At last, a genuine use for all those four-wheel-drives

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The Independent Online

Three youngsters were happily splashing up and down the flooded street outside their opulent home yesterday, enjoying the watery invasion.

Three youngsters were happily splashing up and down the flooded street outside their opulent home yesterday, enjoying the watery invasion.

"We can't go to school," the oldest boy gleefully announced: "We are the only people in the street who don't have a four-wheel-drive."

Yesterday, after the Thames burst its banks at Maidenhead, Berkshire, and flooded one of the most expensive areas of real estate in the country, the value of owning a Range Rover in a Home Counties town finally became evident.

Along Fishery Road, which counts Rolf Harris and Michael Parkinson among its residents, owners of the million-pound properties watched nervously as the waters crept up the steps to their front doors. But thanks to planning laws that require new houses to be built above the levels of the infamous floods of 1947, most interiors had been saved from flooding .

"It is up to the door with about a foot to go - we don't think it's going to come in," Michael Parkinson's wife, Mary, said yesterday. But the world's most famous didgeridoo player has not been so lucky. A basement room of Rolf Harris's riverfront home was under several feet of water, as was his entire back garden.

Maintaining a stiff upper lip certainly appeared to be the order of the day among the well heeled of Bray yesterday, where few did not already possess a pair of green wellies.

At Michel Roux's aptlly named Waterside Inn at Bray, its manager, Diego Masciaga, appeared ecstatic as the water lapped across the terrace, confident it would not reach the inside of the exclusive restaurant.

"Everyone wants a river view and now people sitting at the back of the restaurant can even have a river view," he said. "It is wonderful. I say to my guests I don't have to invest in new decor when nature is changing the view outside."

Gavin Pike, an estate agent of Hampton's International, said he was quite confident nothing would affect the prices of properties in the area. "People buy riverside houses because they are very passionate about them and have wanted them for years. It is a little bit like a love affair. People are willing to take the house, warts and all," he said.

Elsewhere in the country, people were unable to return to their homes yesterday despite falling flood levels.

The number of severe flood warnings dropped to 25, but the Environment Agency said an improvement in conditions was likely to be temporary and that more rain was expected at the weekend, which would hit the South-east hardest.

Towns along the Severn were threatened by high tides, and Chichester in West Sussex was also being monitored. The York area continued to suffer. Troops in Selby had laid a quarter of a million sandbags along the banks of the river Ouse before it peaked at 6.2 metres above normal yesterday morning. Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, visited the town, which the army said was still in a "critical situation".

The area of land flooded in the York area was said to be bigger than Windermere. Police divers were inspecting the drains in York after 30 more people were evacuated because of sewage problems.

The insurance company Royal & SunAlliance said the cost of flood damage in Britain and Europe could reach £110m.