponymous protagonist, into an upper storey where they ride out the waves.
Later as we stop atto pick up another wedding guest from the tram I see a plaque on the wall of the :
was known as
at the time of
on the night of
The Inn was occupied
along with his wife
who all drowned
Thoughts of inundation have never been far from mind along the entireand also the first two days of the walk, whether the regular battering of high tides on struggling defences, or the tsunami in the that flowed up the . Later in the day I talked to someone who had spent some years in (in the days when it was ‘officially’ part of ), who told me that the devastation of the had been even worse than on the , with floods extending 30 miles inland.
So much of our housing is built either on river flood plains, or on tidal flats. On the concrete promenades of, I often saw large metal doors, which could be shut to keep back exceptionally high tides, but I also heard that not infrequently this has failed over the years, with waters overtopping the sea defences and flooding homes. With climate change both raising sea levels and also making extreme weather more frequent, it is not clear how many of these defences can be maintained, or whether areas will be strategically abandoned, just as has happened with coastal erosion on the .
Drowned valleys are also intimately part of the growth of theand in the , when the drowning of a beneath a reservoir, to serve , created waves of protest. As a tiny child I recall the romance of hearing about the on the radio, as they blew up water pipelines; but probably more significant, albeit less exciting to hear about as a six-year-old, were the peaceful protests of the nascent language movement that changed the landscape of . When I had been little there were no dual-language signs, and minimal radio and television. Now, when you go through , you are clearly in a nation with its own language, whether or not you speak it!
The politics of water are once again dominating many parts of the world, with both internal disputes, like those between states inor the , and external, between countries in the , or . In the running into , the outlet of the mill race from one watermill would often flow directly into the mill pond of the next, leading to clashes if mills were redesigned, perhaps eating into the head of water of a neighbour.
My childhood images of thewere based purely on the romance of the name, but it was not until many years later that I fully understood some of the social and economic issues.
After mydied, survived on a widow’s pension and half-board guests in the house: students, workmen, and theatre folk. She was marvellous at managing the small amounts of money that came in and the substantial costs of maintaining a crumbling house and a growing family. Once a year the rates bill came, what is now called ‘ ‘. It was a big bill, but as we had a small income, we qualified for a large rebate, usually around 90% of the total bill, making it manageable.
However, there was an equally large bill that came once a year, the water rates, which covered provisions of water and disposal of sewerage. While this was equally large, there was no rebate and it all, in those days, had to be paid at once. As I said, mywas a wonderful financial planner, but no matter how well prepared, the water rates bill was always a massive impact, especially in the , a time of galloping inflation, where bills could easily rise 20–30% in a year.
Roll on the years and I am in a rented house inand have to pay housing taxes myself for the first time. My water rates bill came and was about £60, but when I asked I found that her water rates bill in was £300, which doesn’t sound so much today, but, at the time, was equal to my whole take-home pay for a month.
The difference in cost is because each water authority in theis independent and the costs of piping water in , with a dispersed population and mountains covering the heart of the country, are far higher than in flat . However, unlike these relatively dry parts of , water is one of ‘ natural resources. The valleys of and are full of reservoirs, waters flowing out to and , but of course not pound notes flowing in the opposite direction.
The issues in the, which incensed and inspired the and , were not just economic, but also the actual and symbolic loss of culture in the drowning of a for economic growth, and the fact that despite all but one voting against the reservoir, it was still passed at .
Moving on from the politics of water, the theme of the wedding service was very much about the married life as a journey. One of the hymns was‘s ‘ ‘ and one of the readings from , ‘ ‘. Of course the metaphor of life in general, or married life in particular, as a journey, is common, but instead of space it is the changing events of life that are passed through, emphasising that intimate connection between place and event, pathway and lifeline.