Friday 9th August dawned dark and grim with persistent, heavy rain pelting down.
It was our morning to be on duty as wardens at Lochranza campsite. We were expecting to be shadowed by Barbara and Colin who had arrived the day before as potential campsite wardens for next season. The previous evening I had arranged to call for Barbara in the morning to join me for my deer pooh collecting round of the campsite.
Nigel and Kathy, the campsite owners joined us in the office at about 8:30 am. Nigel had been watching the water level of the river Gleann Easan Biorach, which bounds the full length of the campsite on one side, all night. He was concerned that the river was going to flood at the bottom of the campsite.
But there was to be no pooh collection that day!!
Quite rightly, Nigel said that the campers in tents were most vulnerable to a flood. So accordingly, off we all went to warn those in tents in the bottom field to begin to pack up their gear to be ready to move their tents and belongings to higher ground.
All the while the rain continued to chuck itself at us. Very soon it was clear that the river level was continuing to rise rapidly. We helped move many tents and personal possessions to higher ground, repegging tents and wheelbarrowing valuables and camping equipment to an already packed Base Camp aka campers lounge. Several other campers came and helped . As for the sky it continued to throw buckets of water at us.
By now the river had breached its lower banks on the golf course and in the bottom of the campsite. As the levels continued to rise we now alerted campers on the top field. And, moved yet again the tents we had only just moved and repegged down!
Alerting campers on the top field and getting them to move their tents wasn’t easy as some folks had already gone out for the day and others were elsewhere on the campsite …..having showers in the toilet block for instance….or watching the fun and games of our struggles to rescue tents and campers personal possessions etc from the safety of the campers lounge !
But the river continued to rise and rise.
Then it became clear that not only tents but also campervans, motorhomes and caravans were also at risk from the encroaching dark waters. Nigel announced that we needed to evacuate the site.
At this point the river broke the banks at the Ballarie Bridge near the distillery,tearing down fences and ripping out gorse bushes, trees and hedges. It bypassed it’s normal course and headed straight for the top of the campsite where it came gushing over a high hedge behind the pods flooding all but the very highest ground. This meant that the road to the campsite was blocked and the fire brigade, whom Kathy had alerted early in the morning, couldn’t reach the campsite to help with the evacuation.
But with great difficulty and much help from some fantastic, public spirited campers we succeeded in safely evacuating the site. Many tents and personal possessions were lost…….but no-one was injured.
As we evacuated the site, we encountered a few problems…such as a broken down vehicle which needed towing out and some caravans that also needed towing.
The force of the water was so great that it moved not only heavy picnic tables dumping some of them miles away downstream but even wrenched the pods from their concrete moorings. One of the picnic tables made it to the middle of the river outside the Youth Hostel, it soon disappeared from there and was next reported having been spotted by the crew of the Cal Mac Lochranza/Clanaig ferry with its legs in the air floating towards Kintyre! All but one of the golf course bridges were damaged or moved from their positions. Tons of gravel from the hard standings and car park areas were carried away and dumped on the golf course fairways and greens.
It is unsurprising that this August 2019 has been one of the wettest recorded on Arran or that on that single morning 25% of the months rain fell…..over 45mm.
And what about Barbara and Colin, the rookie would-be wardens? What a baptism of floodwater they had had. They worked as hard as anyone that morning, moving tents, awnings, camping equipment etc. And, despite my advice after the evacuation to “head for the hills” they stayed for the rest of the week and worked hard helping with the big clean up that was so desperately needed!