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Bristol , United Kingdom
I am co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

The Valley of Desolation And The Infamous Strid

Yesterday was earmarked for visiting Mother Shipton's Cave in Knaresborough, since I was up visiting Daughter the Elder in Leeds.  Unfortunately no one told the people who run it and it closed for winter yesterday.  Really, People-Who-Run-Mother-Shipton's-Cave?  Seems to be missing a trick to me, what with Samhain being celebrated from sunset on 31st October to sunset on 1st November.

Anyhow, that meant going elsewhere and I knew just the place - Bolton Abbey near Skipton in the Yorkshire Dales.  Because when it comes to the Day of the Dead, you can't really beat The Strid. And yes, I do think the The should have a capital T. 

You wouldn't think this pastoral landscape - a slice of managed pseudo-countryside - could harbour such a terror as The Strid.  It's more Gainsborough than Gorey.  

Although of course the dissolution of the monasteries was hardly the oh-OK-we'll-call-it-a-day-then process that its name suggests.  

 Not that we lingered long in the ruins, or the Priory Church of  St Mary and St Cuthbert - a rather sanitised place of worship with some unattractive windows by Pugin.  No, we had more pagan places to walk.  

First we set off across the River Wharfe in the direction of the Valley of Desolation, the name of which originates from a massive storm in 1826 which did much wreaking of havoc.
Before we reached it, however, we turned off along the river, heading upstream and climbing through gloriously autumnal woodland.

We soon had our first glimpse of what we'd come to see - The Infamous Strid.  

Not sure what The Strid is?  Well, it's a section of the normally placid River Wharfe that is anything but.  

Here's the Wharfe just a little upstream and from the opposite bank.  In the space of a few hundred yards, it is squeezed into a narrow rocky gully, reducing in width from maybe fifty or sixty feet to about six or seven.  You can see the way this affects the nature of the flow in this photo. 

Hold on a mo, let's go down for a closer look. 

Yet the water isn't overflowing or anything, so where has it all gone?
Well ... here I am going to pinch a clever analogy coined by someone else.  It is as if the river has been turned on its side, so whilst it is the width of a brook and looks as if you could paddle across it, it's actually nobody-knows-how-deep because the powerful undercurrents make it impossible to fathom.  These same currents have undercut the banks, carving out caverns in the rock beneath the surface of the water. 

So, if you try to leap it and miss the wet, mossy rocks on the opposite bank - or simply have the misfortune to slip and fall into the tumult as you walk alongside it or over its stones - you will be sucked down into a watery grave.  It is said that no one has ever survived falling into The Strid.

'Wharfe is clear and Aire is lithe
Where Aire kills one, Wharfe kills five.'

I felt a malevolence there, as did Daughter the Elder, and as dusk fell, we were glad to move away somewhere safer.  But before we did, we read Simon Armitage's poem 'The Strid', about the tragic drowning of a newly-wed couple in 1998, to appease the river spirit as it slid into calmer waters.  

1 comment:

  1. Lovely, Deborah. Walked it one Boxing Day back in the 80s. Returning from Simon's Seat if memory serves me right. Then to a pub in Russell Harty's old village.