Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Remembering the Winter of 1963

Looking outside (in-between downpours) I can't help noticing that this year we have had a bumper crop of berries, a greater fall of pine needles than usual and we had lots of morning fog in August. According to tradition these are all signs of a bad winter to come.

I'm not convinced of any of the 'Lore', it reminds me of the story of Indians who rang up the weather service to find out about the coming winter and were told it would be cold so they started gathering wood. When they checked again later they were told it would be very cold so they gathered more wood. Later still they were told it would be extremely cold so they gathered yet more wood. When they checked next they were told it would be the worst winter for years. 'How do you know?' they asked and got the reply 'Well the Indians are gathering wood like crazy.'

I do however remember an extremely bad winter. That of 1963. It was bitterly cold, the coldest on record, and it snowed in a big way!

That year I was living on a hill farm in the North Pennines. The first I remember of that winter was when my father opened the front door and was met by a solid wall of snow. The previous five winters at the farm had taught us to keep a shovel inside the house so a few minutes digging got us outside. There had been a heavy snowfall but the howling wind had picked up most of the snow on the fells above us and blown it all into drifts in the valley where we lived, one of them burying our front door and the window of our sitting room. The picture shows our family standing outside that door and window later that summer.

We had to dig our way across the farmyard to the cow byre to feed the cows and while we were doing that the postman arrived. He had made it as far as our lane but had then given up. He left the mail for the village of Carrshield at the Chapel below our house saying 'If anyone gets here from there or goes there - ask them to take it'. Carrshield was a mere 2 miles from our house, further up the valley so to a 14 year old boy that was a challenge. I got prepared. By then we had learnt to wear two pairs of jeans, one inside our wellingtons and one outside. Not only did that keep out the bitter wind but it also prevented snow from getting inside wellingtons. I put on a thick pullover, mits, Woolen hat and two jackets, one with a hood. Looking like the Michelin man I made my way down the lane to the chapel, struggled to put the post bag over my shoulder and marched off into the blizzard.

About 200 yards further the road went through a series of bends, through a small wood and over a small stream. It was there I met one of our neighbours, Roland Johnson, trying to dig out his Landrover which had got stuck in the snow. I gave him a hand and he turned back towards his home. I continued up the road - or at least what I thought was the road since the snow had completely covered it, the wall at the left and the fence at my right. It was hard going since the snow was soft and deep. I sank up to my thighs in it and began to think plans for making a set of snow shoes out of old tennis rackets.

About another 20 yards and I got tangled up in something buried in the snow. Fence wires? Nope it was telephone wires still attached and normally 20 feet in the air. That's when I gave up! Carrshield's mail could wait.

The snow there turned out to be 22 feet deep after it had packed down and dug out. One of the pictures I have of it shows my brother-in-law, Colin Graham, standing on the shoulders of a friend, Brian Myers, next to the drift. As you can see the snow still towers above them.

It took gangs of men three weeks to dig their way to Carrshield. Even then there was one road which remained closed even longer where it went through a cutting which had been completely filled with a 44 foot deep snow drift.

As to that 44 foot drift; 1963 was the first year the council tried out snow blowers. They imported one from Switzerland, brought it by low loader to Hexham then drove it from there towards that drift. About 200 yards from it it broke down and the drift had to be cut out by men with shovels and mechanical diggers.

It took a long time for the snow to melt that year. In June, when I came home at half tern for a holiday there was still snow in places.

1 comment:

hendrix said...

We moved to Carrshield in the winter of 80-81 (another bad one although not quite as bad as that!). I loved it!