Terry O'Connor

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A Boxing Day walk

Boxing Day is a traditional opportunity for a good, brisk walk, one to blow away the cobwebs and to mitigate the worst effects of Christmas Day indulgence. Other people will be out, often with children and dogs showing varying degrees of enthusiasm and reluctance. Make the most of the daylight, laugh in the face of the December weather, take a Boxing Day walk. So I did.

Following a wet November and matching December, the rain began to fall around mid-day on Christmas Day and continued, steadily and consistently, into Boxing Day morning. I set out equipped with wellington boots and a camera.

First stop was our local station, where the road from the village centre runs under a railway bridge on its way up to the moor. A remarkable amount of foamy brown water was surging under the bridge, causing traffic to pause for careful consideration that led some to turn tail and head for drier climes. Although a fair amount of water was running down from the direction of Burley Moor, most of the local flood appeared to originate with a new stream that had pushed down a roadside wall and was issuing into the road in a dramatic fashion.

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Wandering up the road to see this new resurgence, I soon had water over my wellies, and resigned myself to wet feet for the rest of my walk. The situation was not helped by Clarkson-wannabes in their Land Rovers and other off-roaders driving briskly through the floodwater regardless of the effect their wake was having on other vehicles and pedestrians. Such people should be staked out on a beach at low tide.

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I walked on, squelching disagreeably, to the west side of the village, where the A65 road leads away to the local metropolis of Ilkley. Presumably it was doing so this morning, but the adjacent River Wharfe, never the best-behaved of rivers, had broken its banks and was occupying a considerable length of the road. A few cars had been abandoned at the roadside and now sat in water up to their flashy radiator grills, collecting passing flotsam of leaves and twigs. Across the river, a sheet of water extended for hundreds of metres over pastures where sheep had been grazing a couple of days ago. One assumes that the sheep had the good sense to get out of the way.

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A little way downstream, a track leads down to a weir, constructed in the 19th century to harness power for textile mills. Little could be seen of the weir this morning, other than a break in the surge of the river. There was no trace, either, of the stepping-stones that allow intrepid walkers to cross the river here when it is in a better mood, and little sign of the well-vegetated gravel island on the downstream side of the stones. Just brown water, hurrying eastwards to flood Otley, Wetherby, Tadcaster and anywhere else with the misfortune to have been built along its banks.

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It was a dramatic scene this morning, despite the knowledge that other places have far worse flooding, and not for the first time this month. There is some reassurance, too, in knowing that eventually the rain will ease off and the floods will drain away. Sheep will return to newly-fertilised pastures and, come the spring, dippers will nest in the stonework of the weir. Just for now though, it was exhilarating to see intemperate weather disrupting our usually temperate countryside.

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