Watching the river rise at the bottom of the garden

The Government could learn a lot from spending a day or two talking to the residents of Nidderdale
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The Independent Online

For the past 23 years I've lived in the same valley in North Yorkshire and, during that time, I've got to know the landscape intimately. Every month I walk exactly the same paths around a remote reservoir and monitor the smallest change in a fence or a stile. My village, sitting above the river Nidd, is a hamlet of 35 houses at the end of the valley, 50 minutes' drive from the manicured gardens and tea rooms of Harrogate, our nearest large town.

For the past 23 years I've lived in the same valley in North Yorkshire and, during that time, I've got to know the landscape intimately. Every month I walk exactly the same paths around a remote reservoir and monitor the smallest change in a fence or a stile. My village, sitting above the river Nidd, is a hamlet of 35 houses at the end of the valley, 50 minutes' drive from the manicured gardens and tea rooms of Harrogate, our nearest large town.

Taking a break there last week, I watched the Nidd rise at the bottom of my garden by about 6ft. By Tuesday evening it was clear that the local flooding was going to be serious, yet no mention of it was made in the national news bulletins. Sometimes Yorkshire feels like another country, as remote from London as Scotland. On Monday evening, people coming back up the valley after a night at the pub had had to abandon their cars and walk home in the dark. In Pateley Bridge the new flood defences were breached. In Knaresborough the BBC weatherman woke up on Tuesday to find his own house flooded. I'm not surprised that men and women from Yorkshire often feel they have little in common with the rest of the country. York was at the highest flood levels for 400 years before it hit the headlines.

Prince Charles visited the local secondary school a month ago, arriving by helicopter for a couple of hours. People queued patiently for a chance to meet him. Naturally the visit occupied the whole front page of the Harrogate Advertiser, and filled almost as many column inches as the annual round-up of the prize-winning animals at the Great Yorkshire Show. I don't think Mr Blair has ever visited Nidderdale, and certainly it didn't figure on his latest "crisis Britain" tour. It seems to take epic weather to get our leaders out of Downing Street and into their macs. The Government could learn a lot by spending a day or two talking to the residents of Nidderdale.

Mr Blair should take a break from focus groups, spin and consultants, and meet the people whose farms are no longer economic, the hard-pressed couples running remote village post offices, the children who are taken miles to school by bus, and the committees who keep the village halls open and repaired. Mr Blair makes much of his commitment to the family, and I believe that at heart he is a spiritual person.

The people of my valley have taught me about the strength of a community, how it can work together, and sort out its problems. We have no regular bus service, and yet old people are monitored and given lifts. Fundraising to build a swimming pool has yielded an astonishing £75,000 in a community where farming is the main industry. People make toffee for bonfire parties, donate steaks for barbecues and collect cast-offs for jumble sales. It is a world where most people visit York or Leeds only once a year and Ripon once a month. I once made a radio programme which was titled after a local saying: "You'll want for nowt in Pateley Bridge."

I'm not suggesting that the people of Nidderdale have the answers to Mr Blair's current set of problems. What they do have is a lot of practical experience in dealing with crises, both environmental and financial. They've welcomed tourists, looked after their elderly, and built a bandstand. They have a thriving cricket league, a passion for dominoes, and a ferocious mountain-bike race. And yet they feel, quite justifiably, forgotten about by Westminster and ignored by Harrogate.

This weekend they will have no trains and few visitors. Pubs and restaurants will suffer. But life will go on, pheasants will be shot, coal will be delivered and the mobile butcher's van will be making its slow progress around the narrow roads. Mr Straw's pontificating about panic buying rings pretty hollow in a place where there's one garage in 15 miles and the car is a lifeline. As usual, a sense of calm will prevail in Upper Nidderdale. Mr Blair might do well to abandon the brand new mac, don a pair of wellingtons and an ancient Barbour, and think local.

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