Wednesday, 19 January 2011


Bolton Abbey is a ruined abbey-that is to say, it is an abbey which has been ruined. There is rarely much else to say about the ruins of an abbey, once you have seen one you have seen them all. Having said that, they are usually worth visiting; not for the piles of stone left behind after the ruining was done but because they can be set in some spectacular surroundings. Here Bolton Abbey scores higher than most-it sits in the Wharfe Valley as it runs through the Yorkshire Dales (which rates amongst the most unspoilt countryside imaginable). That this is so is due to the geography of the place, which made it impossible to clear for cultivation in the valley above the abbey-so the ancient woodland remains between here and Barden Bridge  a few miles upriver. It climbs up steep hillsides from the tops of which streams run down to join the river below. The River Wharfe takes its name from the Celtic word meaning 'twisting and winding', a well chosen description and giving ever changing scenery to a riverside mudhop.

Unless you enjoy getting ripped off for a few hours parking it is best to find somewhere to leave your car a mile or so away from Bolton Abbey. Finding a layby close to one of the footpaths near the river is useful, it is a good walk to your destination-and some of the money you have saved can be spent on cake when it is time to stop for a cuppa. The walk through Strid Wood is to surround yourself in one of the largest areas of acidic oak woodlands in Yorkshire-this much any guidebook will tell you. What is more fascinating to us simple Mudhoppers are things like the sulphur well we come across on the way: bad eggs smell bubbling up from the earth proving that the Spirits who inhabit this place have a wicked sense of humour. And there is The Valley Of Desolation, a wonderfully evocative name reeking of Dr Who adventures, maybe with Hawkwind playing in the background. But such things are merely a sideshow for us today-we are here on a mission.
                              THE SULPHUR  WELL                                      

We have come to seek out The Strid-so we will follow this by explaining what The Strid is, starting with a few figures. The River Wharfe, as it flows through Strid Wood, is a magnificent eighty two ft wide. Then it hits a point where this narrows down to twenty one ft over a distance of just eight hundred and twenty ft-in practical terms this means that an enormous amount of water suddenly has to find somewhere to go and that it will go to that somewhere with one hell of a lot of force. As if this was not enough, this narrowing of the river gets to less than six ft where the water drops down into a submerged gorge, estimated to be twenty five ft deep and running for about fifty yards.

                                       HERE IT COMES....

This is The Strid and it is the point where Mother Nature created a small wonder, it is one of those places where the untameable power of nature is there in front of your eyes in all of its hypnotic glory. It gets its name from the narrowness-a stride-and it is very tempting to make the jump from one side to the other. But you do not do this; whereas with most rivers falling in involves getting wet, here it inevitably entails getting drowned. The force of the water dropping into this gorge sends you under and there are no records of anybody surviving after falling into The Strid. It is a place to treat with the utmost respect.
                                        ....AND THERE IT GOES.
The roaring of the river as you stand on the solid rock into which the gorge is formed prevents conversation; but there is nothing to say, you just stand and look. The speed of the water being funnelled through this narrow gap seems to grip you, almost as if it is trying to pull you along with it-the magnetic power over the human body at its most intense. And though the geographical conditions which have created this phenomena follow an easy to understand logic, there is something incomprehensible about it when you are stood by The Strid.