Around half a dozen homes in Littlehempston were flooded and local roads closed, when the appalling weather over Christmas caused the Hems to rise to extraordinary levels. The Hems drains into the Dart, which had become unusually swollen due to floodwater and storm surges, with the result that at high tide our local floodwater had nowhere to go. Roads crossing the Hems were submerged, forcing motorists to take long and often frustrated detours, and in the early hours of Christmas Eve, the local fire service spent 5 hours pumping water away from local homes near the main village. Homes were again threatened on January 2nd.
Like many villagers, local councillor, Vyv Whybrow, who lives in one of the houses affected, is fed up with the poorly maintained flood defences. 22 years ago, a flood alleviation channel was built to be kept clear by an ongoing maintenance programme. Vyv believes this has not been done due to lack of money. The Hems itself also needs dredging, and debris, especially around bridges, needs clearing. The Totnes Times on January 8th quoted a spokesman from South Hams Council as saying, “We have been requested before Christmas to look at the flood defences in Littlehempston which we put in about 20 years ago. It involved about 400 metres of flood channels to guide floodwater away to the River Dart more efficiently. We have been in the process of gaining permission from the landowner to carry out a full survey of the channels to compare its present condition with its design levels to establish whether silting up has taken place. We hope the survey work will be completed in two weeks. A decision would then have to be made about any remedial works necessary. In the past, we have done remedial work cutting trees in the two tributaries the Little Hems and Gatcombe Brook but the flood channels appeared to be in a clear condition. But now we are doing the survey to be sure.”
Another casualty of the floods was a large fish, cast up by the Triangle Bridge over the Gatcombe Brook on the road into the village. It was spotted and photographed by Jenny Galton Fenzi, who sent in this report: “John Floyd identified it as a male salmon (apparently the jaw is different) and thinks it was swimming upstream. It has a wound, but made by what or whom is not clear. I couldn’t bear to hack it up for the cat, so put it back in the stream and hope it reaches the sea again. Some strange things appear in the flood. In the dusk the other night my fevered imagination thought a dead cow which had blown up was coming down – daylight revealed it to be a child’s space-hopper.”
One thing not found in the Gatcombe Brook this Christmas was a duck. Sadly the eagerly anticipated Boxing Day Duck Race (think smiley yellow plastic things with numbers on their bottoms) organised by the Pig & Whistle and Lawrence Joiner had to be cancelled, as it was considered too dangerous for participants. However, spirits were raised again on New Year’s Eve, when The Pig & Whistle hosted a splendid evening with Lawrence entertaining with an elegantly delivered fireworks display at midnight.
The effects of bad weather were shared around the parish in the New Year when 54 homes suffered power cuts after lightning struck power lines – there were a number of strikes over a few days and some houses also lost internet services for over a week. A dramatic start to 2014 – let’s hope things quieten down soon.