Storm underlines the blessing and the curse of our Borders rivers

The Tweed at Mayfield, Kelso last weekend.
The Tweed at Mayfield, Kelso last weekend.
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We survived! We battened down the hatches, tied any loose flappy stuff down and retreated to the storm cellar, a la Wizard of Oz, with supplies for the duration.

Well, it wasn’t quite like that, but as the storm worsened last weekend there was a sudden flurry of activity at Shoogly Towers as anything that could possibly blow away into a neighbour’s garden was tied down securely, stuff that could be blown over and damaged was bunged in a shed or had large stones put on it to weigh it down. Pets and children safely indoors? Check.

Poor Georgina the caravan would have to take her chances, hunkered behind the workshop. At the very least, we thought the tarpaulin that she’s sheeted down with for the winter would break free, sail away and come to rest a few miles down the road. And then there were the trees, right above Georgina. Some of the largest trees in the garden.

This is our particular problem - the trees. We have, as any regular reader(s) will know, what you might call an abundance of trees. We are surrounded by them on all sides, except, of course, the side of our cottage which is joined to our neighbour’s cottage. It works as a brilliant shelter belt, buffering us from the worst of the winds whistling down the hill and over the open field behind us. But it’s always a worry in high winds. Will one drop onto a car or a coop? And now we have Georgina the caravan, which, let’s face it, could be flattened to tinder in seconds by a fair-sized branch.

We were lucky. Sadly, others weren’t.

The worst of the floods, as usual, hit the towns with rivers running through or by them - in other words, most Borders towns. The Tweed is one of the world’s most famous salmon rivers, and a major contributor to the Borders economy. And craft breweries are springing up here and there, taking advantage of the abundant river water.

But the water that originally brought the power to the mills and generated the wealth the towns were built on, is both a blessing and a curse. Towns like Selkirk, Gala and Hawick have rivers running through them which powered Victorian prosperity.

I have a great affection for Hawick, the town which was hit the worst by Storm Desmond. I have spent some time working there and still patronise the Heart of Hawick venues.

I love the older parts of the town, the solid stone mill buildings and workers’ houses in their riverside locations untouched by the passage of time.

They are the guardians of our industrial heritage, a crucial part of our history, which has been all but erased from many other parts of the country. Only the satellite dishes and modern UPVC window frames betray the fact that this is the 21st century, and not the 19th.

Back at Shoogly Towers, as we surveyed the Small Pear Tree Which Had Never Done Terribly Well and the Scrawny Hawthorn That Had Been Leaning At An Angle For Yonks which had been overcome by a combination of waterlogging and 50mph winds, we thought ourselves lucky. A quick burst of the chainsaw and they would be stove fodder.

How lucky we were, indeed, compared to those poor folk of Hawick who had to leave their homes in a hurry last Saturday night, not knowing if and how badly their homes would be affected in their absence.

My thoughts are with them.