Until the great floods of July 2019, Reeth Fire Brigade may seldom have been overstretched. Things seemed similarly quiet in the winter of 1986 – until a surprising Sunday morning which began with a cow in a ditch. Veteran North-East journalist Mike Amos offers an extract from Unconsidered Trifles, his newly published autobiography.
Reeth’s in Swaledale, North Yorkshire, a delightful spot which also has a retained – part-time – fire brigade and where in 1977 I’d run with the story of the firemen’s ball.
The problem was Fireman Simon Coates, a lively character who’d been banned from the Buck – the Top House – after an incident at a darts match. The Buck was where the fire brigade held its annual dinner dance: on no account, said the landlord, could they have it again if Fireman Coates were in attendance.
Passing the Buck – or not, as the case may be – they’d held a secret ballot. Should they stick with the Buck but without Simon, or move the knees-up elsewhere? The brigade voted 11-1 in favour of the status quo. Simon was the one.
The long-time sub-officer in charge was the late Tom Guy, a local garage owner with a wealth of stories like the time they rescued a goat from up a tree.
In the great floods of July 2019, the firemen of Reeth and of Leyburn – a few miles across the top in Wensleydale – took 115 calls for assistance in just a few hours. When I booked into the Buck Inn one Friday evening in 1986, there’d not been a shout of any sort, not even a goat up a tree, for 11 weeks.
Tom was in the bar, expecting nothing to disturb the weekend peace. Serendipity squared, I bet him £10 that there’d be a call before I left on Sunday lunchtime.
The full English that sunny Sabbath morning was interrupted by the klaxon of Tom’s fire engine, a two-tone ode to joy. Fifty yards along the road, the tail-end Charlie left at the station offered details of the emergency: cow in ditch at Grinton, half a mile down the hill.
It was an 8ft dry ditch, more of a moat surrounding a farmhouse. If that’s what they call a haha, then the cow – down there all night – seemed distinctly unamused.
“I didn’t like to disturb you,” said the farmer. Tom was first down a ladder to see what was to do. “Which one’s Tom and which one’s t’cow?” someone asked, insubordinately.
“Tom’s t’one in’t ‘at,” replied another fireman. (It was Simon Coates.)
While rescue plans were successfully being drawn up, Tom glanced down dale and saw another fire engine, blue lights flashing, heading in their direction. He hadn’t asked for reinforcements, told one of the lads to radio in and find out what on earth was going on. Another cow in another ditch, this time on the far side of Reeth, and a crew sent up from Richmond – 11 miles away – to extricate it.
Then they saw the third fire engine. This one was from Northallerton, it transpired, sent to rescue the second which had become stuck in the mud. The village fire brigade which hadn’t had a shout for 11 weeks had effectively had three inside an hour.
I gave Tom’s tenner, and mine, to the fire service benevolent fund. The weekend in Reeth had been intended just to provide material for my column the following Saturday but, hot news from the dales, they’d to hold the front page that Monday morning.
Mike Amos, who lives in Middleton Tyas, worked on the Northern Echo for more than half a century, was seven times in 17 years named North-East Journalist of the Year and in 2006 was appointed MBE for services to journalism in the North-East.
His vividly anecdotal memoir, including many tales from Richmondshire, is almost 400 pages and comprehensively and nostalgically illustrated.
It’s available for £10 (softback, plus £3 50 postage) or £22 (hardback) from the author at 8 Oakfields, Middleton Tyas, Richmond, DL10 6SD.
The book is also available through Amazon.
Further details, including on-line payment, from email@example.com