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  • Writer's pictureNondiarist

“Don’t worry. As long as you can see those railings, it’s okay.”

Christmas 2015. Beautiful York. A comfortable Airbnb apartment overlooking the River Ouse, Christmas Day lunch at The Grange Hotel, walks along the city walls, ghost tours and cocktails under patio heaters in relatively mild temperatures for the time of year. What could go wrong?


The Airbnb owner showed us around. She was hospitable and cheerful. The forecast for the whole country was pretty wet but she assured us that the residents of waterside York are used to high river levels, most years.

“You only need to worry,” she said, “if those iron railings disappear.”

The railings were in front of a row of terraced houses on the far side of the river. The pub just a bit further north is apparently regularly flooded. I thought, if you’re a property owner and you’re happy with that, fine.


“Well make yourselves at home and have a lovely Christmas,” she wished us. “Just be aware that if I get a call from the building management company to tell me they’re going to shut the flood gates on the basement car park I’ll let you know. If you want to use your car, you’ll have to move it out, otherwise it will be stuck there until the water level subsides again.”


“Sure,” we said, and she was gone.


It was the 23rd December and we were due to leave on the 29th. We spent Christmas Eve exploring the city and deciding what to do and see and it rained a bit but not enough to spoil our plans. The river rose a little I think but we weren’t really aware. Christmas Day was pleasant enough for us to walk to the Grange Hotel and back again after lunch. We’d brought wrapped gifts from friends with us – no surprise that most of them contained a bottle of one thing or another. Eating out is the order of the day when on holiday but we had various essentials in the apartment – bread, cheese, cold meat cuts, bacon, butter, tea, coffee – and a range of delectable cookies provided by our host.


On Boxing Day we walked around the old city walls and took in some of the other historic monuments, ending up at a cocktail bar as it grew dark. We were just settling down to the first one when I realised I’d had a missed call from our host: “Call me as soon as you can,” was her message.


The building manager wanted to shut the flood gates as there were early warnings of flooding upstream. We abandoned bar, galloped back to the apartment block and he was there, waiting for us, the only vehicles left in the basement being our Freelander and someone else’s Mini. The Freelander got duly transferred to a public car park one road up from Skeldergate and we headed back into town for an early evening meal. When we walked home again later, there was water lapping the eastern side of Skeldergate from both arms of the crescent that runs down closer to the Ouse called Queen’s Staith Road.


I stayed up until nearly midnight watching TV. It was raining quite hard by that time and after turning the TV off I had a peek through the living room curtains. The river sort of filled my view. There were a few streetlights on the other side and I tried to ignore the fact that I couldn’t see any railings. Of course you can’t – it’s dark, I convinced myself.


From the bedroom on the other side of the apartment I looked out into the road and saw another river. Do you know that kind of sinking sensation? That feeling that there’s absolutely nothing you can do to change the situation? I judged it to be about ankle deep in the road and slunk into bed being thankful we were on the first floor. After all, our host had said that this had happened before and the residents just put on their wellies and got on with life.


Next morning we woke up to find ourselves on an island. The podium area between our block and the next one was just above the water level on both the river side and the road side. It was waist to chest deep in the road, depending on how tall you were. The unfortunate occupants of the street level house across the road were bailing water out of the windows.


Left: Steps up to the podium level.


What could go wrong? That’s how we came to be rescued by the army and driven to dry land in a troop carrier. Like refugees we queued up on the podium along with a few other holiday makers, bearing only what bags we could reasonably carry, waiting to be ferried in inflatable boats to the partially submerged army vehicle in the road.


I handed my laptop bag over and said, “Be careful, that contains a laptop,” so the lad held it high and it was transferred safely to the boat. Then came the one containing the bottles. I said, “Be careful, that one contains the alcohol,” and warning shouts were passed down the chain, “DON’T DROP THAT ONE. IT’S GOT THE ALCOHOL IN IT!” There was a hush while the bag was handed from man to man and once it was settled in the boat everyone breathed again.


I took off my trainers and socks, rolled up my jeans and prepared to wade down the two steps to join my bags (oh, there was one containing clothes as well), but no, I got picked up bodily by two uniformed guys and respectfully placed in the inflatable. Oh, okay, I thought, I won’t object.


We were ever more the refugees as we huddled on the hard seats of the troop carrier, clutching our possessions, being transported to safety. Well, I say safety, but to be honest we were never in any danger. If we’d had a week to spare and more provisions than half a loaf of bread, a few rashers of bacon and about four cookies we could have stayed in the apartment until the river subsided – many of the permanent residents of those flats were siege-ready and did just that.



It was an adventure for us, but not for the residents of York and the surrounding areas. It was the most devastating flood in many years and the cost in damaged property was enormous. Our generous host gave us a refund completely unbidden for the two days of our booking that we lost and she had our remaining possessions DHL’d down to Basingstoke. I can recount the story as a humourous escapade but then I was materially unaffected in any way. Thankfully. Thankfully, because our Freelander was in the public car park and not in the undercroft. For the first time, the flood waters overtopped the gates and the basements were inundated. I just hope the owner of the Mini was as fortunate.

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2021. jún. 03.

The railings ceased to be a gauge.

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