The Flood of ’68


Edited excerpts from “The Combe Raleigh Silver Jubilee Scrapbook 1977

I had lived most of my life within view of the River Otter, and of course this was to continue when we moved to the Pheasantry.  The River Otter, which has given me many pleasant hours trout fishing, is loved by all the family. 

On 12th July, 1968, this was to change.  It had been raining for most of the morning, but after lunch it became much heavier and the waters of the Otter rose very quickly indeed.  By later afternoon it was in flood and broke its banks in many places.  In normal floods the river overflows at Monkton;  Langford Bridge road is impassable, but one can usually cross the river at Clapper Lane.  On this occasion, however, the waters rose so high that eventually it was impossible to cross the river at Clapper Lane bridge.

The haymaking was not yet completed, and bales of hay were still left on the fields.  These were soon to be swept down the river causing great problems by being held back at bridges and blocking the flow of water.  Eventually, with  the weight of water behind them, they broke and gave way, allowing vast volumes of water like tidal waves to sweep down the valley.  Trees on the riverside were uprooted and caused havoc and destruction on their way to the sea.  Bridges were washed away and parapet of Clapper Lane bridge eventually went.

The waters covered farmland and rose to the bottom of our lane at the Pheasantry, making us wonder if it was time to leave.  With a Landrover it was possible to negotiate the bottom of the lane and drive to the village only.  Even then the water was to the height of the floorboards of the vehicle. 

It was getting late in the afternoon and our final sighting in daylight was of cattle being swept down the raging torrent.  These had apparently come from above Langford Bridge and had been sucked into the river and under the bridge.  They were helpless in the deep waters, but we saw some of them finally make dry land on the Tracey fields.  Many sheep were also being swept down and a considerable number were lost. 

The damage and destruction caused by this flood was enormous.  The banks of the river had been eroded and hundreds of tons of stone had been dislodged and piled up on the banks.  In places, the river was three or four times its normal width.  We all wondered if the Otter would ever be the same again – and up to the present the answer is No.  With the removal of riverside trees, gouging of river banks and  ugly metal rails replacing the lovely stone parapets, we all wish the flood had never taken place. 

Jack Luxton, The Pheasantry

It was in the early part of the summer of 1968.  It had been raining on and off for several days, which meant that the ground was already nearing saturation point. 

The big shower started around tea-time.  It poured down upon us very hard for a while, then eased off.  If that had been all everything would have been OK, but a couple of hours later the rain started falling in torrents.  Lightning flickered about us and, what with the noise of the rain beating down, and the thunder rumbling overhead, it was quite frightening. 

Then there was a new noise:  the road leading down through the village had decided to become a river for a change.  The water roared down, taking with it everything in its path.  At the time we owned a Fiat 600, which was rather small.  As we live on top of the hill, and because the car was so small, we were able to drive it up the garden path out of harm’s way. 

However, others at the bottom of the village were not so lucky.  Being faced with an uphill gradient the water went the only way it could – through the cottages.  My husband, along with others, went to help the unfortunate people who lived in these cottages. 

The next morning we woke to find that the village was practically marooned.  Langford Bridge was just one huge river and Clapper Lane bridge had completely disappeared, taking with it some of the road.  Fences, trees and hedges were festooned with hay, which had been carried along by the water. 

Sue and Gerry Loving, 5 Hillside

Ours must have been the last car to cross the old stone Clapper Bridge, after which we, thankfully, thought we were safe.  However, we got to the village end of the avenue and were just about to turn the corner when the bank burst and all the water from St. Cyres flooded into the road. 

We scrambled out of the car, now above the steering wheel in water, up the bank.  We waded through the field, up to our waists, to the high ground by the Church, and then had to wade waist-high again, across the roaring stream by Abbots and the Chantry.

Eric and Mary Goddard, Hill House

I am sure my worst memory of the fourteen years I have lived in Combe Raleigh will always be the flood of 1968, when our field was deep in water.  It was waist deep in the road by our neighbour Mrs Metherill in Keeper’s Cottage;   this we tested as we went to see if she was alright.  We were very frightened by all the noise.  However, the night passed and we woke in the morning to a scene of desolation.  Trees and hay everywhere.  Bundles of hay were wrapped round the electric pylons by the river, high overhead, and it took a long time for everyone to forget that night.  

Betty Crow, Oaklands