The River Wharfe rises just north of Beckarmonds in the Yorkshire Dales. Much of it forms the boundary between North and West Yorkshire, as it runs its 65 miles through the Wharfe Valley and into the River Ouse near Cowood. It is in a beautiful part of the world.
Wharfe is Celtic for twisting and winding and it’s an area that my parents favoured for a day out on the motorbike and sidecar combination in the 40s and 50s together with friends and family members, all enjoying a trip to a peaceful river to wind down and re-charge. The river flows through popular towns like Grassington and Appletreewick favoured by many motorcyclists ever since.
This is a photo of Burnsall Bridge on a very serene, gentle and beautiful part of the river. However, just five miles downstream through the Wharfe Valley there is an area quite near Bolton Abbey where the limestone rock formation dictates that the river is turned on its side. This area is called the Strid.
The Strid: the most dangerous stretch of water in the world?
This is the Strid and is about as far from a serene and gentle river as could be imagined. Some have suggested that this is the most dangerous stretch of water in the world. If that is measured by how many people have foolishly or unluckily found themselves in it and come out alive, then the Strid certainly deserves that reputation because the answer is apparently none.
There is a popular hiking path that takes us past this area and is well worth the experience, but we must be very careful. It is certainly an area where we can experience the beauty of nature but also its power.
A YouTuber who goes by the name of Jack a Snacks has used a sonar device to measure the depth in the narrowest and presumably the deepest part of the Strid and he came up with a depth of 65 metres or 213 feet, which is the same as 15 double-decker buses stacked on top of each other. There are many harrowing stories of the unfortunate or the foolhardy people who try to jump the two-metre narrowest section and end up in the churning mass of water only to be sucked under and spat out a month later.
Dog shows more sense than master
One legend goes that that young William de Romilly had foolishly attempted to jump the Strid with his greyhound dog and failed. His mother Lady Alice de Romilly, the owner of Skipton Castle and much of the surrounding lands, was so distraught that she gave some land to newly arrived Augustinian canons to build Bolton Priory, commonly known then as Bolton Abbey, in 1154, so that the monks or ordained priests could pray for the soul of her son. This legend was depicted by William Wordsworth in 1815 in his poem The Force of Prayer.
Some doubt has been cast on the truth of this legend as it is suggested that young William was signing papers after this incident, and I’m sure we would agree that signing papers after death is difficult even for our ruling classes. Still, we never allow the truth to get in the way of a good story and it made a good poem. It seems the dog had more wit than young William and didn’t attempt the jump and survived.
The Black Canons of Bolton Priory
The Augustinian or Black Canons, so-called because of the colour of their black robes, were a Catholic order that had been well established in Ireland for some time. They decided to set up a small community near Skipton and in about 1120 moved to the village of Bolton following the gift of land by Lady Alice on which to build a priory.
The Augustinian Canons of Bolton Priory were also ordained priests, which meant that not only did they preach to the community, but they also ran a hospital, sheltered travellers and generally ministered to the community. As they were so involved with village life, they were soon accepted by the nearby villages who came to worship at the priory.
Unbeknown to me until researching this ramble (yes, some research is carried out), I discovered that priories can be for monks or nuns which brings us very conveniently to my next bit of this ramble.
‘The Three Nuns’: a pub with a good story behind its name
There is a pub in Huddersfield that used to be called ‘The Three Nuns’. I have very little experience of nuns save for perhaps the films Nuns on the Run, staring Robbie Coltrane and Eric Idle, and The Sound of Music, starring Julie Andrews. (Was it Rock Hudson who said, “I knew Julie Andrews before she was a virgin” or was he talking about Doris Day?)
One local story behind the name of this pub is that it was built by three nuns in 1497 following their disgrace after being discovered selling something that they shouldn’t have been selling from the nearby Kirklees Priory, and I don’t mean the family silver (filthy habit).
A truer story is likely to be that Katherine Grice, Joan Leverthorpe and Cecilia Topcliffe opened the pub following the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, these three ladies having been the last nuns to inhabit the monastery. But as before, we don’t allow the truth to spoil a good story.
A very sad ending to this ramble is that Katherine Grice is said to have been seduced by one of Henry VIII’s henchmen and on discovering that she was pregnant drowned herself in an adjacent stream that is now known as Nun Brook.