The River Yeo is as dependable as day following night. Every day millions of gallons of Mendip water pass through the Village towards the Bristol Channel. One of the conditions that Bristol Water had to agree when they built Blagdon Reservoir was to ensure ½ million gallons of water flows down the River Yeo every day. The farm animals and wildlife all benefit from this constant supply of clean water, but in the past the free water was used to drive water wheels and water turbines. Alas, we don’t make much use of the water any more, but perhaps as we become more sustainable there will be plans to make the village carbon neutral. There is a restored water wheel at Iwood Manor but this is the only remaining wheel on the river.

In the first article I mentioned the great flood of 1968. There have been numerous floods in the past and Congresbury History Groups excellent booklet ‘Congresbury Floods, Wells, Pumps, Ponds, Lakes and Springs’ is a fascinating read. Although 90 houses and businesses were flooded on 10th and 11th July 1968 it was as a result of the disaster that the major improvements were made to the river flood defences. It took over 10 years before the work to the tumbling weir, widening the river and raising the banks was completed. In 2012 and 2013 when the Village suffered from record rainfall, the river flood defences stood firm and did their job although some homes were flooded, but not from the river

loysummer1When the main road bridge over the river was built in 1924 traffic was sparse and it could never have been predicted to carry thousands of vehicles every day. Every year over a million vehicles use the bridge. Perhaps the Parish Council should consider making it a toll bridge. One day there will need to be a new bridge, but in the mean time fingers crossed that the old one remains in good condition. Until we had the Millennium bridge there were only a few ways of crossing the River. Long before the A370 was constructed some historians suggest the original road was green lane which runs from Venus Street to Iwood Lane and crossed the river on a pack horse bridge. This bridge is still there as is the stone arch bridge above the tumbling Weir. Now used by farmers to cross the river with their stock and occasional tractor they also link the footpaths that criss cross the fields. Beyond the tumbling weir there are three of the single arch stone bridges before you reach the two arch road bridge on Iwood Lane. All are stunningly simple, built of local limestone and provide a perfect backdrop to the river slowly passing on its way to the sea.

loysummer2Although rivers are an integral part of our infrastructure, they are owned by the Farmers with land either side of the watercourse. Riparian owners have numerous responsibilities but the Environment Agency are charged with ensuring the rivers can convey water and not cause flooding. Fortunately, because of its strategic importance the Yeo is well cared for, the weeds cut, any pollution dealt with and the banks kept in good condition. They also manage the flow by opening and closing the sluices particularly at times of high tides and rainfall.

loysummer3Managing the banks and regulating the flow of water has become an exacting and highly technical task with satellite communications. At Iwood Lane the Environment Agency have a gauging station with sophisticated equipment that measurers the flow and height of the river 24 hours a day. The information is available for everyone to see on the website and used as part of the flood defence and early warning in case of emergencies. During May a team of Land Surveyors were levelling the height of the banks and the depth of the river from the A370 bridge to Iwood Lane bridge including the Millennium Green and Gooseham Rhyne. The information will be fed into their computers and help to create computerised models of how much and how quickly the water can flow along the river. As the A370 bridge has a finite capacity, there being a limit of how much water will flow through a 4” pipe, sometimes its better to delay and hold water back rather than try and get rid of it as quickly as possible. Even the river has become a highly technical subject but one that we cannot take for granted.

loysummer4Early summer is a busy time on the river. After the winter floods the trees, wild flowers and shrubs are in full leaf and flower. In the water the long trailing weeds are growing allowing shelter for the fish and along the banks the reeds are home for ducks and moorhens as well as nesting birds. On the warm sunny days the sun reflecting from the water adds to the colours and almost forms rainbows along the surface. Midges and small flies and the occasional May fly are attracting the small brown trout that have survived the winter floods and make plopping noises and rings of water where they snatch the low flying morsels.

loysummer5The cows in the fields are growing fat and look luxuriant in the long grass as they enjoy the rich feeding after spending the winter inside their barns. When the weather is warm they love to spend the mornings munching the tender grass and the afternoons in the shade chewing the cud. The sheep seem far more busy and are constantly on the move, heads down except the lambs who enjoy jumping and tormenting each other. One of the joys beyond the Tumbling Weir are seeing the magnificent horses belonging to Captain Peter and Sally Hall at Iwood Manor. Later in the summer there are equestrian events in the fields where horses and riders come from all over the country to compete in this idyllic setting. The sound of their hooves reverberating on the dry ground adds to the excitement of seeing horse and rider jump the various rails set in the fields. Where else can you see a free horse show.