The river Wharfe rises at Beckermonds in deepest Yorkshire, not far from the shadow of Penyghent Mountain, where a Viking princess lies at rest on the summit. Flowing South through lush green fields, it passes by some pretty little Dales villages – Buckden, Starbotton, Kettlewell and Appletreewick to name a few.
Winding it’s way through caving country it gathers strength as it picks up waters from Strans Gill Pot (where I once broke 3 ribs exiting it’s 7.5 inch entrance slot), the notorious Mossdale Caverns where 6 cavers perished in 1967 and where they still lie, and the terrifying Sleets Gill Cave which discharges it’s flood waters into the Skirfare and swells the Wharfe almost immediately.
A hundred other tributaries and resurgences enter the river and now it passes through Ilkley – where as a boy I swam in it’s deep cold waters and fished for grayling and rainbow trout – and took part in raft races along it’s flooded course. Then on to the little market town of Otley where I now live, and I take my young grandsons along the river where they chase butterflies and hunt for emerald blue kingfishers by the muddy banks.
Onwards it travels through Wetherby and past Tadcaster – to where 28,000 men were slaughtered in a blizzard at Towton – where it is said the river ran crimson for a week.
Now it turns towards the Vale of York, but misses this ancient City and finally on to Cawood where it joins the Ouse and eventually flows to the sea.
Today my journey will take us to a small stretch of the Wharfe at a spot called ‘The Strid’ about 5 or 6 miles upstream of Ilkley. In the 12th Century an abbey and a church next to the river were built – Bolton Abbey and it is set in beautiful grounds. This morning I am up very early and the place is empty, all apart from a couple of unsuspecting deer and I cross the wide river by the ancient stepping stones – probably the same ones the monks used 900 years earlier.
Onward through the woods for a couple of miles and now the river starts to get a bit turbulent. Eventually the rocks narrow in to about 6 feet and the full force of the river plunges through in a boiling cauldron of foam. The sides are covered in lichen and moss and are very slippery – I have to be careful not to slip in. Fall in and you are dead. Many have fallen in, none have lived to tell the tale.
The waters at ‘The Strid’ are supposed to be 60 feet deep and to contain underground caverns hollowed out by the swirling water – although no one knows for sure. Several have tried to jump it but few have lived to tell the tale – you would be pulled under and spat out several miles downstream. If you were spat out at all – there are supposed to be bones at the bottom (although no one knows for sure).
Now I have finished with ‘The Strid’ – I walk a little further up the river and then head home, going back another way. I am looking forward to my breakfast!