The Emergency Hot Shower Room At The Anchorage

There are times in West Wales when it just rains and rains and the wind blows in gales.  These predominantly south west winds are not particularly cold because of the warm sea water brought by the Gulf Stream or North Atlantic Drift. The locals call this weather ‘wet and windy’ and it makes a good children story to tell them about   ‘the 6Ws’ – ‘the wet and windy weather of wild west Wales’.    For most wind directions The Anchorage is snug in the bottom of a valley and the westerly winds can be heard roaring overhead, but we keep the house at 20 degrees with the central heating.  However the land can become saturated with rain water. So wet in fact that the farmers sometimes have to abandon parts of their potato crops, as the big machines used to recover the potatoes are too heavy to work in the mud.  The coast path becomes extremely muddy and slippery. 

It is because of these rare occasions of extreme weather that The Anchorage does not cater for dogs.  Indeed at such times it is difficult for humans. So much so that when planning The Anchorage, I put in a shower room and toilet immediately alongside the front door (this is on the side of the house facing the garage).   The idea was that in extremis one can totter into the house and turn immediately to the left and enter a shower.   Even if one is soaking wet and covered in thick mud or just plain frozen and snow covered. To be able to step directly into a hot shower without removing ones clothing results in an immediate revival as well as cleaning off much of the mud so that one’s clothes are clean enough to put into the washing machine.    There have been only two occasions when I have had to use this survival mechanism but both are memorable.

At the beginning of my Anchorage project around 1983, I saw four small pine trees in Woolworths being discounted and in need of a good home.   At the time I was clearing the many vast dead elm trees that had died of Dutch Elm disease.  There was a row of these dead giants all along the side of what was the old road to Sandy Haven hamlet – now the garden track inside The Anchorage gardens.  I put the four small trees in along the top end of this road.   Twenty five years later they had become vast trees with many branches that were making the garden very dark by keeping the sun out.   It was time for them to go.   So one day in winter along with our oldest daughter’s tree surgeon partner Steve, and our oldest son Peter, we set out to remove the four big trees   It was a time of extremely wet weather and a spring of water had popped out of the ground near the top gate and converted the old Dale road in our garden into a stream in which we worked.   Steve is one of these chaps who climbs trees with ropes and a small chain saw dangling from a belt at his waist.   It was very impressive watching him work up each fir tree, removing all the branches as he rose up   Pete and I were busy collecting the branches and stacking them in large piles for later burning.   When Steve got near to the top of the tree he just cut through the then slim trunk and gave the top a push and down it came.   He then descended the tree, cutting the trunk into six foot lengths and lowering them to the ground on ropes.   With all the movement back and fore by Peter and I, and the stream of water the path became churned up into a mud bath.  Just after Steve finished the last tree it began to rain.   The three of as decided to finish the job regardless, and so we became very wet.  I was wearing boots, jeans and a heavy woollen sweater.  About then I tripped over one of the branches on the ground and fell into the mud bath, landing flat on my back.  We continued work until the job was completed and by then I was just oozing mud.  It was a case of into the house and into the emergency shower room with muddy clothes and get warm and clean. This proved a very pleasant and satisfying experience and I emerged whole and normal.

The second occasion was when I returned to Wales after working overseas as a geologist.   My wife was not ready to retire and as a geologist working in strange countries I brought no pensions home.  I did pay into pension schemes all my life in the strange third world countries where this is regarded as foolishness and the money is used for other things.  Geologists know this and I had bought some property in the UK and Australia to compensate.   So I prepared The Anchorage for summer rentals to provide some income.   One of the jobs needed was to render the open-topped well safe. This required building up the rim of the well and converting it into the ‘shell well’ as it is today (see photograph under section ‘The Anchorage’).   I went out by small boat and found a half telegraph pole on the coast near Kilroon Bay and towed it home.   It made the two well posts.  I had collected stones for raising the well from the garden at Sandy Haven but they proved very irregular. One day on a walk across Sandy Haven beach I found a place where part of the cliff had fallen down and provided some rather nice shaped stones better than any I had.     These would be ideal for the job.   However it was winter and quite a big surf comes into Sandy Haven through the entrance to the waterway.   It was also necessary to arrive at the spot at high tide to put the boat close to them.   I stacked the rocks neatly and awaited some calm weather.  This did not happen and high tide daily became later and later until it was after dark.   Now I have done some sailing in my life and it does not make much difference if it night or day at sea.  So one day when the swell appeared to have died down I set out in the night for the rocks.

At first this went well but when I as half way across Sandy Haven Bay the temperature suddenly dropped below zero and the boat and I became encrusted in white frost.  Also the further east we went the bigger became the swell.   The boat I as using was an old fibreglass Sunfish hull with flat decks and pretty unsinkable.   I was paddling with a canoe paddle.  I reached the area and ran the boat in through the relatively small surf alongside the stone pile.    I loaded the cockpit with the stones in the dark.  Then I turned the boat into the swell and pushed her out.  She was pretty lively in the swell and I threw myself aboard her.  Imagine my surprise when I slid smoothly across the white frost coated deck and over the side into the cold sea.  It seems that handling an ice covered fibreglass boat requires extra care.  I finally repositioned the boat (nose into the surf) and got aboard.  It proved a very long very cold paddle back to the beach below The Anchorage with a heavily laden boat.   When I arrived at the beach only 70 yards from The Anchorage I was very stiff with the cold.  I anchored the boat and walked slowly stiff legged up to the house and strait into the emergency shower.  Again I was revived in  five minutes and with a dry change of clothes was soon back with my car unloading the boat and bringing everything up to The Anchorage.   The shell well was then completed, although I put an electric light inside the well and covered the top at night so the cement would set without freezing.

I have had no more emergencies requiring the shower.  However a few days ago I was rather surprised to learn of a new use for the emergency shower from my oldest son.  He and his partner and young son were staying at The Anchorage in November.  They live near Edinburgh and swim a lot in the sea there wearing wet suits.   At The Anchorage they would take turns babysitting and despite the wet grey weather would go out swimming.  Anna enjoyed swimming by day and I was surprised to learn that our oldest son Peter enjoyed moonlight swims in Sandy Haven pill at around high tide.  He would let the water carry him along and then swim back outside the main current  using the counter currents.   He told me that because of the emergency shower, he was able to stay out swimming a lot longer until he was really cold, knowing that as soon as he got back to The Anchorage he would be straight into a hot shower. He tells me that the hardest part is turning the water taps on when his hands are numb.  He then fills his wet suite with hot water. Our family in Pembrokeshire, who hibernate indoors when the grey winds and rain come, were astonished to hear of these two swimming in November, but Peter and Anna said that the sea at Sandy Haven in November is warmer than the sea around Scotland in summer.   But he has found a new use for the emergency shower.

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