Monday 6 November – Ciarán Carnage

Unusually I am posting this week’s blog on a Monday, and there is good reason for that!

Last week’s blog said that the weather has been pretty poor all autumn with rain and blustery winds but that it looked like things may take a turn for the even worse as the Met Office has already identified, and named, a major storm system that was due to form in the eastern Atlantic and pass across north west France, and southern UK, overnight Wednesday into Thursday with exceptionally strong and damaging winds.  The storm was predicted to drop explosively in pressure (cyclogenesis) and reached 953 mb (a new UK low pressure for the UK in November.)

Well, they were right!

Wednesday night was very interesting, and not a lot of fun, as Ciarán smashed into Finistère and caused chaos.  The prediction was for winds of 140 kmph (86 mph) with us and stronger on the coast.  The highest speed we have see recorded was 203 kmph (126 mph) at the Pointe de Raz which put it at about the same strength as the Great Storm of 1987 and far stronger than our previous storm, Zeus, in 2017.

Wednesday was actually a pretty good day, bright and dry-ish.  At 8 pm you wouldn’t think there was anything untoward and even at 11 pm, when I took the dogs out for their last walk, it was blustery but not excessively so.

However, between midnight and about 4 am the storm was at its peak and the incredible noise it created, and fear we felt of the damage being done, meant we had about 1 hour of sleep that night between 6 and 7 am when it had almost completely disappeared.

We had every expectation of losing roof tiles, if not an entire roof, of trees being felled and smashing into buildings and could guarantee losing power and phone lines.  Mercifully however, not everything we feared happened and we are extremely fortunate in having sustained very little physical damage.

We have lost some large, lovely, oak trees on the boundary of our back garden, which were snapped off as though they were twigs.  These have inevitably fallen over and smashed the power lines, bent the electricity pole and snapped the telegraph pole with the phone so we have been, and remain, without, power and phone since about 1 am Thursday morning (I am writing this in David’s gym in Brest where he has come to work today and has power, internet – and hot water!!)

Amazingly, of our close friends no one has suffered anything catastrophic – although we have seen extensive damage all around and our boulanger in the village lost the roof of his bakery and top of his oven.  The woodlands around us, that I also wrote so fondly of in last week’s blog, have been smashed and in parts little is left stranding.  The phone lines, all above ground on poles, are collapsed and it could be months before there is full service.

Oaks seem to have been very susceptible to the winds, probably because they are all still in leaf, and many tall conifers have been pushed over with their entire root balls lifted.  This was a caravan situated on a small hill near us that didn’t survive the winds so well!

Looking around it is amazing that we suffered so little, and even some trees have been blown over in the near perfect place and we couldn’t have chosen a better spot!  Having felled the chestnuts at the rear of the garden before the pool build began, some of what was left has fallen perfectly on our side of the hedge in the A1 position.  We were extremely thankful that we had felled the others as they would certainly have fallen and, although the direction of this limb that was left suggest we may have got lucky, our neighbour’s house would have been at greater risk.

Thankfully, we have a gas hob so we can make tea and heat food and we have a wood burning stove (poêle) that we lit for the first time on Friday night to heat the house.  In previous storms, we have often heard of people cut off for extended periods but, having lived in more urban areas previously, we have never experienced it.  It’s not all fun and life is very different!

We go to bed very early, wake up a bit later (it doesn’t get light early!) and have to talk to each other!!

We had a Belgian family staying with us is Priory who had arrived on the previous Sunday for 4 nights.  They made the decision to leave a day early.  It was a good idea as the storm brought down some of our ancient box that blocked the drive and was the first thing I cleared on Thursday morning.  Finistère had also issued a departmental order that banned private traffic on the roads on Thursday morning to allow freer access for the clear up teams so their journey home would have been difficult.

We also had some guests in Hayloft who have stayed with us frequently.  They arrived on Tuesday and were well aware the storm was coming but they chose to stay until their planned departure yesterday and actually said that Hayloft was the best place to be.  They slept soundly through the storm as the gîte is solid and hides the noise, then stayed warm with the poêle and were able to cook as Hayloft has a gas oven and hob.

Our Hayloft guest was even kind enough to assist with some chain sawing and clearing on the Thursday morning.  As a ‘thank you’, and as they have shared this experience with us, we invited them to dinner on Saturday evening as we had to start using some of the food in the freezers that was slowly starting to thaw.  David cooked an excellent meal in difficult conditions and it made for a fun and cosy night in the candlelight!

The previous evening, Friday, we had planned (pre-storm) to go out to dinner in Morlaix with our good friends who run the Drennec camp site and who were returning to the UK for the winter on Sunday.  As we had all made it, relatively, unscathed through Ciarán we decided to stick with the plan.

It was like walking into a parallel universe as Morlaix appeared to have been totally untouched by the storm!  All the power was on, people could get mobile signals on their phones and life was totally normal.  The restaurant was busy and we met a number of neighbours from Sizun and Commana who had also decided to eat out as they had no power.

Sizun was reconnected yesterday afternoon so perhaps we will have some power in the next couple of days.  A helicopter we believe is being used by ENEDIS (France’s National Grid equivalent) to check power lines, flew low over the house yesterday evening so maybe we’re next in line.

In other news, our pool builder came on Tuesday to build the walls of the pool – out of polystyrene blocks!  We did question whether this was the best option owing to the forecast but he was happy.  Perhaps less so when he came back on Friday and had to re-do much of the work!!

It does look good, and this photo show the lovely oaks as they were before Ciarán on the boundary.

Oak trees standing before Ciarán

There is a lot more clearing up to be done, including all the branches that have snapped off the trees but haven’t actually fallen which still represent a risk, but we hope to make good progress in the next few days – it will all be good for the fire over the next few years!

À beintôt.