Lush, green moss on the rocks. “Playful” currents below. The fatal beauty of one stretch of river in northern England reminds us that monsters can indeed be seductive. But most horrific is the type of death that awaits anyone unfortunate enough to fall in its waters…
Located near Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire, the Strid is a narrow, fast-running section of the River Wharfe. It has long featured in local myths and legends, and the area has been inhabited since the Iron Age. Romans, Vikings, Anglo-Saxons and Normans have all left their mark over the centuries, too.
The English Romantic poet William Wordsworth, who had an eye for beauty, once wrote about the Strid in his poem “The Force of Prayer.” It ominously reads, “The striding-place is called The Strid, a name which it took of yore. A thousand years hath it borne that name, and it shall a thousand more.”
Indeed, the Strid is quite ancient – but can you actually stride across it? Over the course of 100 yards, the waterway narrows from an approximate width of 45 feet to just four feet. So it sounds like it could be easily crossed. Still, given its dark reputation, would you really want to try?
As a popular beauty spot on various hiking trails from Bolton Abbey, the Strid is often visited and admired by tourists and locals alike. However, almost all of them sensibly steer clear of the edge. At least all of those who heed the clear warning signs.
And when Wordsworth wrote about the Strid, it was not to admire its beauty. Rather, he was recalling the morbid legend of William de Romilly, also referred to as the Boy of Egremont. De Romilly is said to have perished while trying to leap over the Strid whilst out hunting in 1154.
The poet penned the words, “He sprang in glee; for what cared he. That the river was strong and the rocks were steep? But the greyhound in the leash hung back, and checked him in his leap. The boy is in the arms of Wharf. And strangled by a merciless force. For never more was young Romilly seen. Till he rose a lifeless corse.”
More recent victims of the Strid include the couple Barry and Lynn Collett back in August 1998. The exact circumstances of their death are unknown. However, it’s believed they drowned in a flash flood that probably saw the river rise several feet in just seconds. Sadly, it was the second day of their honeymoon.
And in 2010 Aaron Page was celebrating his eighth birthday when he slipped on stepping stones near Bolton Bridge, falling into the water. His brother grabbed him, but the river’s currents were too strong to fight against. Tragically, as his family scrambled to rescue him, Page disappeared under the surface.
According to an inquest at Skipton Magistrates Court, a search party of some 40 people tried to find the boy. Among them, Police Constable Jason Payne rowed across the water in an inflatable raft, but even he found the currents too strong to navigate. In fact, three and a half hours later, Page’s dead body surfaced downstream.
These and countless other tragedies have given the Strid its deadly reputation. One commenter called Esperahol put it best on the camping forum “Camping Babble.” They wrote, “Basically it looks like a normal stream, but entering its waters leads to death 10 times out of 10. That’s right – 100 percent fatality.”
So how and why, exactly, is this stretch of water so deadly? Well, since the Strid represents a dramatic narrowing of the River Wharfe, the walls of its channel exert considerable pressure on its flow. Imagine, for example, what happens to the water when you squeeze the end of a garden hose and the water comes rushing out.
The Strid’s powerful, pulverizing currents are only part of the picture, however. To understand its full horror, we must consider its geomorphology. In fact, its bedrock is composed of water soluble limestone – a rock that easily erodes to create gorges, caves and other, subterranean formations.
Thus the seemingly solid banks of the Strid are just an illusion. Beneath them, there is believed to be a vast honeycomb network of submerged caves and tunnels, all of which exert further chaotic influence on the currents. And since they’ve never been explored, no one knows how far they might extend.
Carolyn Roberts, Professor of Environment at London’s Gresham College explained the geology to the Daily Mail. She said, “Rather than carving a stately way through silt, [the Strid] twists and turns through flat and overhanging rocks falling over the edge of a limestone formation. Vortices in the flow will trap bodies under the water close to the bed or the sides, whilst the turbulence will render someone unconscious very quickly.”
In fact, there may be any number of unrecoverable bodies trapped under the Strid. Of all the unfortunate souls to be sucked into its passages, only the “lucky” ones are spat out further downstream. Professor Roberts sagely noted, “It’s not a good place to play.”
Of course, people living in the area have long known about the dangers of the Strid. In times gone by, it was even attributed supernatural qualities. For example, local folklore claims that a ghostly white horse rises from the Strid’s turbulent waters as it pulls its victims beneath the surface.
Another local legend tells of a tragic couple who ran away to elope. They decided to cross the River Wharfe at the Strid for fear of being seen on the bridge. Tragically, though, the girl fell in the water, and her lover dived in after her. Needless to say, neither made it out alive.
Unsurprisingly, then, many believe the place is haunted. Indeed, some visitors have claimed to have heard the girl’s panicked screams above the swirling waters. Others say that the couple’s ghosts can sometimes be seen walking hand-in-hand on the riverbanks.
The takeaway from these horror stories is that regardless of how innocent and inviting a place seems, deadly forces can lie just below its surface. And, when traveling, always seek local advice before taking a dip in rivers or lakes. If you do visit the Strid, though, stay well away from those slippery rocks at its edge.