Sail making with young people in Langport…

Last week we were back in Langport for another great session with Langport and Huish Youth Club. We heard some interesting stories of young people’s experiences with the floods, some of them happy memories and some difficult.

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It was good to see the different ways people had found to move around and connect with their families or explore the landscape – from visiting grandparents by tractor, to horse riding in knee-high waters.

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The workshop brought up a lot of ideas. One participant’s immediate reactions was to make an image of deforestation – “because that affects the flooding”.

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Ideas became more complex as the session infolded – we’re looking forward to coming back again for more stories and beautiful images!

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Some more encounters on the Levels…

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Last week we made a lightning visit to Langport, where we held a small gathering for some of those interested in getting involved in the project (about which another post will follow!). The following day we met up with the Fidai ProFlo group – an exchange of social and physical scientists, planners and designers from the Netherlands, with artists, historians and local residents affected by floods in Somerset. Rhona Light kindly showed us around her partially-restored house, and shared an insight into the process of flooding and some of the ways this year had been different from the usual annual cycles of wet and dry.Screen shot 2014-09-22 at 13.58.07

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From there we went for lunch at the King Alfred, where Seila and I presented Some:when to the group and some members of the local FLAG group, and discussed possibilities for longer-term collaborations to continue the work Some:when has begun. After a lovely and lively meal we clambered up the steep sides of Burrow Mump to admire the view and listen to a brief presentation from Antony Lyons of NOVA, about his work on deep time perspectives on the Severn Estuary and Somerset Moors and Levels.

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Finally, we paid a quick visit to Anna’s incredible tythe barn, one of the sites for October’s conference. It was a swift goodbye as the Dutch contingent had a train to catch, but we had some really interesting discussions and are really looking forward to resuming the conversation at the conference on the 7th: http://www.aqua-deltamarnix.com/index-uk%20event.html

A welly of water will do

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We were sitting in the library when the phone rang, books stacked about our feet and on the little side table. We had divided the morning between phone calls and local history books, on the trail of the elusive Parrett Flatner. So far we had three interesting photographs, and one promising conversation. Now on the phone was Ron Coombes of Bineham City Farm, kindly inviting us out for a look at his hand-built punt, recreated from the original specifications of Colonel Hawker

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Cycling as fast as we could in the baking sun, we made it out to the farm just in time to catch Ron on his lunch break. He took us out to the barn to admire the boat, a long, low craft built constructed from light timber and marine ply, painted a wintry pale grey. Holding his hand to the side of his Wellington boot to show just how little water was needed to float the boat, he described the extent of the Winter floods and the trips he’d taken wild-fowling with his dogs when the Levels were submerged.

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Standing by the boat with the sun at our backs and the cool musty smell of the barn before, our quest at last began to take on material qualities – the feel of the marine plywood, the weathered texture of the flaking paint, smells of straw and wood, oil, rust and dung. The swallows among the rafters and the wet nose of the dog gently sniffing about our ankles. This wasn’t exactly the boat we were after, but its flat bottom and homegrown feel gave us a taste of what we were after. Ron said the boat has carried them for miles across the floodplain, needing very little to keep afloat. Running aground on the mud, it takes only a quick shove to get going again. It seems an ideal boat for access and mobility in an unstable and unpredictable water-scape.

At the back of the house, another boat lay upturned on the narrow lawn, a battered fibreglass dinghy propped beside the rusting garden gate. Ron marked out the line for us, where the water had reached halfway up the  drive. The house, the yard and the cattle sheds were safe on high ground, but a boat was still a handy thing to have about.

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Cycling back, we stopped besides golden fields of sunbaked corn beneath an innocent blue sky. The smell of warm earth, tarmac and milky thistles revealed nothing to our of the wet, waterbound Winter months.