There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..



Thursday, 26 July 2012

Bolton Abbey and The Strid

Thursday the 26th of July was our 37th wedding anniversary. 37 is a big, scary number and neither of us can quite understand where all that time went.


37 years after the event
In celebration we set off northwards. After 60 miles up a busy, but moving, M6 we turned onto the M65. I often confuse this road with the River Congo, not because it teems with crocodile and hippo – they are manifestly rare in central Lancashire – but because it leads straight into the Heart of Darkness. Why I (and several others) have a massive downer on the worn-out and drab ex-mill town of Colne is a story for another time – but have you ever spent a night there? Beyond the horror (and, indeed, the horror) the countryside reasserts itself and half an hour later we entered the Yorkshire Dales National Park and arrived at Bolton Abbey.

A sheltered plot beside the River Wharfe was given to the Augustinian order in 1159 by Lady Alice Romille of Skipton. The building, actually a Priory rather than an Abbey, was erected soon after.


A sheltered plot beside the River Wharfe

Despite Scottish raiders causing a temporary abandonment of the site in the 13th century, the priory largely prospered until Henry VIII decided otherwise.

At dissolution in 1539 the valuable lead was stripped from the roof to enrich Henry and ensure the priory’s ruination, the main church alone was spared as it was also the parish church of Bolton Abbey village.

We had not expected such a venerable ruin to have changed since our previous visit in 1975 (on our honeymoon) but we were wrong: the west tower – left uncompleted at the dissolution now sports a neat wooden roof and a small bell turret. As it forms the entrance to the still functioning parish church, these were worthwhile additions – and it only took 450 years to get round to them.


Under the West Tower, Bolton Abbey

Inside the church is a huge Pugin stained glass window. 37 years ago I probably gave it no more than a glance, but I did not know then that I would spend 20 years teaching in a Pugin designed building. The Gothic Revival often involved locating the top and then going over it, but the windows are more restrained and very effective in their setting.

The rest of the Priory is an elegant ruin. Not a phrase that meant anything to me in 1975, but as I progress through my 7th decade, it seems something to aspire to.


Me and Bolton Abbey -
a pair of elegant ruins?

Within the Priory grounds, the River Wharfe is crossed by stepping stones which present an irresistible challenge to children – and indeed many old enough to know better.

The two girls in the centre of this picture were struggling, so one of them decided to slip into the water and wade, holding her friend’s hand to steady her. The plan might have had some merit had the girl wearing the shorts decided to wade, but it was the girl in the jeans who entered the water.

The Stepping Stones
Bolton Abbey

Further on there is a missing stone and they both decided to wade the gap. A little later some children reached this point and the girl in the jeans waded out to piggy-back them across. At the deepest point the water reached mid-thigh level; I do not know how much she enjoyed the rest of her day walking round in soaking jeans, but it would not have been my choice of attire.

For those actually needing to cross the river there is a perfectly serviceable footbridge just out of the picture to the right.

A mile or so north, though still on the Bolton Abbey estate, is the Strid Wood car park. A fifteen minute walk through the woodland, mainly native oak and silver birch with a pungent carpet of wild garlic, brought us down to the Strid itself.

On the way we paused at the point where, in 1815, William Turner (not to be confused with his better known contemporary JMW Turner) stood to paint ‘The River Wharfe with a Distant View of Bardon Tower’ – he specialised in 'does what it says on the tin' titles.

The River Wharfe with a Distant View of Bardon Tower, 1815

Lynne’s photograph shows some changes, most notable that Bardon Tower – built in the 16th century as a hunting lodge - is now a ruin. Turner has taken liberties with parts of the scene, but we could only photograph what was there, he could paint what he wanted us to see.

The River Wharfe with a Distant View of Bardon Tower, 2012

The Strid is a gorge in miniature, the water flowing through the confining rocks at the southern end was deep, dark and deceptively calm. The Strid is hardly at its most turbulent in July – in a hot year the river almost dries up - but given the weather this year, I had expected more turbulence and white water.

The Strid, south end

At the north end the water was rushing through the narrowest constriction. The name ‘Strid’ is derived from Anglo-Saxon ‘strythe’ meaning turmoil or tumult, but it also suggests the river is narrow enough to be crossed in a stride. It would be a big stride, but it is remarkable that all the water flowing between the stepping stones just a short distance downstream passes through this narrow channel.


The Strid, north end

We walked back up to the car park, which gave me an opportunity to photograph Lynne walking uphill, a stance regular readers might recall from Vietnam.


Up the hill from The Strid

We moved on to Ilkley and its renowned Box Tree restaurant to complete our celebrations, and that will be the subject of the next post.

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