Dear Diary - 4 Nov. 2000.
Paddled along Old Malton High Street in canoe - Not much traffic! - couple of boats rowing about - Mark and Gary made a phone call! - Alan and Jimbo transported luggage for 2 people wearing waders - Catherine and I took a small boy on a boat trip up and down the village streets- Paddled to Malton by railway line - and rescued floating dog's bed.
It was the day before Bonfire Night and the end of a week when every T.V. news report was dominated by scenes of devastating flooding throughout England. When Saturday dawned bright and sunny, we decided to take our canoes and investigate the flooded area around Norton and Malton.
Driving along the A64 we could see a massive lake where the river Derwent should have been. We were heading for the River Rye at Howe Bridge, but as the bridge came into view we were brought to a halt when the road ahead disappeared under flood several hundred yards from our destination. Several 4X4 vehicles and tractors ploughed through the water, which was easily deep enough to launch our canoes, so after a quick car shuttle to old Malton, we climbed aboard and paddled off up the left hand side of the road. Luckily, the local farmer was happy to point out a route to the river through his farmyard, which was under several feet of water. We found ourselves paddling passed his barn and manoeuvring between the few visible inches of open gateway out onto the massive stretches of calm floodwaters which completely hid the fields.
Spindly wisps of drowning hawthorn reached out to us as we made our way over the tops of hedgerows. Lonely rootless trees stood above their own splintered reflections, and crowds of insects clung for safety on any small thing that protruded from the water. As we approached the river, we could see that Howe Bridge had become an island. The embankment at this stretch was visible so we chose to stay in the fields, happily investigating the strangeness, until someone spotted an empty barn just sticking up out of the water in the fields on the other side of the lake. Irresistible! Paddling straight over both embankments to reach it, we were amazed to find that there was only a tiny gap between the water and the top of the barn entrance, so all 6 of us limboed under the lintel and floated inside, directly under the roofing beams. While Mark examined some barn owl boxes, the rest of us rested for a while, marvelling at the water level through the pane less top windows.
It was impossible to tell where the actual route of the river lay, and dry ground was at a premium as we hunted for a coffee stop. The hillside we finally decided on required us to paddle over a fence onto someone's farmland again. At the sight of the canoes, and us 2 farmers and some friendly dogs appeared, apparently to make sure we weren't lost and to wish us well. After a chat we left, via the top of their fence and headed for the sound of traffic on the A64. Had we wanted to pick rosehips or crab apples, it would have been easy to gather the best from the abundance of fruit in the tops of the trees. Hay bails had floated out of position and as we made our way between them, Mark, ever eager for a photo opportunity, climbed up onto one of the less wobbly ones to be snapped in front of the endless stretches of water.
Considering the vast lake like expanses and a fresh breeze, it was surprising that there were no other water sports enthusiasts taking advantage of the conditions. We did hear later, however, that a wind surfer had been spotted on York racecourse!
We ate lunch sitting in the middle of a cornfield, water lapping at our feet across the stubble. Old Malton awaited us and no one was quite prepared for the sights that greeted us when we arrived there. Instead of the usual portage from the riverbank, across a field and over a fence into the car park, normally 8 - 12 ft. higher than the river, we were shocked to find ourselves paddling passed the bus stop and straight up to the door of the Royal Oak. Continuing in the canoes, we found the back entrance of the pub open. Had we been in kayaks, we could have paddled to the bar inside for a pint.
There were quite a few people around and they seemed pleased to see us. Most of the houses had been abandoned, but not without some signs of humour such as a notice reading "spring water readily available - might be a bit cloudy!" and, in case we hit an ice berg, someone had thoughtfully hung an ancient lifebuoy from the Titanic on their front door. A few people, who were still trying to salvage something from the mess, opened their windows to have a chat as we floated by. A boatman, running a taxi service to dry land, turned out to be the local vicar, and we couldn't help noticing that he looked exceptionally cheerful as he gathered his flock and deposited the majority of them at the church door. A good congregation this Sunday, he was possibly thinking!
He told us that there were some people waiting with luggage further down the street, so we went off to help. In spite of their problems, the couple were mildly entertained by the fact that 3 canoes were floating side by side in their garage. Indeed, the sun shone on the whole bizarre scene and people came out to smile, wave and take photos. There was an air of resignation and when those who could be helped had been helped, we paddled out of the village between the trees and over the car park fence to continue our journey in the direction of Malton.
Before long it became clear that we were passing over and between the bushes and trees that grow along the railway embankment and with very little effort we became a floating train! To the amusement of people who were used to a noisier form of transport whizzing passed their houses, we chugged along gently a few feet above the track. As the station came into view the water began to have a pull on it, so, heeding warnings about the dangerous fast moving streams pouring through Malton, Mark advised us to turn back. Leaving the railway line to have a tea break on an island, it was incredibly easy to distinguish the fast flowing river section from the flat still waters of the flood plain. We resolved to stay away from the river.
The safest way back to Old Malton and the cars was to return to the railway line, where we became aware of a man shouting at us across the lake that was his back garden.
"Have you seen my dog's bed?" he was shouting "It floated away on the flood!"
The escaping bed was easy to spot, so the chaps gave chase, like the heroes they are, and minutes later had rounded it up and heaved it on board. We all wanted the novel experience of paddling across someone's garden and, not for the first time that day, over a fence to manoeuvre between barns and farmyard walls, so the bed was returned by a convoy.
Saturday rugby, with a good crowd, continued as normal on the playing field opposite. Busy watching the game as we paddled, we succeeded in trapping ourselves in a long narrow field thickly surrounded by greenery. Rather than turn back, it was fun to limbo under the upper boughs of a large tree, although Catherine and I might have thought harder about that particular move if Mark had told us about the rat a bit earlier! And so, a bit dishevelled, we returned to Old Malton. Children waved to us, and before packing up to go home, we enjoyed the chance to give a small boy his first ever canoe trip, down Old Malton's High Street, while his mother took photos. Photos of unique scenes that will be looked back on with amazement I hope, and not scenes that become the unremarkable norm, as many fear. As hundreds of geese flew in organized skeins over this unexpected abundance of wetland, we drove home through the beautiful golden light of that autumn evening, knowing that we were lucky to be returning to dry houses.
Written by Heather Stacey