In The Trenches

Sometimes, my body simply can’t move and I am incapable of lifting even my little finger.   Naps call to me when a reviving cup of coffee seems inadequate.  These moments of pure exhaustion usually stem from a day of physically demanding projects.   Lately though, my desire to slouch onto the sofa with a good book and a blanket is the result of enduring the tyranny of relentless rain, hail and wind these past weeks.  I’ve had enough.

In December, a beautiful autumn gave way to weeks of heavy rains and strong winds, taking much of the country hostage.  Floods and economic damage have affected thousands.  For the two of us, the consequences of all this wet weather have been relatively minor.  We have a chimney leak, indicating some flashing which needs attention, our winter vegetable garden is not growing, but it isn’t dying either, and our track is developing a number of pot holes.  The river is torrential and raging.  The yard is saturated making each step a potential slip and fall. The chickens haven’t had a good day out in weeks.  Sam’s walks, when not abbreviated, have tested the limits of our waterproof outerwear.   And my hiking boots leak.  Still, life goes on.

The first morning walk with Sam down the track includes a routine assessment of potholes.  Filling potholes is a regular spring activity and the quicker we stop them becoming craters, the better.   Left to grow,  larger potholes need a packing of bricks, which we hammer down before covering with road planings.  Heading into December, I was feeling smug about how fine the track was looking, even flirting with the idea that spring 2016 might mean a “miss” on track maintenance.   But this winter’s rains have undone our past summer’s efforts.  More than a few potholes have emerged.  Big, bold, deep, and growing each time anyone drives up the track.  With the ground so heavily saturated, the rainwater runs off the hillside and across the track, taking all the gravel with it and giving way not just to potholes, but to a relatively new aspect of Crockern maintenance:  clearing ditches.

As no one expected the war to last as long as it did, the first trenches in WWI were made quickly and often filled with water and subsequently collapsed.  Our trenches — ditches really — are designed to direct the water off the hills and into holes which run under the track.  In the distant past, some wise soul constructed this series of ditches, but years of neglect has left them overgrown, filled with grass, silt and low growing gorse branches.  In some areas, the network of sheep paths has flattened the lip of the ditch letting water run over the ditch’s banks.  With my shovel and clippers to hand, I’ve set about a wet, wintry madness of clearing this overgrowth so the water can resume its historic flow when it rains heavily.

This is not a quick job.  According to the British trench guidelines, it took nearly six hours for 450 men to construct 250 metres of trench.  The layout of the trenches was generally about two metres deep and two metres wide.  Our ditch is about 20 x 20 centimetres.   Considering the smaller size, I suppose it shouldn’t take too long for one woman, one shovel and a pair of garden shears to clear the overgrowth.

But, there are many reasons why this job is not quickly accomplished:

  1. It is futile to dig when it is pouring down with rain or the wind is too blowy.  I fall over more.  My hair is in my face and I can’t see.  I rapidly get fed up.
  2. There are only so many hours in a day the body and mind can do this sort of work.  I suspect prisoners and slaves made to smash rocks or build pyramids would agree.
  3. After about 2 hours, I’m happy to see I’ve accomplished about 30 feet of clearing.   I arch my back and stretch my shoulders only to see the remaining 2,000 feet left to clear.  My heart sinks and it takes time to recover motivation.
  4. Last year when I started this project, I scratched my cornea on a gorse bush.  I close my eyes half the time I’m doing this job now, which does slow things down considerably.
  5. The house is warm and dry.  My book is good.  The sofa is comfy.

While I’ve been outside covered in mud and rain, Roger has made incredible progress on removing the paint from the interior granite stones using a non-toxic paste and a lot of hard graft.  This is no easy undertaking either, as he must first apply the paste, then remove the softened paint with a scraper before using the power washer to get rid of the rest.  This clears the stones of paint while at the same time making a flooded mess inside the house, necessitating an hour or so of cleaning up.

While we toil away on our various projects, the rains continue.  Occasionally there is a brief interlude when thick cloud cover gives way to a watery sunlight.  The powerful winds die back and the birds return to our feeders.  When we eventually have a few days free of rain, the soggy, muddy, squidgy ground will once again find firmness.   For now, we alternate between ditch digging, paint stripping, drying wet clothing, and drying a wet dog before we answer the call of a book, a hot bath, a cold drink, a soft couch and the chance to drift off into a blissful sleep.


A view from the trench as the clouds give way to a brief moment of blue sky.


16 comments on “In The Trenches

  1. Lindy Spearing says:

    Thank you for keeping us informed . The Spring is close , everything will look better . At least you haven’t lost a child like us , so keep everything in proportion ! Thinking of you xxxx

    Sent from my iPad


  2. annette hope says:

    Dear Catherine, Fantastic. You remind me of Roy Bridger and Jack Gosling, who came to stay with my parents in Edinburgh before going to Wester Ross, Little Loch Broom, in the last days of the war, to work on a deserted croft in a deserted village. They were conscientious objectors. Jack had a spinal problem. Roy was a pacifist and journalist. They occupied the remains of an ancient village then deserted on the south shore of the loch. They gradually transformed their deserted croft into a model, and they were invaded by young couples who gradually took over and revived the whole village. My brother and I went up to see them. Jack had a special pulley hanging from the ceiling with a two handed grip on which he exercised. Roy was full of fun, often at the expense of bureaucrats and policemen. He was the spokesperson. Jack added comments. My brother and I slept in a little tent near the village. What amazed me was their courage and their belief in the idea of self-subsistence. Eventually Scoraig, their village, became a base for training in seamanship, and they were quite happy with this because it was pacifist, and not military. Affectionately, Vincent

    • Thank you Vincent. What a lovely memory you’ve added to this post. So many of the walls and old tracks around us were constructed by conscientious objectors. Your addition makes me wonder if the original ditches might have been constructed with their aid?

  3. jllevitan says:

    Hope the weather clears up soon. You have certainly earned your time on the couch curled up with a good book. Keep me posted on your latest finds. I always enjoy your recommendations. As we continue to tackle our decluttering I can relate to your 2000 feet of remaining trench.

  4. Sounds very very wet. We too have had a week of rain but when the sun comes out it is higher and stronger. Just been walking with a friend’s dog and remembering that wet dog smell! At least you can warm up and be cosy after your trench ordeal! I like the way you’ve written this.

    • That wet dog smell surrounds us! Soon, the weather will change and we will complete these tasks, only to have a few more awaiting. Thanks for your comments and commiserating on the wet, wet, wet.

  5. atkokosplace says:

    I can totally relate! Enjoy the bath, drink, book, relaxation. There’s always another day for work. Take a slow down. You deserve it! 🙂 Happy New Year. Koko

  6. Eileen says:

    Thanks for the blog Catherine :)x

  7. Ann Dawney says:

    Lovely to be back on board! Lewes has a rare day of sunshine today, with a spectacular sun-rise, illuminating the ‘shining big sea water’ down the Ouse valley. I remember the pot-hole problem Catherine – sounds as infinite a task as the painting of the Forth Bridge!

  8. RobP says:

    You know what they say about all work and no play! Winter seems a good time as any to relax for the coming spring and summer. 🙂

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