A week after Storm Desmond swept through Cumbria, how is the Lake District faring?
With the rain having turned to snow, I made my way to Ullswater – partly to see for myself the impact of the flooding and partly to show support for the people and businesses there. At the top of Kirkstone Pass the ‘road closed’ sign made me pause, as did others, unsure whether this was due to the snowy conditions or the flooding. The road was perfectly passable. I walked the footpath to Glenridding from Hartsop. It was as though an invisible force had swept through the fields – long lengths of dry stone wall were flattened, their stones tumbled over the fields. There were scars on the hillsides from landslips – the force of the water gathering up soil, rocks, walls, trees, fences as it rushed towards Ullswater. A footbridge had been left hanging – the beck it once crossed now taking a different course but with natural stepping stones which were easy to negotiate. Long lengths of footpaths had been scoured out and chunks of tarmac from roads picked up and dropped elsewhere. Jenkins Field has been turned into a temporary beach – covered in thick silt and stone. Beckside was a hive of activity – great progress made by big machines to restore the river banks, a sea of people in high vis jackets beavering away. Others taking a break and sharing a big pot of stew provided for them by the community.
I met a group of about 15 guys from the Ummah Care Foundation in Birmingham who had just arrived. Last week they were in Calais building shelters for refugees. This week they wanted to help Cumbrians. Catstycam was open for business with the irrepressible Andrew optimistic about things getting back to normal and appealing for people to come and visit. I heard how the General Manager of the Inn on the Lake had hosted a meal the night before for the whole village.
It was an uplifting visit. The community spirit is indomitable. The public response has been fantastic. And businesses were open and determined.
Ullswater has been particularly badly hit – first by the storm and then flooded again 4 days later. So in response to a request from the Ullswater Association, we set up the Ullswater Environment Recovery Fund. The generosity of individual donors to the Fund has been amazing. But the funds raised so far are a drop in the ocean. Fix the Fells will also need help, along with the many other nature conservation projects we support.
The scale of the damage is not to be underplayed, not just in Ullswater, but much has been achieved already to get back to normal and the landscape remains magnificent. So we hope people who love this place will continue to help. And visit. And share.