‘Many of those trees were my friends’
I couldn’t help thinking of these words from Treebeard in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ after seeing the aftermath of the storm last week. Dear reader, our lovely trees have suffered badly in the past few days, and many are laid low. Had I been able to post a ‘Tuesday tree’ this week, it would have felt more like a requiem. Here’s what’s been happening.
We are emerging from a chaotic few days: a severe storm followed by a gale, each bringing long power cuts, with a house party sandwiched in the middle and the school holidays beginning straight afterwards. Hence the lengthy silence here at Dancing Beastie! We had a day and a half without electricity during the storm. As we sat by the fire by candelight for the second evening in a row, all I could think about was that we had two families arriving to stay at any moment and fifteen people coming for lunch and dinner at the weekend, while the house grew colder and the food in the fridge and freezer grew warmer. When the power was restored and the engineers arrived to check that everything was up and running – twenty minutes before the first guests arrived – I almost hugged them. Three days later, however (miraculously, the day after our guests had left) fresh gales brought the power lines down again, by which time it really wasn’t that funny any more. The poor engineers must have felt trapped in Groundhog Day too. Anyway, they got our power back on Wednesday afternoon, just as I was leaving home for our elder son’s end of term carol service. It’s been a busy week, and I am so tired, but at last I have the chance to sit down and bring Dancing Beastie up to date.
For those furth of these shores (i.e. beyond the British Isles), I should explain that a severe storm hit us last Thursday. The highest wind speed recorded was 165mph at the top of Cairn Gorm, an hour or so up the road from us. That’s really some wind. Winds over 100 mph are not so unusual on the tops of the hills in winter, but we had storm force winds at lower levels too. I was away from home on the morning of the storm and had a very hairy drive back with my younger son, manoeuvering around and under fallen branches through the rising gale. It was only once I got home that I felt a bit wobbly, realising that trees had been falling as we drove. Anyway, we made it home safely, soon to be joined by a refugee from the gales: trying to get home from her job at a school six miles away, she found every route closed by fallen trees. Her last resort was to try to cut along our drive, only to be trapped by trees falling in front and behind. Thank goodness she made it to our door! The storm contined for the rest of the evening, so she had perforce to join us for our candlelit supper (the power lines were down by then, of course) and to go to bed here in a borrowed nighty. None of us slept well in the cold house with the wind buffeting the shuttered windows, and I’m sure it was a great relief to her when I was able to lead her safely out to the road home and civilisation next morning, once the route was cut clear.
After seeing our ‘refugee’ on her way, I came back and set off into the woods to see how they had fared. The good news is that, on reflection, the vast majority of the trees are fine. The bad news is that we have lost some old favourites, while others have been badly damaged. The first impression was that the storm had caused carnage in the woods. Huge tree trunks have been snapped like matchsticks. Everywhere you look, there are limbs torn from trees, trunks leaning against each other and roots sticking up in the air. The ground is strewn with branches and twigs, as if a giant hoover bag full of them has burst all over the policies. No species has been immune: everything from slender birch to solid oak, mature beech and massive conifers have been affected.
A tall silver fir crashed down through a walk of ancient yew trees.
The poor yews suffered predictably:
it looks as if the yews will all survive, though, so it could have been a lot worse. But the loss of the statuesque silver fir is a sad one, as is the loss of a Douglas fir beside it, one of the originals planted here in the 1840s and the first of them to fall.
In my favourite wood, an old sweet chestnut has lost another massive limb, and a Norway spruce has snapped near the base.
Looking at the destruction, I was awed by how violent the wind had been. Some of these tree trunks almost look as if they had been dynamited. Again I thought how lucky we all were to get home safely through the storm.
Perhaps the tree that we are most sad about, however, is one that stands alone in a field near the drive. It is – was – a magnificent Deodar (Himalayan cedar or Cedrus deodara). It was a real feature of the policies, and I am dismayed to discover that I cannot find any photos of it as it was, tall and stately. This is how it looks after the storm, which snapped it in half.
I must confess that, following my walk through all this damage, I came home and burst into tears. A week on, though, and I can see that it’s not so bad. The losses are sad, but the survivors are legion. Nobody was hurt and there is no major damage to the buildings. New trees will grow up around the ones we have lost, and within a few years we will hardly notice the evidence of the ‘great storm of December 2011’; except, perhaps, for the battered remains of the once-beautiful Deodar.
There is another post about the history of the trees here and storm damage in May, in Victims of the gales.