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ROYAL VISIT: Warm smiles that made Braunton flooding disaster seem a distant memory

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: February 27, 2013

Charles talks to women during his visit to Braunton, where he and Camilla met representatives from the emergency services and the local community, who were affected by the floods when water from the River Caen overwhelmed the village's flood defences

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A chill wind cut its way down Caen Street, but that wasn't anything near as bad as the four foot wall of water which gushed down Braunton's main shopping thoroughfare just eight weeks ago.

The 1,200 or so trembling onlookers knew it – and so too did Prince Charles and his wife as they ducked and dived into business premises which, until recently, had looked like something from a disaster zone.

"Brrrr, it is a bit nippy," shivered the Duchess of Cornwall as she alighted from her big warm car.

In the same moment a local man called Philip Payne was making Prince Charles smile by telling him that the two shared exactly the same birthday.

"He seemed most amused when I told him my mother received a special hamper from Buckingham Palace because I was born at exactly the same time as him," grinned Mr Payne. "We are both 64."

Nancy Carder was also in informative mood: "I told the Prince that I've lived here for over 60 years and I thought he might interested to know that the Caen hasn't got anything to do with the Bible but is connected to the French town. It got the name after William the Conqueror arrived – he came from near Caen in Normandy."

Caen, however, is not the most popular name in Braunton. When the diminutive River Caen burst its banks on December 22, a large part of the lower-lying end of the community was inundated – and several businesses in Caen Street have yet to reopen their doors.

One was CJ's Sandwich bar where Braunton fireman David Williams was leaning against a wall to rest his broken leg.

"I have never seen floods like it here before," he told me. "The water was about four feet deep where I'm standing now."

A couple of doors away optometrist Mark Adams' premises looked as if a bomb had hit them and he will be closed for business for some time yet – but he had opened up specially to greet the royal couple.

"I told them how I lost all my specialist equipment in the flood, so there was no chance of us opening after the water came in. Then we had to take the plaster off the walls which was when we discovered a lot more repairs were required.

"Their visit is a great boost to the community – it shows we have not been forgotten," said Mr Adams who hopes to be open again at Easter.

His next door neighbour had a rather different tale to tell... "We told Charles and Camilla how we were open again after just one day's closure," beamed Nick Phillips, who runs Braunton newsagents with his wife Ruth. "It was terrible, yes, but we had 300 papers to go out – and that's what we did the day after the floods.

"Their visit has been good for morale – in fact Camilla told us she could sympathise because she's been flooded herself a couple of times."

Just down the street Mark Ridge was standing outside his empty, flood-damaged pub. The landlord of the London Inn told me: "We're still two or three weeks from opening again yet, but the royal couple came in and had a look around. They were very sympathetic and Camilla told us she knew all about being flooded. I can't really remember what else they said, it's all a bit of a blur right now."

Which was exactly the same impression the whirlwind tour left on 86-year-old Joyce Watts. "I have lived around here all my life and I was looking forward to seeing Charles and Camilla – but I didn't expect them to speak to me. She did – and I was so taken aback I can't remember a thing she said!"

Along the street at Copy Catz, shop-owner Dave Poulter had impressed the Duke of Cornwall by telling him a charity, set up by the Prince to help businesses which had been hit by calamity, had stepped in to save the day.

"We had over three feet of water in here – everything was damaged – and without the £500 worth of photocopy paper they gave us, we would not have been able to open up again," said Mr Poulter.

"Prince Charles seemed very pleased to hear that the charity was able to help."

The walkabout in Caen Street lasted more than 45 minutes, and it was one of the most laid-back and casual public visits by a royal party to the region in years. Both Charles and Camilla seemed to enjoy the chance of boosting the morale of a community which had so recently been so badly hit.

The 300 children from Caen Primary School certainly seemed to enjoy every chilly minute and they filled the street with their excitement and cheers.

The only really non-plussed onlooker was your own WMN correspondent... royal personages do not normally speak with members of the press, but I was the second person to be confronted by the Duchess of Cornwall as she climbed out of the limousine.

"And who are you writing for today?" she smiled as she gave me a warm handshake.

All I could stammer was a polite suggestion that she might like to buy Wednesday's Western Morning News.

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