The day here at Campfield, as forecast by the weathermen, had developed into a full blown gale with estimated gusts of 60 - 70 mph. Gales we are accustomed to here on the Solway, but this was something special! We were hunkered down behind our picture window, gazing at the huge spectacle of the waves having their tops ripped off - filling the air with a blinding mist of spray. - with poor Gulls, Oystercatchers and Shelduck, some actually flying backwards, as they tried to retreat from their hightide roosts. The sycamores, ashes and damson trees in the garden were being flogged like grass - large branches being hurled to the ground. I said to Judith, "There goes our damson crop this year!" Squalls of rain and hail were chasing each other in quick succession across the estuary - you get the picture!
This all continued until late afternoon when, about 5 o'clock, the power went off. "There goes my teatime again - par for the course - little bit of a gale and our power always goes down. Surprised it hasn't gone before this!" We scuttled about getting the emergency calor gas cooker in the motorhome up and running. We knew the drill! We are used to it ... and in deepening gloom prepared for nightfall, dolefully watching the twinkling lights of Annan across the estuary in Scotland, sending out their cheery message. I wish I had a shilling for every time I've sat huddled in blankets here in England with our power down whilst our cousins across the border with their robust power grid, were tucking into their haggis and neeps, and gulping down flagons of the 'golden liquid'. Hey ! Ho! And we, like all good Englishmen, retired early to our beds whilst the storm raged and for all we knew were being showered with clouds of volcanic ash ... oblivious to the disaster unfolding not three fields away from our backdoor!
Oh! Thank heavens! The power is on. We awake and tremulously gaze outside, whilst drinking cups of coffee and consuming toast. Those linemen are heroes. They've got the power on. They must have worked through the night in those appalling conditions! I raise my glass to them. These guys should be paid in gold, hanging there on tops of poles in lashing gales and rain, just so that we lesser mortals can have our coffee and toast in the morning and that everyone's hot water, heating systems, cookers and TVs work perfectly and we can all go about our daily lives unhindered. Don't talk to me about the Big Society. These men are the Big Society - they care for us all!
It must have been the caffeine in the coffee. "Let's go down the Lonning onto the Reserve and see if everything is alright - we'll take the big camera and lens," said Judith. "OK. let's go!" I said, whilst struggling to remove a large branch which had placed itself across the front drive - "Glad that didn't hit the car, Dear," I said.
On reaching the Lonning entrance, I had a sense of foreboding; a sixth sense; perhaps that primative instinct inherent in man - that all was not well ... a strange car parked up near the entrance to the reserve perhaps? On reaching the workshop, the door was open, inside I could see what were obviously media men. Not wishing to intrude we hurried on down the Lonning. " Dave must be giving an interview for some reason," I said to Judith. My sense of foreboding increased! I swung into 'old Indian tracker and friend of Hiawatha' mode. Many heavy vehicles passed this way in the last few hours - gazing at the normally pristine trackway of the Lonning. No sooner had I thought this than we came upon one of the heavy vehicles. It was Stephen with the tractor and bucket, wrestling with the remains of a huge Willow tree that had split from top to bottom and was lying all over the place. "Bit of a rough night, Stephen," we cheerily shouted by way of encouragement. Stephen clambered down from his monster tractor and said,"That's not all - the Moss has gone!" "What!" said we. "The Moss has been burning all night," he continued. At that point a huge hail storm struck with hail the size of small peas. Stephen ran for the shelter of the tractor and we for the shelter of the hide. The noise of the hail on the roof was deafening. "We must have been very naughty," I remarked, "The Gods are really angry with us!"
As we discussed the plight of the Moss, we suddenly felt the need for the comfort of a cup of coffee which I had remembered not to bring in our haste - Judith's face was a picture of quiet disapproval! At which point Dave crashed into the hide already soaked to the skin. I could see in his eyes he had something to say - a man normally of quiet disposition, he was obviously quite shaken. "What's been going on, Dave?" we tremulously enquired. "The Moss has been burning all night," he replied. "We've had four fire appliances here - one from this end and three from Rogersceugh (the farm in the middle of the Moss). We think that a powerline must have gone down and set the Moss on fire over towards Anthorn. The firefighters have been trying to stay ahead of it in this gale and have managed to contain it before it reached some of the major woodland. Quite amazingly, the newly installed boardwalk had acted as a firebreak, saving quite a large section of the Moss. Further on the fire had jumped the boadwalk and had taken out quite large areas of the Moss, bird's nests and all, before being contained. I came across blackened and exhausted firefighters slumped at the Lonning entrance when I came in, hopefully requesting possibly sandwiches."
He then sadly related the fact that one of his research video cameras, positioned near one of the curlew's nests, as part of a predation study, was a melted burnt wreck - even the memory card had gone! Mercifully the two other cameras had survived. The hail had by now subsided. We said to Dave, " We'll go out onto the Moss and get a photographic record while the disaster is still fresh"
There were some distressing sights: two or three pairs of Curlew were forlornly flying round the charred areas - obviously calling for their newly fledged young who would have had no chance in last night's inferno. Small numbers of Larks and Meadow Pipits were wandering around on the scorched earth in a similarly distressed way, looking for chicks they would not see again. The heavy smell of burning was still in the air. The hopeful signs this Spring of a good hatch, now lay in ruins. With another hail storm rapidly approaching, we were forced to retire from the Moss, only to receive another final buffetting and soaking before attaining the shelter of the hide. Again we met Dave who had just returned from resiting one of his cameras. We continued trying to piece together the events of the previous night, trying to visualise the efforts of the firefighters stumbling on the rough terrain of the Moss, amidst smoke and a howling gale, attempting to stay ahead of the fire - but eventually doing so, thereby saving one of the finest examples of Raised Bog in the country. Had they not acheived this it may have taken many years to recover to its present form, particularly had it reached some of the far woodlands and plantations. For this prodigious effort they must have our grateful thanks.
Tops of the waves being blown off by the gale.
Oystercatchers flying along tideline at high tide.
Oystercatchers keeping low in the shelter of the saltmarsh as they attempt to round Scargavel Point, into the full force of the gale.
Stephen dealing with the Willow which was split by the gale last night.
Broken Willow stump.
Working out how to deal with the problem.
View from the hide of some of the blackened Moss.
Track through the wood (thankfully not damaged by the fire) onto the Moss
Looking along the boardwalk which acted as a firebreak.
Where the fire leapt the track in the middle of the Bog.
View across the Bowness Common towards the Lakeland Fells, showing how the fire, in the strong wind, had moved swiftly only burning surface vegetation and also missing some tree plantations.
Some stands of shrubs and trees had caught the full force of the fire.
Fire had got away here.
Forlorn Curlew calling over blackened ground below.
Pair of Curlew searching.
Nest has gone!
There was at least one survivor!
Not all vegetation had been destroyed.
View back along boardwalk towards the wood we came in through.