For Eddie West, the extraordinarily hot summer of 2018 had been life-changing. As the fields grew brown and farmers fretted about the lack of rain, Eddie only saw adventure in the long dry days. Whatever time he could get away from working at his family’s farm he would escape off across the hills. Running through pine forests, moorlands, and peat bogs. He imagined himself on quests like those in the childhood stories of hobbits and dragons that his mother used to read to him. Ever his constant companion, Peter West his younger brother by five years, would trail along behind him like a faithful dog. Peter was at the age where he admired everything about his elder sibling and wanted nothing more than to run off on his older brother’s wild adventures.
That summer unearthed more than just the sibling’s sense of adventure, however, as the days turned to weeks and weeks to months the local reservoirs began to drain. As the days began to cool and the hot summer gave way to warm dry autumn they had emptied completely, leaving behind an alien landscape of cracked dry mudflats and moist foul quagmires. Emerging at the centre of this new land, the ruins of an old village, abandoned when the reservoirs were built and left to the whims of the water. Eddie had always loved his grandfather’s tales, especially the ones about the drowned village he used to live in. His mind could still hear the old man’s words just as he would have spoken them:
“None of this was here when I was just a boy Eddie. There were no dams, and no water, right there look, do you see? That’s where I used to live. When the government decided to put new reservoirs here they didn’t give us a choice. We were paid for our homes sure, but they couldn’t pay us anything for the memories we were leaving behind to be dragged beneath these waters. I still remember how the old village used to look. The twisting road that came across the large stone bridge into town, cutting between two rows of houses and ending at our church. I remember the bakery ma used to send me to each morning to get fresh bread; the pub – the winking man – that Pa used to spend more time at than home; and the immaculate village green that the old ladies in the town council used to tend to, putting out new baskets of seasonal flowers all year round. Those were happier, simpler times. Back before industry “revolutionised” the land.”
While his grandfather’s tales of his time living in the village were all filled with happiness, those of leaving it were not:
“Not everyone agreed of course. Mrs Saxby put up quite a fight rallying folk from all down the valley and beyond, marching with their placards outside Parliament. But in the end, the need of the country was too great. Even when the decision had been finalised and we were forced to leave, some had to be dragged out their homes. There were a lot of tears shed that day. We all placed flowers around the church like it was the gravestone of a loved one, but then to us, it was. Most of the people there had lived their lives there, and many had not ventured much further than the next valley over. To think of all of that being washed away and buried never to be seen by anyone again – it was horrifying. After the village was finally swamped – there began rumours that some had stayed in secret, refusing to the last call. The community was broken then. We soon went our separate ways all moving to different homes, but we kept in contact with many of them. But there were a few who we never found, so who knows…”
There was a veil of mystery over those old crumbling ruins, kept secret by the waters for so many years only to be given back to the surface for a short moment. It was as if the waters were teasing him, tempting him in to come to explore their hidden treasures before they inevitably swallowed them back up.
Eddie was not the only one drawn in by the mysteries of this Atlantis of the hills. After featuring on a small local news channel, it was not long before swarms of tourists would be seen around the reservoirs in the day. After an elderly gentleman managed to get himself stuck in one of the many boggy sections, the local authorities decided it was too dangerous to have all these people trawling over the mudflats and cordoned off the entire basin.
“It’s not like they’re gonna have police guarding every path around it 24/7” Eddie had been trying to convince Peter for what seemed like hours now, although it was probably only a few minutes.
“What if we get caught!? I don’t wanna go to jail Ed!” Peters’ head was as red as a tomato as he waved his arms around manically to highlight his final point.
“We won’t get caught you, moron, that’s why we’re going at night, you really think the police have nothing better to do than watch some old dried up reservoir?” Eddie usually didn’t have to try this hard to convince Peter of his plans, but the announcement on TV earlier of the flats being cordoned off had put Peter on edge. For a ten-year-old kid he sure did worry a lot, Eddie thought.
“Look, we’ll sneak out after we’ve mucked out the horses on Saturday, I’ll bring those head torches da has and we’ll be back well before anyone realizes. C’mon Pete it’ll be an adventure, a real one!” Eddie new, if he kept it up his brother, would relent eventually, he always did.
“Fine… But if we get caught I’m saying it was your idea!”
“Yeah, yeah sure” Finally, Eddie thought. This was going to be awesome.