Tuesday, July 23, 2024
HomeNewsNotes from the Sticks: Rise of the mighty Ribble

Notes from the Sticks: Rise of the mighty Ribble


WE had a biblical deluge overnight on Thursday, and by Friday morning the Ribble was at least eight feet higher than the day before, well over its banks in several places. (I might add that the BBC forecast, which constantly issues dire warnings for light showers, made no mention of it, even though there were local flood alerts in place.) Like several others, I went to have a look – it is very exciting seeing thousands of gallons of water rushing past you every second. It’s such a primitive and unchangeable force.

When the river suddenly rises after a long period of being low, it collects all sorts of debris that has fallen on the bank, and indeed on Friday there were quite a lot of branches being carried along, more or less submerged. This reminded me about some video I took in July but didn’t use as I needed my son Jim to edit it. On that occasion there had been literally not a drop of rain for a month, so I think the pieces of wood may have been dry and light and floating on the surface. I saw two half-grown trees sail by before it occurred to me to get the phone out, but there were still plenty more chunks of driftwood coming along.

Here is the video (thanks, Jim):

Incidentally I said to two people (separately) that the river was still rising. They both replied: ‘Do you mean it’s going up?’


YESTERDAY the river was still quite high, but nothing like the surging torrent it was on Friday. The morning was bright and pleasant; I suppose the temperature was around 60F. I passed a man of about my age (ie elderly) in our village. ‘Morning,’ I said, ‘lovely day.’ He sucked his teeth. ‘No, too warm for October,’ he said.


LAST week’s column about clouds prompted ‘Starshiptrooper’ to tell me about ‘the unique (to England) Helm Bar at Cross Fell’, which was new to me.

The Helm Wind is the only named wind in the UK, our answer to the Chinook and the Mistral. It is a strong north-easterly wind blowing at right angles to Cross Fell in Cumbria. To the west, there is a steep 2,000ft drop to the Eden Valley and as the wind follows it down its speed intensifies. It is most common in late winter and spring, and can last for several days. When it blows, a heavy bank of cloud, called the Helm Cloud, rests along or just above the Cross Fell range, while a separate rotating roll of cloud appears parallel up to three miles from the foot of the fell. This is the Helm Bar, and the Helm Wind ceases under it.  

Attribution: Oldfaw at English Wikipedia


Sheep of the Week

THE Rough Fell is one of three sheep breeds native to Cumbria, the others being the delightful Herdwick, which I wrote about here, and the Swaledale (see my article here). The breed’s full name was originally the ‘Kendal or Middleton Rough Fell’ because it evolved on the rough fells surrounding Kendal. It is well adapted to surviving in high moorland and mountain terrain, probably the best of all the breeds. With its thick fleece it does not need shelter even in the worst weather. The flocks roam over hundreds of acres of communal grazing on open fell land, and the ewes bring up their lambs without the intervention of the farmer.

It is one of the largest hill breeds, with a black face and a well-defined white patch across the muzzle. Both sexes have horns. It is said to be exceptionally docile. It is bred for meat, and the wool is used in carpets and mattresses.  

Until recently it has been confined to its traditional homeland of South Cumbria, parts of the West Riding of Yorkshire and North Lancashire but more recently it has been introduced to Devon, Northumberland, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

Here is a video.

I always like videos of artists at work and here is one doing a portrait of a Rough Fell ram.

You can find out more at the Rough Fell Sheep Breeders’ Association website

While wandering around YouTube I came across this video of an affectionate lamb (I am not sure what breed).


Wheels of the Week

Concluding our series on steam locomotives by TCW writer JOHN ELLWOOD. You can read the previous instalments by clicking on the numbers: 1,  2,  3,  4,  5,  6  and 7. 

THE imagination-free civil servants and vandals who managed British Railways in 1968 were only too pleased to be rid of steam locomotives. They were backed by the technocratic Labour government which wanted to portray itself as modern, groovy and shiny.

Fortunately others had soul and vision, and their efforts during the past 55 years have led to the UK being the best place in the world to see steam in action.

Picture courtesy of Ginny Koppenhol Photography

The heroes are many, varied and sometimes accidental.

All steam railway enthusiasts will be aware of the ‘miracle of Barry Island’. A total of 297 steam locomotives were purchased to be scrapped there by Dai Woodham’s company, Woodham Brothers Ltd. Fortunately, he had plenty of goods wagons to dispose of and he happily accommodated enthusiasts intent on rescuing whatever they could afford. By 1990, 213 from the 297 had been rescued for preservation and more than 150 have been returned to their former glory. (The other 84 were cut up but some spare parts would have been salvaged.) 

Other saviours who saw the commercial opportunities in the sight and sound of steam included Billy Butlin who bought eight locomotives for display at his holiday camps. These included 3 LMS Pacifics and 46100 Royal Scot. 

More recent entrepreneurs who have been largely responsible for the availability of today’s steam tours include Jeremy Hosking who owns Locomotive Services Limited, the pop producer Pete Waterman, the former owner of the LSL Crewe facilities, and David Smith, the owner of Carnforth-based West Coast Railways.

Notable mentions should also be given to four MPs: Bob Cryer at the Worth Valley, Sir Gerald Nabarro at the Severn Valley, Richard Marsh, who overturned the steam ban in 1971, and Michael Portillo for helping to save the Settle-Carlisle line.

This photograph by the author shows a motley collection at the East Lancashire Railway’s Bolton Street station in Bury

Perhaps the greatest accolade should go to the unsung heroes who comprise the tens of thousands of volunteers without whom the preservation initiatives could not have succeeded. Whether it be scraping away rust, checking tickets or fitting a boiler, these people have helped to give joy and education to millions. In the main they have been retired or semi-retired individuals. They give their time freely. They are people who respect our heritage. They are the ‘poor bloody infantry’ or ‘useless eaters’ despised by the vermin in Geneva and elsewhere.

The photographs (unless otherwise attributed) were taken by my good friend and fellow steam enthusiast Howard Leach.

Our semi-autobiographical experiences of trainspotting are recorded in Steam Dreams, available from Amazon Kindle. Steam Dreams eBook : Ellwood, M J, Leach, Howard: Kindle Store

The good old days: Howard, left, would have been about 15 and I was 12 or 13.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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