The British countryside and Winnie the Pooh

Nothing reminds me that I’m living in the British countryside quite the way crossing a ford does.

I know. Fords have been around ever since people and small rivers were first introduced, but even so the fords in our village make me think I live in Pooh Corners. And for the record, no, I’m not sure there were any fords in Winnie the Pooh, but there was a stream and—well, I don’t want to pretend I’m being reasonable about this. What I’m remembering, I think, is one of the illustrations, about measuring the height of a stream during a flood.

Funny what sticks with you from your childhood.

North Cornwall's coast

Irrelevant photo: North Cornwall’s coast on a hazy day

This all goes to show you what a New Yorker I am. New York City doesn’t do fords. In fact, it doesn’t do streams. As far as I know, many years before I was born, someone (or more accurately, some many) maneuvered all of New York’s streams into pipes and then paved them over. The city does have three big honkin’ rivers (or two, or maybe one, depending on what you count as a river and what you count as a straight), and that’s plenty, thanks.

When you grow up with pavement, not having streams seems natural. So much so that I used to wonder where streams came from. Not where rivers came from. They came from upstream, as any fool could see. In case you need further proof of how attuned I was to the natural world, I once looked into a huge hole in the street and was surprised to see earth and rock under the pavement. I don’t know what I expected, but scaffolding probably wouldn’t have surprised me. So living in Cornwall not only with streams but with fords? That’s exotic.

Wild Thing grew up in Texas, and her family used to spend time in Colorado. She swears that when they came to a ford and the river looked higher than usual, her parents would have her wade across to make sure it was safe for the car. She never got washed away, so I’m guessing these weren’t raging torrents. Her parents weren’t reckless or neglectful, but it’s also true that they never stopped her from exploring abandoned mine shafts, so I don’t have the impression that they were over-protective either.

In fairness, she wouldn’t have told them she was exploring mine shafts, but a different set of parents might have asked. Or discussed. Or at least warned.

Whatever the pluses and minuses of their approach, she came out of it with an enviable gift for gauging the depth of a stream, and that’s something I don’t have. I understand three levels: low enough to wade; higher than the waterproof part of my shoes; and ask Wild Thing before taking the car across. The first two are reliable. The third? It’s helpful only if Wild Thing happens to be with me. So far I’ve managed not to get swept away, which is why I’m sitting here typing this. I’ve turned back only once, and I probably I didn’t need to, but I figured it was better to wonder than to be wrong.

Years ago, some government agency set up gauges beside the fords. These look like gigantic rulers and go from 1 at the bottom to You’re in Deep Shit at the top, although in my city-bred opinion you’re in trouble by the time the water reaches 1, because for the most part the gauges sit serenely above the normal flow and I’d turn back long before the water reached them, even though at most fords that means having to back a long way. I’m good at backing a car. I’m not good at estimating fords. Give me a choice and it’s pretty clear which I’ll take.

I’m not sure what the gauges are for, really. Maybe so that, Pooh-like, we can measure the depth of the stream for no better reason than to know if it’s still rising. The valleys here are sharp and narrow, so the rainfall spills into the streams quickly. In a heavy storm, a stream that’s normally a trickle can rise to a torrent, especially if the ground’s already saturated. It can fall just as quickly as it rises, and I suppose a gauge could keep you amused while that’s happening, although you might be smarter to go back to your nice warm kitchen and wait. You could also look for another route if you’re driving. If you’re walking, the fords have foot bridges, so you should be fine. If the water comes up over that, you’d be smart to get out of there instead of watching the gauge.

In my city-bred opinion.


And unrelated to that, Notes has now been updated, with a new theme that looks one hell of a lot like the old one but should work on phones. In addition to that, it was going to have all sorts of added Googlery that would tell me if a gnat flew past your screen while you were reading it, and which would also reach through atmosphere and hijack unsuspecting readers, launching my stats to astronomical levels, but the whole thing went wrong and instead my posts stopped reaching most of you. The ancient Greeks called it hubris. So the googlery’s disappeared, everything except the new, barely discernible new theme is back (I hope) to where it started, and I’m toning down my ambitions. Or looking for another way to channel them.

Thanks to the people who wrote to say they couldn’t click through to the “Trouble, trouble, trouble” post. It’s now reappeared (along with a great comment from Cats at the Bar) and I’ve lost another post, which was nothing but an attempt to update the people who couldn’t click through to “Trouble, trouble, trouble.”

Don’t worry about it.

If you have any trouble let me know. But if you get this, that probably means you’re not having any problems.


52 thoughts on “The British countryside and Winnie the Pooh

  1. I wasn’t worried when I couldn’t get the Trouble, trouble, trouble post. I knew that would get fixed but I love your irrelevant photos and the one with this post will not show and when I click on the thingie that appears in its place, I get a page saying Not Found. I despair.

    We used to have a couple of fords around here. They always made my heart beat faster and made my brain doubt my eyes sending info that it was safe. Alas, little rain here anymore so no fords. Long ago when I lived near the American River in Northern California, dozens of us used to gather at a high point and spend hours staring at the water going over the bike/ped bridge and threatening to top a low dam with 14 open gates roaring with water leaving the lake and rushing down to flow over the bridge. I used to stand there and wonder why I wasn’t home enjoying a good book and a cup of tea but no, I had to be there. Why? Why?

    Liked by 1 person

    • The photo’s back. When I moved–oh, never mind. It’s fixed. Thanks so much for letting me know.

      You must still be in California. The drought there sounds damn near apocalyptic.


      • Love the pic of the coastline. On my one journey (so far) to Cornwall, I took that narrow gauge train over to St. Ives. When the coast came into view it looked just like I was back on my own coast. Yes, we are all learning to spell words like apocalypse and desalination. The Sierra snow pack is down to 6% moisture, the avocado trees here have all been cut to 3 feet in hopes of saving them. Next it will be flush once a day and no outside watering. I need your brand of humor and tales of Cornwall for distraction. When it gets really bad I’m going to the green UK to wander around and experience some rain and maybe even snow.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: With apologies… | Notes from the U.K.

  3. Oh this evoked my earliest stream memory! Having grown up in a paved over, water starved city, I remember my first school camping trip and a hike across the fields and crossing a stream! It felt so exotic and foreign and I felt so adventurous. Little did I know then that it was just less than twenty kilometers from the city center and not all that foreign! Of course, today everything in a hundred kilometer radius is probably paved over. Price of progress and outsourced jobs.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I used to live in an area outside Johannesburg (South Africa) where a stream routinely covered the road after a heavy rain. This was right near where I kept my horse … It would be tremendous fun to amble down the road on horseback, past usually 3-4 cars pretty well trapped on a narrow dirt road while the drivers anxiously eyed the swirling torrent … and very casually stroll across it. The water was never more than knee deep to my horse but it sure looked scary!

    Liked by 1 person

    • And in a small car probably would have been scary. My whole car isn’t–well, okay, I was about to exaggerate. It is well over knee-deep to a horse, but I think that would be enough to leave me floating.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love this post! “I once looked into a huge hole in the street and was surprised to see earth and rock under the pavement. I don’t know what I expected, but scaffolding probably wouldn’t have surprised me.” Such a vivid illustration of how removed we can become from the natural world, even when we live in it!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Love this post, and Yays to Suzie for sending me over to party with you. I’m another American writer living in the UK (northern England until recent move to Glasgow). So nice to meet you!


  7. New York may not have floods but Texas has flash floods and you need to be aware. My blog is on Books I read mostly mysteries and parts about my life. Today I selected my favorite state to share. There are blogs on our Bengal cat Kato

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I was washed away while crossing a ford – actually, a river in flood – in the Solomon Islands. Luckily I didn’t panic and swam across the current. Grabbing hold of some tree roots on the far bank saved me.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ellen, you must visit Hartfield in East Sussex where the Winnie the Pooh books were written and you can play Pooh-sticks on the original Pooh bridge.
    My hometown of Stamford, in south Lincolnshire, takes its name from ‘Stoney Ford’ in middle English. Fords are and have always been important transport routes for our race. Great topic for a blog. Thanks for your visit to my blog – I enjoyed visiting yours just as much :) give England my love!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I will, and I’m sure it’ll send its love back.

      I was crossing a small bridge with friends a while ago when someone said something about playing Pooh sticks. I’d never heard the phrase before but was surprised that I knew what it meant. We dropped out sticks in, rushed to the other side, and couldn’t figure out whose was whose.


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