Dales residents left homeless by some of the most devastating flash floods to have hit northern England have relived the trauma and spoken of their mixed emotions on the anniversary of the unprecedented incident.
Areas of the northern Yorkshire Dales saw 2,156 million litres – sufficient to fill over 800 Olympic swimming pools – fall in five hours on July 30 last year, affecting more than 250 homes, around 35 farms and over 40 other businesses in Wensleydale, Swaledale and Arkengarthdale.
Among the most ferocious of the flash flooding was at Grinton, in Swaledale, where the beck became powerful enough to destroy a bridge, rip out a 200-year-old barn, and knock down countless walls.
The raging waters undercut the foundations of Chris Atkin’s home in the village by some 15ft, leaving part of the property hanging precariously. He said it had taken him a year to get planning permission to carry out the repairs. His garden was also swept away, as was his neighbour’s driveway.
Mr Atkin said: “The system doesn’t have any mechanism to say this is a bit more important, this wasn’t of their making, so we join the ranks of people wanting a house extension.”
Other victims in the village include artist Michael Bilton and his partner Cyndi, who retired to Swaledale 27 years ago, and are hoping work to repair their 18th century home will be completed by November.
The couple said the event had left them in shock as they had been in Leyburn and Richmond when the floods had swept away all their possessions.
It had, however, been a huge relief to them when they discovered their beloved greyhound, Luca, had miraculously managed to escape from the kitchen and vaulted a barrier to flee the rising waters.
Mr Bilton said: “It was so shocking at the time it makes your senses go numb. As the day falls away for other days to come along you get a different comprehension of the situation. You get used to seeing debris. I was just happy we were able to retreat to somewhere else to live.”
Chairman of Grinton Parish Council Geraldine Coates said the flooding had exposed many areas of unregistered land, so insurers of nearby properties were having to take responsibility for restoring structures to reach repairs they were responsible for.
Stuart Price, of the Dales Bike Centre, in nearby Fremington, said his business had been left encased in polluted mud, which took two months to put right, but the consequences would have been unthinkable if it had happened just two days later, when up to 6,000 people were due to be camping there for the Ard Rock mountain bike festival.
He said: “There is an issue with climate change and we all have to be ready for it, but that particular day was a freak event.”
A range of flood defences, such as self-closing air bricks and flood-proof doors similar to those used for submarines, proved inadequate to protect the home of Swaledale with Arkengarthdale vicar Caroline Hewlett. She said she was among many residents who had been left in shock by the power of the floods and their anxieties had been rekindled every time there had been a storm since.
Rev Hewlett, whose shed was found two fields away from her home, said: “We had a day a few weeks ago when there was thunder and similar weather to the day of the flood and there was a very high level of anxiety. The fact that nobody was injured or killed was an amazing thing considering the power of the floods and the rocks that it moved.”
Among those still living out of suitcases is Richmond School teacher Ian Dawson, whose house remains gutted. He and his wife Caroline have moved home eight times while awaiting repairs and the insurance bill will be at least £160,000.
He said: “It seems annoying that we are still in this state. I can’t believe how long it has taken to get this far.I honestly don’t know why it is still like this a year on. There are lots of reasons. Coronavirus is one, but that’s a minor part of it.”
Swaledale and Arkengarthdale councillor Richard Good said while the amount of rainfall that had come down in three hours had broken records, the likelihood of future flooding in the area was high and the community would be better prepared.
He said: “The resilience of the community was utterly amazing.” He added: “Within hours the memorial hall was open producing food and offering clothes to people who had lost everything. The district council and ex-military volunteers Team Rubicon were incredible.
“The national park have done a brilliant job since, and the county and district councils have given good support, but despite a visit from Lord Gardiner a week after the flood, unfortunately the government has not given any more money.
“We got money to pay for things in the month afterwards, but we have not had any money to put the bridges back, which is coming out of the general budget of the county, and the district council lost £100,000 in council tax after exempting those out of their homes, but that is coming to an end now and people are still not back in their homes.”
Further up the dale in Langthwaite, many of the public footpaths are awaiting repairs, as are four out of the five footbridges there. Locals fear tourists, who have begun returning to the area, will be put off by the lack of access.
Ahead of the anniversary, landlady of The Red Lion, in the village, Rowena Hutchinson, said she had relived the trauma of being swept off her feet in her bar by the rushing waters, before managing to escape upstairs.
The 77-year-old was rescued through a window by firefighters, but lost all her treasured possessions and is awaiting work on several rooms before moving back.
She said: “I don’t think I’ll ever get over it to be honest. When I look at photos of the remains of the inside of the pub following the flood it brings tears to my eyes. But you have got to weather it. It’s just one of those things.
“We were shut for five months and with a lot of hard work and late nights we managed to open two days before Christmas.
“We were only open ten weeks before we had to shut again due to Coronavirus. It’s not been the best year.”