Coracle replaces cars as rainfall turns town into Carnival-on-Avon

Case study: Bradford-on-Avon
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The Independent Online

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that in AD652 Cenwalh, King of Wessex, fought a battle in the centre of what is now Bradford-on-Avon. Had Cenwalh fought his battle yesterday he would have required a navy.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that in AD652 Cenwalh, King of Wessex, fought a battle in the centre of what is now Bradford-on-Avon. Had Cenwalh fought his battle yesterday he would have required a navy.

The Wiltshire town, beloved of camera-snapping tourists and chocolatebox manufacturers, was yesterday a community besieged. After the river Avon burst its banks on Monday afternoon the locals had watched as the muddy brown waters gradually rose. By yesterday morning it was still impossible to reach the bridge that would normally cross the river without wading.

Colin Holman, manager of the nearby Swan Hotel (a sign on the door read "The Swan is swimming. We are closed for a few days"), said his beer cellar was seven feet deep with flood water.

"Yesterday morning there was a puddle in the car-park and by the afternoon we had a swimming-pool," he said. "My gas meter is floating in the car-park, the cellar is completely flooded and the beer barrels are floating. It not a question of water in the beer as the beer being in the water."

Like most residents of Bradford-on-Avon, Mr Holman had adopted an air of resignation to yesterday's aquatic difficulties. The hotel was due for a refurbishment soon anyway, he said, but the most pressing problem was to pump out the water so they could get back to business. "But that will have to wait until the floods recede," he observed dryly.

In the centre of the town - where the site of the original "broad ford" gave the town its name - there was something of a carnival atmosphere. Anthony Forsyth, a solicitor, was ferrying people across the water in a homemade coracle constructed of cowhide and hazel branches. "I normally use it for trips on the river but it is ideal for getting around town," he said, pointing out that the cowhide was from an organic herd and therefore BSE-free, as though that might make the precarious-looking journey across the submerged Silver Street safer.

Others were using polythene bin-liners as makeshift waders while the local children were walking, cycling and running through the floods and splashing everyone else in their wake.

Though the floods - which also cut off many of the roads into the town - made yesterday a holiday for some people, they also caused extensive damage. Four shops in the town centre were partially under water while at the locked-up Scribbling Horse cafe the chairs were stacked on the tables while a Coca- Cola bottle floated in six inches of water in which they stood. The total cost of damage was being estimated to be in the region of hundreds of thousands of pounds.

For the residents with longer memories the floods were nothing new. The centre of the town was flooded in 1979 and again in 1988.

One woman claimed confidently that she could remember the floods of 1945, when the Army was drafted in to help ferry people about. Her husband didn't look so sure.

Roger Jones, author of Down the Bristol Avon, said he was surprised at the height of the waters that were washing against the buildings of honey-coloured Bath stone, as flood-protection measures introduced within the past 10 years were designed to prevent such problems.

"The river Avon is fed by the waters that wash off the Cotswolds," he said. "There must have been an awful lot of rainfall on the Cotswolds over the last few days for this to have happened."

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