but it certainly pours here, from time to time. And today was no exception….
This particular day started for me at around midnight; when shortly after managing to drift off to sleep after determinedly ignoring the relentless heavy patter of the day’s deluge on the cottage roof I was rudely & abruptly awoken by the loud shrieking of the alarm which runs the farm’s irrigation system (being a dairy farm we have to dispose of the wash water from the milking parlour high up the hill & spread it evenly across our fields, ensuring they’re simply fertilised & not poisoned or waterlogged instead).
As I’d never had to deactivate the alarm before I resorted to attempting to contact Tony – who was many miles away in another time zone & did not appreciate being woken in the early hours. But needs must; he’s still a farmer with associated responsibilities, wherever he might happen to find himself in the world. So he sleepily passed on the theory; & I donned overcoat & wellies to trudge out into the night & carry out the practise.
With the storm raging around my ears, & the night utterly pitch black, this wasn’t the easiest of tasks – especially as the alarm is frighteningly loud: standing in close proximity to it for even a few moments, is positively painful. Put it this way; even with all the machinery in the milking parlour – including the noisy vacuum pump – chugging away in full swing, you can still clearly hear this particular alarm over that. So aside from suffering a sleepless night myself I was genuinely worried that even though our nearest neighbour is at least a quarter of a mile away as the crow flies, if anyone heard the alarm it might concern them sufficiently to either call the police or even pull on their own dressing gowns & come over to investigate – which, as you’ll discover later, could’ve been a disaster.
It wasn’t easy; & after stumbling across the slippery ground to the precipice which houses the irrigation system’s grandly-titled management console, I fumbled with freezing fingers to find the magic switch which would silence the nightmare noise.
Thank goodness, when those deafening decibels finally subsided; & I thankfully made my way back into the cottage to attempt to dry my sodden clothing & soggy body in front of the welcoming warmth of the Rayburn, before scrambling back up to bed beneath the cocooning comfort of the duvet’s empty shell.
Pulling off my boots & wandering back into the quiet kitchen I stepped up to the welcoming Rayburn. Imagine my surprise however, to find I wasn’t warming my toes but freezing them in a pool of icy water. This was something of a shock; as the rear wall of the old kitchen is completely solid; the original builders sensibly constructed it with no doors there at all. So where the water could be coming from, was a mystery…..& not one I solved immediately that night.
I did consider that water might be coming down the Rayburn chimney, which had exploded a shower of soot throughout the house earlier in the year; after a build-up of decades of detritus finally needed somewhere to go – & into the house was unfortunately its’ only option. We’d had it repaired during a brief dry spell in the late Spring; but had been forced to suffer months of misery beforehand with the oily fumes choking the household – & it was simply too cold to turn the Rayburn off; as other than the two woodburners it’s the cottage’s fundamental source of heat.
I made my way back out into the night to see if there was an obvious route for the water’s ingress; but other than a literal ankle-deep river running around the back of the house there was nothing more to see; & the only thing to do, return to the kitchen & start baling….
I finally climbed back up to bed a couple of hours later, cold, wet & exhausted, not to mention thoroughly demoralized & dreading what I’d wake up to. In fat I rose several times during the night, concerned that things had got worse; but once the storm subsided & the water levels dropped, only a small trickle managed to make its’ way in.
At dawn the following morning I determined to solve the mystery of the waterlogged kitchen. As the Rayburn was – thankfully – still chugging away merrily, I suspected that the water hadn’t come down the chimney; it would have flooded the burner if that had been the case, extinguishing the unit. So what else could it be?
Closely inspecting the rear of the house I noticed that there was some degradation of the concrete around the pipe which transfers oil into the Rayburn from the tank at the rear. It would appear that the water had been seeping in there, & then leaking out from beneath the hefty cast-iron beastie itself. The sheer volume of water which had soaked the ground over the previous 24 hours had literally nowhere else to go.
This gave me a renewed sense of unease; & after feeding & checking the animals I grimly prepared to walk around the rest of the farm to assess the wider damage. Deciding I needed to tackle the irrigation system first, I walked up the pipeline to see if I could detect any problems, particularly in the currently-designated irrigation field; but there were no obvious kinks, twists or breaks which would have otherwise prevented the system from operating.
Every field was utterly sodden; & it was hard to keep my footing in places. The ponies seemed undaunted; but I suspect were simply releived that the rain had stopped & they had some respite. Walking back down towards the farm I noticed that the warped top half of the caravan’s stable-type door had been wrenched open in the winds; & on closer examination I found the front of the caravan – carpets, upholstery & brand new combi-microwave oven – to be absolutely soaking wet. Mercifully the microwave hadn’t been plugged in – but it’ll take an age to dry the caravan out (thankfully the heating is on ‘tickover’ in there, throughout the winter).
Having romped Brynn around the farm I returned to reset the irrigation system. Whilst I couldn’t cancel the wretched alarm I was able to at least reactivate the pump; & after a heart-stopping few minutes watched with relief as the irrigator started to spin once more. I decided it would be best to suffer the alarm for a short while & empty the tank before deactivating it again.
The next task was to take Nanuk for her walk. Whilst she was keen to get out & about I certainly wasn’t; as the final thing I needed to do was my biggest dread, assessing the state of the driveway, which I suspected would not have fared too well. A groove some six inches deep gouged into the road just above the Arrivals Yard, told me that it wasn’t going to be pretty…..
Even on level surfaces, gritty & muddy detritus had been washed down. The vast majority of the surface had in fact been washed away completely, most of it ending up in a thick, shifting pile at the bottom of the hill.
It had gouged two rivulets the entire length of our long driveway, roughly mirroring the path of passing vehicles into treacherous grooves of several inches deep. This would not have been too bad if they’d at least been consistent; but they were uneven & in places actually crossed the track, making even a slow transit up or down the drive potentially treacherous: especially as to one side is a fomidable earth-& slate bank & to the other, an extremely steep drop into the woodlands below – neither of which was a prospect I relished encountering should my vehicle slough off the track. So it’s just as well no unsuspecting neighbours did hear the alarm & attempt to come down, last night.
But negotiate said damaged driveway, I must; & that same afternoon was the South West Wales Goat Club’s Christmas party. I’d promised to take along a Napoli pan of Christmas Pudding gelato & felt I couldn’t let them down. In the end I managed to negotiate it without incident; to head across the mountains to Narberth where the party was being held. The relentless rain had been replaced with a bright, low winter sun which made driving difficult as at times the road was completely obscured by the dazzling rays. It was painful, too; an hour’s constant squinting rewarded me with a thumping headache by the time I arrived.
But good food & fine camaraderie soon made me feel better; & as I weaved my way back between the soft purple silhouettes of the mountains in the gathering dusk, I reflected that even if living here can at times be hard, I still wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.