When poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote Frost at Midnight in his cottage in Somerset’s Nether Stowey, he could never have expected freezing conditions to maroon a group of benighted motorists in, of all places, the village hall and the Ancient Mariner pub.
But that was exactly what happened, two hours after midnight yesterday when around 30 motorists and their passengers were shepherded to safety by police after more than seven inches of snow and fallen trees blocked the A39.
Police using 4x4 vehicles drove those trapped on the Bridgwater to Williton road to the safety and warmth of the little community.
Coleridge was sitting by his fireside when he composed the poem back in 1798, the year in which he published the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The motorists’ ordeal was not quite as bad as that lost soul but, like him they will still have a good tale to tell.
Jen Dinham, 32, who took over Ancient Mariner pub with husband, Leigh last November, said: “We heard a noise outside of people trying to rescue vehicles, investigated, saw they needed help and offered to put people up in our rooms. The bedrooms have under-floor heating so were already warm and there is tea and coffee in them and nice comfy beds so we left them to it to thaw out.”
The pub put up around ten people.
Barbara Rich, chairman of the village hall committee, said: “We’ve had snow like this a few years ago, but it’s pretty grim. It catches a lot of people off guard, no matter how much you prepare. Luckily, we have three good shops here, a doctor’s surgery and a fire station. Everyone’s been doing what they can to help those stranded. That’s what living in a village is all about.”
Pru Place, whose husband, Brian, is the booking secretary for the village hall, said: “The police have been helping people out this morning by taking up microwaves. As soon as the village shop opened someone went and got milk and tea and breakfast for those still in the hall. It’s been a group effort in the face of such bad snow.”
Police force incident manager Adam Crockford said: “We asked the local fire station to open up and serve hot drinks and spoke with the council and identified a key holder for a nearby village hall. It was a group effort by the emergency services and a bit of community spirit.”
Meanwhile, gritter crews worked around the clock after nearly 15cm of snow fell in 24 hours in Somerset. The county council said double the usual amount of salt would be used to treat roads last night as freezing temperatures were expected to make conditions icy for motorists.
Deputy council leader David Hall said: “It has been a difficult time for everyone, but it has seen excellent efforts by our staff and contractors, partner agencies, volunteers and the public in keeping Somerset moving.”
Other councils have been helping to clear and salt pavements, particularly in Taunton Deane and South Somerset, along with Yeovil Town Council.
From yesterday, the fleet of 23 Somerset County Council gritters circled the 900 miles of high priority roads with salt, and later concentrated on a further 500 miles – about a third of the county network.
Agricultural contractors also helped with snow ploughing duties, and 4x4 drivers across the county lent a hand to fellow motorists. Volunteer drivers from the charity Wessex 4x4 have been helping adult social care staff reach vulnerable people.
About 120 schools and children’s centres reported full or partial closures. Some schools opened purely to allow students to take GCSE exams.