A toast to the women who got a devastated pub in The Dales back on its feet

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When the rains had gone in Langthwaite – one of the few settlements in Arkengarthdale and a few miles north of Reeth – nothing was left of the bar Rowena Hutchinson had run, and her mother before her, for the last half-century.

The water contaminated everything. Even the pound coins in the till had been turned black by the lead and oil the floodwater picked up as it came down the dale in a torrent.

Sisters Rowena Hutchinson and Marguerita at the Red Lion, Langthwaite. Six-month anniversary of floods in the Dales.

Sisters Rowena Hutchinson and Marguerita at the Red Lion, Langthwaite. Six-month anniversary of floods in the Dales.

“At 3pm we were serving customers sitting outside in the sunshine and at five we were wrecked,” said Mrs Hutchinson.

“It knocked me off my feet. I nearly drowned in the bar. The firemen had to get me out.

“I slipped and went under up to my chin, then managed to grab hold of a bench and pull myself out. But the force of water and speed was just unbelievable.

“There was no warning at all – I never heard it coming. It filled the bar in seconds, down two lots of stairs and right into the bar.

Rowena in the pub following the flood.

Rowena in the pub following the flood.

“Fortunately a door burst open into the cellar and the barrels opened the door out into the road so the water could get out. Otherwise if would have filled up to the ceiling.”

When locals eventually saw the devastation weeks later – loss adjusters had kept people away for fear of injury from the broken glass and strewn furniture – they doubted that the Red Lion would open again.

That it did, two days before Christmas, was down to working until 9pm every day cleaning it out, said Mrs Hutchinson, who is 76 and runs the pub with her sister, Marguerita Barningham.

“They were queuing outside on December 23,” she said. “The first person to come in was the last man to have a pint before the flood.”

However, although business has been brisk in the weeks since, the kitchen and living accommodation remain closed and Mrs Hutchinson has been living in a cottage further up the hill.

“Our furniture stood for two weeks in the mud before anyone did anything about moving it,” she said.

“The insurers didn’t want to be liable for anyone being injured.

“Then I had a fight to keep the cast-iron tables, which they wanted to scrap. And they kept warning us about contaminated water – black water, they called it. It’s just been a nightmare.”

It was just after the pub closed for the afternoon that the rains came.

“It went absolutely black and it was thundering continuously, rolling all the time,” Mrs Hutchinson said.

“There were massive hailstones further up the Dale and it just absolutely teemed down.

“My sister went home and looked out of her kitchen window as it went dark and saw the sheep starting to go.

“Then she just watched the walls go down, one by one, right down the valley. It was unbelievable – they were like dominoes.

“There was a tree trunk in the kitchen at the back of the Red Lion. The garden disappeared altogether. I lost a 20x10ft greenhouse.

“Then it hit Grinton and Reeth.”

At the farm run by her sister’s family, a horse managed to swim over a 5ft gate to safety after the floodwater came up almost to its neck.

Some 120 sheep and hundreds of bales of hay were lost.

Sheds and household oil tanks were among the items reported to be floating along the roads, which one local likened to a “raging torrent”.

The Environment Agency had to remove boulders from Grinton Beck and its confluence with the River Swale.

There had been floods before in the dale, but not on this scale.

“Hurricane Charlie hit us in 1986, but although the water was quite deep, there was no force with it – it didn’t wreck everything,” said Mrs Hutchinson, who moved to the Dales with her parents when her father retired as head teacher of a school near Birstall.

“In 1986, we had water but we were open again within days.

“This was very different,” she said. “I don’t think I’ll ever get over it.”