Reader letter: We must be ready for the snow

PUBLISHED: 09:07 09 March 2018

Norfolk Young Farmers clearing snow from the roads. Picture: Norfolk Young Farmers.

Norfolk Young Farmers clearing snow from the roads. Picture: Norfolk Young Farmers.

Norfolk Young Farmers.

I grew up during the 1950s/60s and experienced some snowy winters, notably 1956, 1963 and 1966 and not once did I have to miss school or college due to closures.

The reason being, I believe, was those schools were local to the village or town and the teachers tended to live locally too - pupils for the most part and their teachers could walk through the snow to the schools - travelling by car or bus was not an issue.

There were times when classes were conducted while still dressed in coats and gloves due to poor heating but since most houses at that time were not centrally heated this was not much of an inconvenience. The closure of schools has the knock-on effect that parents even if they could get to work now need to have time off for childcare.

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At this time many goods were carried by the railways which were extensive throughout the county before Dr Beeching’s cuts got underway. Special hubs were strategically placed around the county where local hauliers could collect goods for onward distribution to nearby towns and villages. As a child it was an everyday occurrence to count over 100 waggons hauled by a steam engine into Sheringham station.

I don’t remember the trains being cancelled and certainly when I was a student at Norwich City College from 1966-68, I never missed a day and can remember walking through snow from Thorpe station to the college in Ipswich Road.

My route took me past the old Norfolk and Norwich Hospital which in those days, as did many smaller locally situated hospitals, have nurse’s homes attached, where in addition to the live-in nurses other nurses could stay in the event of bad weather.

Last Wednesday I drove a friend, a nurse, to work in High Kelling. She was one of a few that made it in and stayed overnight at the hospital so that she could help out the following day. This was very good of her considering that there are no facilities at the hospital - no food (patient’s food is brought in daily), no beds (unless a patient bed is unoccupied) and no showers. Whereas the old N&N was close to the city and most staff could walk in snowy conditions, the present hospital is basically ‘out of town’ and requires transport links.

In the 1960s my father would drive to work, usually a 20-mile radius around Sheringham using snow-chains on his vehicle and in 1978 another snowy winter I would drive daily to Great Yarmouth, a 40-mile journey. Although the road was often coated in ice ruts and you tended to drive like a tram until you had to bump over the frozen snow at a junction, you did not have to deal with large snow drifts.

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This I think is down to three reasons, all of which are down to the farmers. Firstly there were many more miles of roadside hedges which would halt the blowing snow. Secondly if there were stretches without roadside hedges, then the farmers used to erect temporary snow fences consisting of linked thin chestnut palings. Thirdly, if the snow did drift and block the road, the farmers could in most areas bring out a V-shaped snow plough and clear the road.

We cannot of course turn the clock back but the increased centralisation is the cause of the chaos and we need to work out the best way to tackle the consequences of snow. It is imperative that the NHS functions so getting people to work should have local contingency plans.

Local farmers and experienced 4x4 drivers could be on a volunteer register so that contact can be established quickly and help sent where possible. To have 1,000 cars stuck overnight on a motorway or a train full of passengers stuck without heating or light should be preventable in the 21st century.

The emergency services and others have done sterling work and most likely prevented death. However, as individuals we must take responsibility - we have had plenty of warning yet we still think it won’t happen to us.

Car drivers if they must travel they should be prepared for long periods of being immobile and take snacks, a thermos of hot drink, a blanket and a shovel, etc. If you are travelling by train, again take a bag of snacks, drink and a space blanket or such.

Air travel was not that important to most people in my youth, but now as people require the service more than ever they should heed warnings and prepare for delays.

Forward planning by government, local authority or the individual will make life in the snow a lot less dramatic.

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