Just arrived back from a big wedding weekend in the wilds of South Shropshire – and on this occasion, I do mean the wilds.
The big wedding weekend was in honour of my mate Ade’s eldest daughter who wanted the whole Big Wedding Thing and is lucky enough to have parents who are capable of denying her very little.
So, we got the whole micromanaged-to-the- last-doily event staged at a country estate not far from Church Stretton in Shropshire’s beautiful hill country. Bride, mother of the bride and a veritable posse of bridesmaids and family members worked all week through steadily worsening weather to ensure that everything looked fabulous for the anticipated 150 or so guests.
Of course, anyone living in England’s green & pleasant land over the last few months knows exactly why it is so green & pleasant – something to do with the relentless downpours and an unco-operative jetstream (apparently).
Shropshire; roads become streams as the rain continues
Friday afternoon and we skirted the west of the city to avoid the worst of the traffic. The Bromsgrove- Stourbridge road, normally a dual carriageway through rolling farmland , had become a green tunnel – almost a temperate jungle with trees and hawthorn hedges luxuriating and running wild in the ongoing soggy conditions and everything still with the vivid emerald of springtime growth, given a lack of hot sun to bake the foliage to the usual tired, dull, dark green of late July and August.
Beyond Stourbridge, the traffic fell away and as we crossed the Severn at Bridgnorth, we could see that it was running , brown and brisk, at levels more usually associated with a spring thaw.
We made a pit-stop at Much Wenlock, shoe-horning our way into a packed ‘George & Dragon’ for a couple of pints of 6X (in my case) and some (sadly) indifferent food. We emerged about an hour later into a monumental downpour which showed no signs of abating as we headed across Wenlock Edge to our destination. The Wrekin emerged through Wagnerian gloom looking less like a genteel hill and more like a proper mountain as it continued to bucket down.
At Wall, we turned off the main road and into one of those Shropshire lanes that are like a trench with high hedges to either side. In the fading light, it soon became apparent that we were in effect driving along a stream bed. The whole landscape around us, soggy with week after week of rain, was simply unable to absorb any more and the run-off had turned our country lane into a country torrent.
In the troughs between the ridges, we ploughed through accumulations of standing water like a new ship sliding off the blocks and into the Tyne at Wallsend, sending plumes of water out to either side . In others, the engine growled and we slowed perceptibly with the water trying to keep us captive even as we sought to escape its clutches.
“…and God bless all who sail in her….”
Finally, within a mile or so of our eventual destination, we reached an impasse. A small stream had burst its banks and had turned the road into a swirling brown maelstrøm some fifty yards wide. The Princess donned wellies and waded in about 5 yards or so, but with the water already up to just below her kneecaps, this was clearly a case where discretion had become the better part of valour. Turning back, whilst an unappetising option, seemed safer than risking the swirling, rising flood ahead of us. After all, as the Princess remarked, these are the kind of things that you see on the local news as minor items – “Family of three swept away in flash flood…”
Backing up the slope to an open gateway, we managed to turn and head back from whence we came, then took an alternative road in, which was better because it was wider and less like a trench. Even so, we eventually reached a similar obstacle – a widening brown pool of unknown depth. On the advice of a local, we parked up in an adjacent lay-by and some friends with a 4×4 eventually came and retrieved us.
All was relatively calm at our elegant country retreat, though elsewhere among the inner Bridal entourage, there was the inevitable gnashing of teeth and rending of doilies as they contemplated a total wash-out. The rain continued to hammer down like stair-rods and water levels continued to rise. So high had they risen, in fact, that water was now starting to rise up through the carpet in the enormous marquee where we were all due to eat, drink and be merry the following day. There seemed a real prospect that, with 150 people gathered within, the whole edifice could slip its moorings and slide off down the slope into the adjacent river like a giant white skateboard or something from a Terry Gilliam cartoon.
The nightmare scenario…..
The forecast was not good for the day of the wedding, but better for the ensuing Sunday. We were still abed at 6 the following morning when the bride arose to find that whilst the rain had finally stopped, the water levels had continued to rise through the night and that the local stream had finally given in and burst its banks, turning most of the nearby roads into giant brown snakes. This sight produced further outbursts of pre-nuptial angst, but whilst it looked bad, the reality was that with the rain now having stopped, water began to drain away with amazing rapidity.
Up at the marquee things were also improving. The fact that the rain had stopped meant that water was no longer coming up through the carpets and it seemed that all the elaborate decorations and table ornamentations might now have their moment in the sun. That too, now became a real possibility as this unfamiliar yellow ball appeared in the morning sky. Things were looking up.
The rest of the story is easily told. The only major amendment to the schedule in the end was that the actual ceremony – originally designated to take place under a giant gazebo – was moved indoors.
The happy couple; all in all, things worked out just fine in the end
The walk across a field to the marquee was muddy but conditions inside were absolutely fine, enabling everyone to admire and appreciate all the work that had been done to decorate both the marquee itself and the tables within.
The devil’s in the detail….or maybe in the doilies….
Food was served and consumed, drink was taken – in a few cases, to excess – speeches were made. The bride looked glorious and the groom ruggedly handsome. Being of a certain age and having quaffed considerable quantities of wine at lunchtime, we retired to our pied-à-terre for a couple of hours nap, returning mid-evening to find some hapless ceilidh band struggling to orchestrate the semi- inebriated throng into a coherent folk-dancing unit. Not a pretty sight. Later on, there was a deal of squabbling and ruffling of egos among some of the younger boys about cables and speakers as they sought to inflict a ‘DJ set’ on us all. In the end, the sound was no better/clearer/louder than you’d get from a domestic hi-fi and a small knot of shuffling dancers coalesced at the far end of the marquee like pensioners trying to get as close as they can to a gas fire in order to keep warm. The thuds, bleeps and squawks of monotonous drum’n'bass dribbled limply across the sodden Shropshire fields, but I doubt if anyone was kept awake for long.
Sunday, as advertised, dawned bright and sunny and after a quick detour into Church Stretton during which I managed to pick up a cheap copy of Damon Runyan’s ‘On Broadway’ from a junk emporium, we returned to the final event of the weekend – a picnic in the suntrap back garden of one of the estate houses.
Everyone somehow managed to look cheery and bleary at the same time and there was a welcome absence of ceremony about the whole event. In due course, we offered our thanks to the hosts and our congratulations and best wishes to the happy couple, who are escaping the English rain for a week in Ibiza prior to moving into a new flat in Manchester. Eventually, we left and set off along the strangely dry lanes leading back to the Much Wenlock road. From Wenlock Edge, the Shropshire countryside looked as blameless and as glorious as ever in the afternoon sun. You would never have guessed at the biblical downpours sweeping across it less than 48 hours earlier.
Ironically, the newly-weds may well reflect on the fact that the conspiracy of weather and local conditions which threatened to destroy their happy day ultimately ensured that it was the kind of occasion which no-one in attendance is ever likely to forget. All we need now is a bridging loan to cope with the dry cleaning bills…….