Brough Scott: If only the tide would turn [H&H VIP]

  • Until this winter, few people outside the West Country had heard of the Somerset Levels.

    Now everybody has. They are the home of that enormous, flood-spawned lake halfway between Taunton and Glastonbury we see every day on the news.

    We have almost got used to it. Carroll and Chris Gray haven’t. They used to train horses there.

    They have also overcome almost as many afflictions as God gave to Job.

    Chris rode seven winners as a rapidly rising amateur until a fall on the day of the seventh knocked her unconscious for three weeks.

    Carroll was a popular and hard-grafting jockey until his career was ended at Stratford with that most ominous of neck injuries, a “hangman’s fracture”.

    Seven years ago, Carroll was back in hospital after a mare he was leading up kicked out and broke his leg badly at Fontwell.

    But despite everything Chris and Carroll have trained their handful of horses and inspired their two children through university from the neat barns and little bungalow at Moorland close to Burrowbridge.

    They have had four winners this season — and a biblical flood.

    We have become familiar with the pictures, but they won’t get over the nightmare any more than Noah did.

    But Noah had an Ark for his animals and, as far as The Book of Genesis tells it, was not trying to prepare anything for a novice hurdle at Taunton.

    Even though the news has been telling us that the floods have been rising all December, Carroll and Chris had survived somehow.

    But on the evening of 3 January, the waters were eating at the barns and by the morning they were lapping around the horses’ feet.

    A friend’s lorry rescued possessions and a horsebox ploughed through the waves in place of the Ark.

    Fellow trainer Kevin Bishop played the Good Samaritan 15 miles away at Spaxton near Bridgwater.

    “I thought you would have come a bit earlier,” Kevin said to the couple.

    As we know, the rains continued as if the heavens wept.

    The flood where the Rivers Tone and Parrett meet at Burrow Bridge now extends over 17,000 acres, and that was before this week’s predicted high tides.

    Worse, it has happened over an area and to people and animals who went through most of it only a year ago. Local feelings are running high about the failure to dredge the rivers.

    Last year, Chris and Carroll had to ship their horses out and the bungalow was uninhabitable for weeks and weeks.

    But, as anyone with horses knows, the daily grind of caring for them provides a lifeline to the ever-floating ship of hope.

    Among the nine-strong string Carroll had moved up to Spaxton was an eight-year-old roan out of a mare so useless that she was tailed off or fell in each of her five runs for Kevin Bishop 10 years ago. The roan was called All But Grey.

    “All But Black” might have been a better name in the current circumstances.

    However, Carroll won a point-to-point with him last season and a fortnight ago at Taunton the heavens decided briefly to relent.

    All But Grey ground through the mud, leaving his rivals floundering in his wake and his trainer close to tears. For good measure Kevin Bishop was first and third in the last race of the day.

    It would be nice to use the phrase “the tide was turning” but the reality was precisely the reverse, with water levels rising once again.

    Last Sunday, Chris Gray snapped. A news reporter dressed for the weather asked her what ought to happen now.

    “Nothing ever happens,” said Chris. “It was nearly the same as this last year and I was out of my house for four months. The Environment Agency should just buy us all up and put their water here forever.”

    Noah found out the flood was going down when a dove appeared with a twig in its beak.

    Chris and Carroll deserve more than a dove.