The Bolton Strid on the River Wharfe has a rumoured 100% fatality rate for those unfortunate enough to fall into its deadly waters. What makes this idyllic stream deadlier than even the Niagara Falls?
By Bev Cleary
It might look like the kind of picturesque, babbling brook you would see in a Disney movie or one of those gorgeous, scenic watercourses on a walking holiday television show.
Do not be fooled by the Bolton Strid in North Yorkshire. Be afraid, be very afraid, because this innocent-looking, idyllic and entirely natural feature masks a cruel and relentless monster – an underwater killer that may very well drag you to your death.
The Strid, its banks only six feet apart in some places, has claimed the lives of many unfortunates who have tried unsuccessfully to leap across its rushing waters. These days, public information warning signs at its banks advise that the Strid is “dangerous and has claimed lives in the past”.
Apparently, it is the compressed gallons of rushing water created by the natural terrain that have the potential to sound the death knell of many an unwitting strider.
A natural feature of the beautiful and majestic Yorkshire countryside, the Strid is merely a section of the 65 miles long River Wharfe. It is just north of the historic Bolton Abbey ruins with its famous 60 stepping stones where the waters are much wider and calmer, used by generations of lay workers to cross the Wharfe to the old Priory. Similarly, just a few hundred yards upstream of the Strid, the Wharfe is again more gentle, shallow and some 30 feet wide.
Between the two, the Strid’s hidden menace is caused by the natural geology which has virtually forced the river on to its side. At this deathly point, a 30 feet width of moving water is squeezed into a six feet wide ravine, creating a torrential flood of rushing waters under which, over the centuries, gravels and stones carried by the rushing currents have scored treacherous, deep and narrow crevices in the terrain beneath.
As a result, the Strid boasts many hidden, submerged caves and under-hangs which have not been fully explored due to dangerous conditions. They lie in sinister wait for the unsuspecting stream hopper to trap a foot and be dragged underneath.
The origin of the name of this treacherous stretch of water is, according to the Bolton Abbey visitors’ guide, the Anglo-Saxon term ‘Stryth’ meaning turmoil or tumult. It is also thought that the name may have evolved into the term ‘Strid’ due to its similarity to the word ‘stride’ – the absolute opposite of what you should do when you are at its waters’ edge!
The Bolton Strid’s legendary chimes of doom ring back almost 1000 years to the 12th Century with the tale of one of its first recorded victims whose death, it is said by some, ensured that the stream would forever be in the public domain.
In 1154, young Edward de Romilly, son of Lady Alice de Romilly of Skipton Castle, apparently attempted to leap the merciless waters as he had probably done numerous times before, according to William Wordsworth’s poem ‘The Founding of Bolton Priory’.
This particular leap would be his last, however, because the rushing torrent claimed him as he struggled to stay upright on the moss-covered rockery when he tried to cross. Tragically he was swept into the deathly cauldron never to re-emerge.
According to The Priory Church Bolton Abbey website, Lady Alice donated the land, on which the ruined abbey now stands, to the Augustinian Monks who had moved into the area. Her bequest was made for “the salvation of my soul and those of my predecessors and successors”.
However, there is some historical debate over whether the generous donation was made in direct relation to the untimely death of her son. Now, the area is the seat of the 12th Duke of Devonshire and managed by the family.
Sadly, young de Romilly, also known as ‘The Boy of Egremont’, is only one of many victims of the Strid.
Legends suggest that when a death occurs at this deadly spot the ethereal image of a ghostly steed canters up through the waters as the unfortunate victim’s body is dragged down into the hellish depths.
One legend in particular tells how three sisters from nearby historic Beamsley Hall attempted to investigate the supposedly ghostly goings on at the Strid and wanted to find out if the so-called “Queen of the Faeries” rode the fabled, mystical horse. They never returned home, thought to have fallen to their deaths in the deadly waters of the sinister Strid.
Particularly tragic deaths, as well as one lucky escape, involve couples, singles and children in recent decades.
Some 70 years ago the only known survivor from a slip into the deadly torrent was an unfortunate woman who had been deliberately pushed into the Strid by her husband.
The story goes that she was swept downstream after she was shoved into the water but managed a miraculous escape. Astonishingly, the woman eventually forgave her spouse’s terrible misdeed, withdrew charges against him and the couple fell in love again!
A terrible tale of young love lost in the Strid involves a newly married couple who died on the second day of their honeymoon. On that dreadful day in 1998, water levels at the Strid had risen rapidly, by as much as 5 feet in a matter of minutes, because of heavy rainfall during the night. The couple, thought to be walking near the Strid, were sadly swept away to their deaths as water levels rose.
The young woman’s body was found six days later near a small dam in West Yorkshire while her husband’s remains were not recovered until more than a month later, some 10 miles downstream. The couple were buried together in the cemetery of the church where they were recently married.
Unfortunately, relatively recent deaths at the Strid have also included that of an 8-year-old boy who was out walking with family on his birthday.
The Strid itself, and some of the souls it has claimed, have been immortalised in poem form by, amongst others, Sir William Wordsworth (The Founding of Bolton Priory) and the musician and writer Simon Mayor (The Strid).