BUSINESSES and householders are counting the cost of flooding over the Christmas and New Year break, writes Sian Gordon.
Up to nine flood warnings were in place over the holiday after the Thames burst its banks in multiple places following days of heavy rain.
Some businesses were forced to close while farmers fear losing their winter crops after being hit by two wet spells in a matter of weeks.
There was widespread flooding on low-lying land in Henley, Shiplake, Wargrave and Sonning while in Playhatch sewage appeared in residents’ gardens as the drains couldn’t cope with the amount of extra water.
Sonning Bridge was closed to traffic for several days because of flooding on Playhatch Road and the Country Gardens garden centre at Playhatch has been closed since Christmas Eve because its car park is flooded and is not expected to re-open until next week.
The Environment Agency said river levels had peaked but were expected to remain high and flood warnings and alerts would remain in place due to the height and speed of the river.
Sonning resident Paul Pepper said: “It is amazing how much damage a bit of water can do. The road being closed has caused chaos and people are continuing to drive down here, which is stupid.”
Virgil Oancea, a waiter at the French Horn restaurant in the village, said: “It is a bit of a nightmare and I am afraid to go down the road towards Playhatch with my car.
“So many people have been trying to go through the water I can’t believe it.”
The restaurant remained open and Mr Oancea said: “We have received lots of phone calls from people asking whether we are open. We tell them to come via
Nick Willson, landlord of the Flowing Spring pub in Playhatch, said he had lost about a third of his expected Christmas trade.
The car park of the Henley Road pub has been under water for days.
Mr Willson said: “It is worse than the flooding we had at the end of November because the water did not have time to drain away, so this lot has just topped up what was already here.
“Sonning Bridge being closed stops people coming over the river so it has just been locals coming in.
“Our takings are well down on what we should be taking at this time of the year.
“We have cut staff hours so we are not paying out unnecessary wages but all our fixed costs remain the same.
“We are losing serious money every day and it does not look like it is going anywhere for a while. The longer it goes on the more destructive it is.”
Playhatch residents were upset to find their gardens strewn with sewage.
As the drains were unable to cope, water got into the sewers, which backed up and emptied their contents on December 20.
Richard Berkley, 53, a coach at Upper Thames Rowing Club in Henley, said his land was submerged in up to 3ft of foul water.
He said: “It first happened on December 3, so it wasn’t just caused by the floods, but it came back with a vengeance on the 20th.
“We looked out of the house and there was just this lake of sewage. It was an absolute nightmare.
“It’s going down now and we can see some green coming back through but there’s still a big clean-up to do.
“We’re not going to be able to use the garden for a while but we’ll probably have the lushest grass in the area.
“The system needs to be looked at on a long-term basis as the river does flood.”
Thames Water said it had received seven calls about the problem between December 4 and 30 and sent its first tankers to the village on Christmas Eve.
Customer service director Natalie Beckerman said that the company would help people deal with the aftermath once water levels had dropped.
She said: “After the wettest year on record the ground is sodden, like a soaked sponge.
“Flood water is continuing to run across the surface and into our sewers, which are designed to take waste water from homes and businesses, not rivers and streams that have burst their banks.
“Although the volume of calls we are getting from customers means our response times are likely to be slower than normal, we are trying our best to prioritise people most in need of help.
“Our network of sewers is operating largely as it should but in some areas it is struggling with the sheer volume of water going through it and in some cases flooding it completely.”
The riverside in Wargrave has been barely visible since before Christmas, with water levels in some places engulfing benches, bins and even a child’s trampoline.
Loddon Drive has been closed due to the large volume of water that has collected by the entrance adjacent to the train station.
Tony Mayes, of Henley Road, Wargrave, said the water level had risen about 10ft to reach his garden.
He said: “We have not had water like this for a long time but I think it would have been a lot worse if they had not spent about £5 million on Marsh Lock several years ago when there were bad floods.
“Our big boat house had eight pulling boats in and they are all floating and the shed which holds the slipper launch was full of water up to six inches from the top.
“It has now gone down and if it keeps on like this we might be back to normal in a few days.”
Mr Mayes said cleaning up would be a “miserable” job.
“It will be a job for three people, which will take a couple of days,” he said.
“I will also have to retrieve a bench set which I should have tied up but it drifted away from the garden and is now wrapped around two big tree stumps.”
The car park at the St George and Dragon pub in Wargrave has been reduced to seven spaces due to the high river level. Manager Ryan Tiller said: “We are hoping that it doesn’t get much worse.
“While there has not been a drop in takings and we had no cancellations on Christmas Day, there was not as much drinking trade as we might have hoped for.”
In Henley, Mill Lane and Remenham Lane remain closed except for access.
Red Lion Lawn, Henley Royal Regatta car park and the land outside Hobbs boatyard have been submerged for days.
The kitchen at the Angel on the Bridge public house in Thames Side was forced to close on Boxing Day after water got into the ground-level kitchen. It re-opened on New Year’s Day.
Assistant manager Tristen Marton said: “It has been really bad — with the kitchen closed there has been no food.
“It affected our Christmas takings massively. People were coming in and because there was no food they were walking back out again. We had a few people in for drinks but that was it.”
Mr Marton said stock had been moved earlier in the week following a flood alert from the Environment Agency.
He added: “It is all a nightmare but there is nothing we can do.”
Paul Budd, general manager at Leander Club, said the river had reached a higher level over the last fortnight than it had in November.
He said: “The Victorians were good at building in places so they do not flood.
“Leander was built on a very small mound so the club is a metre higher than its perimeter wall.
“We are not quite an island as the water did not come anywhere near the main building of the club.
“The boys are doing land-based training as they have not been on the water.”
Catherine Yoxall, marketing manager at the River and Rowing Museum, said: “The museum opened as planned during the Christmas holidays, with staff wading in wearing their wellies to open up the building.
“We had a great response from visitors who were able to get here and they were delighted to find that we were open. Our car park was submerged and we closed slightly earlier than usual to allow people to leave while it was still daylight.”
Vivienne Connery, who runs the Chocolate Theatre Café in Thames Side, has been monitoring the river level.
She said: “It seems to be about the same as in November. Providing it doesn’t continue to rain, we should be okay.”