Ice cream and bare feet on tarmac – a personal reflection on the loss of heritage during the Cumbria Floods 2015

Firstly, I want to apologise for my lack of blogging over the past couple of weeks. It’s been a hectic time, what with dissertation writing, end-of-term festivities and a Christmas trip to Poland! But recent events have caused me to reflect on a few things… and so today seems like a perfect time as any to update you all on my thoughts. You’re probably aware of the recent events that I speak of – the Cumbria Floods caused by the ridiculous amount of rain brought in by Storm Desmond last week. It’s truly tragic. And as a Cumbrian living away from home I found it really difficult to watch the news and see all the places I know and love be destroyed by the flood waters and not be able to do anything about it. Luckily for me, my family have been unharmed, but I know many people who have been affected and it breaks my heart to see their homes and businesses destroyed so close to Christmas.

As tragic as it is however, people have started to rebuild their lives and replace things that they have lost – that’s all you can do in such an awful situation. But one thing that really affected me – and I was surprised by this – was the loss of the irreplaceable. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised, it’s in my nature, as a heritage practitioner and archaeologist, to fear and mourn the loss of the irreplaceable. Yet I was still shocked, and it’s subsequently caused me to reflect on the power of heritage and heritage places in our lives. This is something that’s widely recognised at local and national levels, you only have to read The Heritage Alliance’s manifesto, The National Trust’s ‘Spirit of Place’, or Historic England’s Conservation Principles and Guidelines to understand how significant a place can be. But sometimes things happen which make you realise that power all over again.

For me this was the loss of the 18th C bridge at Pooley Bridge which was washed away by the sheer volume of water underneath it last week. Pooley Bridge is a small village on the northern shores of Lake Ullswater, a few miles to the south of my village. It’s a small place, with a few pubs, a convenience store, a couple of gift shops, and an ice cream shop. Yet it’s very popular with visitors, being on the tourist route around Ullswater. I never really had any affinity with, or fondness for Pooley Bridge, other than that we used to visit it often in summer when I was a child when we would go down to the lake.

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The 18th century bridge at Pooley Bridge as it used to be before it was destroyed by the floods of December 2015. Photo by John Clift 2011

We used to park in the car park by the bridge and walk over it into the village to get ice cream from the little ice cream shop. We would wander down the side of the bridge and sit in its shadow, feeding the ducks and paddling in the river. I remember walking back across it in bare feet, feeling the burning hot tarmac under my feet and diving into the passing places every time a car went over it. It’s strange, but it was such an icon of that tiny village and I have so many memories tied to it that I feel, despite its communal heritage values, it’s a personal loss for me as well as for the wider community. Perhaps I’m just being over sentimental – but heritage can do that to you can’t it?

I’m not really sure where I’ve gone, or am going, with this blog post other than to say that I’m sad that a part of our heritage is lost and I wanted to reflect on that. But in truth, I’ll get over it in time, as we all will. And soon Pooley Bridge will have a new one, and that will become a part of its new heritage, and countless more children will walk bare feet over its tarmac whilst licking ice-cream off their fingers…

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