Published on February 5th, 2016 | by Alastair Gilmour


A flood alert to the value of our pubs

The nation watched day after day in horror as Storm Desmond brought torrential rain and devastating flooding to the North. Then the big clear-up began, as Alastair Gilmour reports

It’s the silence that gets you. That and the smell of sewage. The quietness is interrupted only by the occasional clatter of yet another piece of furniture landing in a skip. Bang goes a chair, clang goes a radiator. And whirr go the dehumidifiers.

The horrendous floods of December and January have left their mark in homes and business across the North East, Cumbria, North Yorkshire and Southern Scotland, while our pubs and brewhouses have suffered enormously. Some might not even recover.

And what is left would bring tears to the hardest soul.

Cheers57FloodsBridgeEndInnThe Dyvels in Corbridge, Northumberland, is virtually derelict inside after the Tyne burst its banks. Not far away, The Bridge End Inn at Ovingham has been stripped bare following the onslaught of four feet of filthy water from nearby Whittle Burn mixed with churned-up River Tyne.

Jennings Brewery in Cockermouth, Cumbria – out of action for a lengthy spell five years ago following major flooding – has managed to get back into production after just over a month of downtime. Significantly, its first brew on January 22 was Cockerhoop.

Chris Baxter took up the lease on The Dyvels only in September last year to run it alongside the renowned Manor House Inn at Carterway Heads, County Durham.

“The Dyvels will be out of commission for anywhere between three and six months,” he said. “We were devastated when we saw what was happening, but there was nothing we could do about it.

“It just shows the power of water. But we’re determined to get it back up and running.

“Everything will have to be completely refitted, but we want to keep its quirky nature – it’s quite a quirky pub.”

James and Irene Outterside celebrated 40 years as owners of The Bridge End Inn at Ovingham on November 21 and were completely overwhelmed by floodwater on December 5.

“We’ve had water coming over the road before but this was a bad one,” said James. “It was unprecedented – I think the last one like this was in 1771.

“It got to the back door about six o’clock in the evening, so we did all the things you have to do, but by 11pm we had to give up. Through the night all we could hear were glasses falling off shelves then in the morning came down to carnage.”

The floodwater came well above windowsill height – about four feet – contaminating the bar and lounge area.

“That’s when the adrenaline kicks in and you’ve just got to get on with it,” said James. “Everything will have to be replaced and we’ll be closed for five to six months. The insurance company had to put tenders out for repair work which took seven weeks, so we’re two months in now and not really much further forward.”

Wherever you turn there’s bad news concerning pubs and water. Carlisle was among the worst affected areas, with about 2,000 homes and businesses flooded. Elsewhere in Cumbria, Appleby was completely overwhelmed, as were Kendal and Glenridding (for the fourth time). The Watermill at Ings (16 ales on tap and an in-house microbrewery) reported: “In 25 years we have never had that sheer force of water.”

Geoff Mawdsley, owner of the Coledale Inn in Braithwaite described “a raging torrent going into the village”.

In York, the River Ouse rose more than four metres above its normal level while the River Foss hit record heights in urban areas.

York-based beer and pubs writer Nick Love said: “The Red Lion in Merchantgate is in a dreadful state. The Walmgate Alehouse and the Watergate Inn have been badly hit – as were The Lowther and the Kings Arms along the riverfront, while The Masons Arms will be shut for some time.”

An army of volunteers got down to clearing up the new Brew York brewery and taphouse which hadn’t even opened for business.

Nick Love said: “There’s a huge decrease in visitor numbers to York, so organisations like VisitYork and Make It To York are getting the message out that the city is very much open – so come and spend your money.”

A similar scheme in Cumbria invites people to go out to the pubs that remain open, contribute funds to the clean-up operation, and Drink Cumbria Dry.

At Jennings’ brewery in Cockermouth, some of the original remedial work introduced after the 2009 floods enabled production to get going relatively quickly.

Richard Westwood, managing director of Marston’s Beer Company (Jennings’ owners), said: “The support we have had from our team and customers has been intrinsic in getting the brewery back into production.”

Everywhere, volunteers have turned out in their droves to help with the clear-up and make sure their favourite pubs are back in action as soon as possible.

But not all is co-operation and community spirit. The owners of the Stone Trough Inn, in Kirkham Bridge near Tadcaster have refused to sell beer brewed by Sam Smith’s after the company refused to allow a temporary footbridge to be built on its land following the collapse of the historic bridge over the River Wharfe.

They said that as a local business, they “couldn’t support a Yorkshire business that doesn’t support its local people”.

Tadcaster is also home to two other breweries – John Smith’s (Heineken) and Molson Coors.

Sam Smith’s argued that North Yorkshire County Council had failed to carry out proper maintenance and that the temporary bridge was “a wasteful proposed public expenditure, a typical short-term PR based soundbite from central and local government”.

James Outterside summed up the frustration felt across the region by describing the effect that losing their local pub for a time will have on its community. He said: “The locals are devastated. I know it’s the thing to say these days that the pub is the hub, but it’s true here; it’s a real community centre for the village.

“For example, Harry, one of our real regulars, is 90 years old and he comes in every day for one pint and a bit crack – what’s he going to do?

“Our regulars don’t know what to do and I don’t either, I’m frustrated at not working. If this is an insight into retirement, I don’t like it.”

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Alastair Gilmour

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