Four years ago, almost to the day, our house was flooded following catastrophic rainfall.
We live in a converted granary on the bank of a stream that most of the time is just a few centimetres deep. We lost six months of our existence and spent a lot of the insurance company’s money putting our lives back on track.
Earlier this year, we put our house on the market. There were all sorts of reasons for doing this:
We told everyone it was because we wanted a bigger kitchen. The one we have is well equipped and by most people’s standards would be considered large enough. But in our previous house, in Kent, we built a beautiful extension which gave us a fifteen foot by twelve foot kitchen that became the centre of the house. It was the one big regret we had about leaving the South East. We told people we wanted more than one room downstairs. Our lounge is around twenty foot square; it’s big enough for both a dining area and a sitting room. But if one of us has friends round, or hosts a meeting, it makes the ground floor pretty much inaccessible to the other one.
And what would happen if one of us was ill and needed to sleep downstairs?
We told people we wanted to be able to move our library downstairs. One of the things that sold this house to us, apart from its picturesque location on the edge of a stream, was the attic on the top floor, which was converted into a room. We had it completely shelved out and it now contains around 3500 books. That’s a huge weight and we sometimes worry that it might not be a good thing to have on the top floor of a three storey building. We told people we wanted fewer steps. Not only do we have three storeys, but our front door is at basement level, reached from the street by a flight of very steep steps. As time goes on and flexibility reduces, we might find it harder to get around.
My office after the flood in 2012
The one thing we kept saying adamantly was that we were not moving because of the flooding. We’d put in flood defences; we’d made the ground floor flood-proof; we’d stopped worrying about being flooded again.
But when the ‘for sale’ notices went out in March, we knew deep down that the fact of having been flooded at all, had a major part to play in our plans. And at the tail end of winter, when it’s cold and grey, and the trees and still bare, nowhere really looks that homely. The house was on the market for around six months. We had lots of people viewing it; most of them loved the place and very few of them seemed concerned about the flood. But they all found a reason not to buy. Then as the summer wore on, we began to hope that no-one would put in an offer. And one afternoon as we sat on the lawn admiring the trees and the flowers, and enjoying a glass of fizz, Michael put into words what we were both thinking:
“We don’t want to leave this house, do we?”
When considering where else we would like to live, we had calculated how much extra we were prepared to put into a new property, to get exactly what we wanted. So why not spend at least some of that money improving the current house instead? Bookcases downstairs; shallower steps to the front door; there were a number of things we could consider. Throughout the time the house was on the market, our wonderful estate agent had been chatting through solutions that he could throw out to objections from potential buyers. And one of those ideas stood out for us: build a wall along the edge of the garden to hold back the stream. So over the past month, we’ve had a gorgeous, solid limestone-faced wall built in the stream.
We’ve ripped up the lawn and are about to have a large patio laid. We have plans for a boggy area and a zen garden too.
We rationalised it as reclaiming the land that had been lost to erosion in the nine years we’ve been here. We kept telling ourselves it wasn’t to stop a flood from happening. But we believed deep down that it would certainly help. And that’s what we continued to believe right up to the moment, around 1am this morning, when the red turbid waters of a swollen Kate Brook rose up and over our new wall, filling the garden with water and leaving a tide mark a foot up the wall of our house.
We had been saying that having been flooded once, it would never be so shocking again. And in fact, that bit was correct. And the fact that we were at home this time made things easier too. We calmly put up the flood door, lifted mats and movable items onto chairs and tables. Then we switched off the electricity and went to bed. We actually got some sleep too.
In the the cold light of dawn we found our house to be bone dry. The garden room, my office when the weather is good, had suffered a little flooding but very little compared to last time.
Our new wall, and the flower bed laid just the day before, were both intact. However, the pots and tubs lined up on the flowerbed awaiting planting had all gone. Large containers of bushes and small trees including a couple of special presents, had just washed away. But it could have been a lot worse. And we were happy to be able to spend the day helping a neighbour, who didn’t get away so easily, mop out her basement which had flooded yet again.
The garden as it has looked - and will look again
So, once again, we are sitting in a house made chaotic by the weather. And with more atrocious storms predicted for the next couple of days, we have left the flood barrier installed across the front door. We realise we are not out of the woods just yet.
But we also realise we were right. It will never be as bad again as it was that first time. If the house does flood, we will move out until the repair work is done. And for the rest of the time, we will enjoy our little house by the stream. We are safe, we are warm and (for the moment) dry; and we have each other. There are a lot of people in a much worse position than us. We will not be down beat about all this.