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An Occasional Island

Duration:
30 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 27 February 2013

The people of Muchelney, Alan Dein discovers, have an intimate relationship with water. They live on the flood plain of the River Parrett in the Somerset Levels. The name of their ancient village, from the Norse and Old English, means 'growing great island', and, despite the draining of the marshes, it is not unusual for Muchelney to become an island again, and the four roads leading to the village inundated.

Alan Dein visits in a time of flood and finds the villagers take it in their stride: farmer Graham Walker fires up his old tractor, puts a sofa on his trailer, and runs a bus service, ferrying people to the far shore so they can get to work and to school. He picks up food and mail. There's no traffic. People stop and talk. They look out for one another. It's not just the children who love it.

Widgeon, teal, geese, swans and gulls appear in flocks of thousands to the fields that become a lake of tranquil beauty. No one worries, the houses are old, built cannily on land always a few inches above the flood levels - until now.

In November the flood waters rose higher than anyone could remember. The potter John Leach describes how, for the first time, the water coming into his house and kiln. Michael Brown, eel smoker, who has lived by the river for decades, recounts his battle to keep the stealthy enemy out. Thatcher Nigel Bunce is thankful that his son's crying, as the waters approached the child's cot, woke him in time. Shirley Gove's beautiful barn conversion is wrecked. Whenever it rains now, she tells Alan, she will be scared.

Something is changing, and Alan Dein finds that the people of Muchelney, after centuries of living on their occasional island, much preoccupied, and some considering their options.

Producer: Julian May.

  • Alan Dein on the shore of the flooded meadows of Muchelney

    Alan Dein on the shore of the flooded meadows of Muchelney

     

  • Alan and farmer Graham Walker with an essential agricultural implement - a rowing boat. Graham's fields lie beneath the lake

    Alan and farmer Graham Walker with an essential agricultural implement - a rowing boat. Graham's fields lie beneath the lake
  • Shirley Gove and the wreckage of her beautiful home

    Alan Dein with Shirley Gove and the wreckage of her beautiful home
  • Alan and Tom Dunbar who has thatched many of the Muchelney roofs

    Alan and Tom Dunbar who has thatched many of Muchelney's roofs, including Graham Walker's farmhouse
  • Producer Julian May recording as he tries to reach the island of Muchelney

    Producer Julian May recording as he tries to reach the island of Muchelney

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