A Stream Or River That Flows Into A Larger River The River Wharfe

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The River Wharfe

This most picturesque river in North Yorkshire rises in the moors above Langstrothdale Chase. Although not the longest river, it nevertheless encompasses a wide range of landscapes and river conditions, from a hill stream to a tidal river near its mouth with the River Ouse near Cawood.

Langstrothdale is a steep rise of the valley of the River Wharfe. At this point, the river has a limestone bed and can vary considerably between a full-flowing torrent and almost dry in the summer months. The foreign valleys are full of limestone caves, small waterfalls and of course the dry stone walls and sheep so characteristic of mountainous Yorkshire.

The valley is equipped with a narrow but very useful road that is not fenced for most of its length, which allows full access to the greenery bordering the crystal clear stream. In summer, this is a very popular place for a day out with the kids, a picnic by the river or just stopping for a quiet cup of tea by the car.

Further down the valley at Hubberholme the newly formed River Wharfe is joined by Cray beck and this marks the beginning of Upper Wharfedale. Hubberholme is a small hamlet that boasts a superb parish church, the resting place of JB Priestley which also has hand-carved oak pews by Robert Thompson – the mouse man of Kilburn. Here the character of the river changes, the valley is flatter, and the river is calmer, deeper and less variable. The valley has also opened up to form a classic flat-bottomed glacial valley with low fields, steep sides, dry walls and field barns so typical of the Yorkshire Dales.

Upper Wharefedale also contains a number of beautiful villages, full of amenities, accommodation and restaurants with food and drink. A great example is the Buck Inn in Buckden which offers excellent rooms, superb food, great Yorkshire ale or just a great cup of Yorkshire tea.

Other equally beautiful and popular villages include Kettlewell, Grassington and Appletreewick.

Towards the southern end of the valley, the river enters the woods on the Duke of Devonshire’s estate, and within these woods is hidden one of the river’s most dramatic features. At The Strid, the entire course of the river is compressed into a deep and rocky channel less than 2 meters wide. The resulting roaring torrent is full of strong downdrafts and underwater overhangs that trap and drown the unwary. There have been many victims over the years, including the medieval Boy of Egremond who was later immortalized in a poem by Wordsworth.

A little downstream the river passes the famous remains of Bolton Abbey. With monastery ruins, over 80 miles of hiking trails, 30,000 acres of beautiful countryside and plenty of teahouses, pubs and restaurants, this is simply a great place for a family day out. A gem in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales.

Now the river is changing again, the valley is widening and the river is fuller and more mature. The nature of the riverside settlement is also changing, becoming larger and more industrial as the Wharfe approaches Leeds and Bradford. But first the river passes the village of Addingham famous for its church and nearby suspension bridge before passing through the first town in its course, i.e. the town of Ilkley. High above the river are the moors made famous in the Yorkshire song about a man who dies of a cold for “courting” his hatless girlfriend.

“On Ilkla moor bar t’at” echoes in many buses returning from a football match or a trip to the seaside.

Ilkley itself is a stately town with many fine restaurants and shops and boasts fine river trout fishing. I too had the pleasure of seeing some great examples provided by Lord Durno who was always enthusiastic about fly fishing at Wharfe. The town was also the birthplace of one of Yorkshire’s most popular personalities at the moment, TV presenter, writer and gardener Alan Titchmarsh.

Then along the river comes Burley in Wharfedale, followed by Otley Market with its old mill buildings and riverside parks. The city is busy but not overcrowded and you barely notice the aircraft flying in and out of nearby Leeds Bradford Airport. Locally, the town is best known for the wild uplands known as Otley Chevin.

Now the river briefly returns to the open spaces of the agricultural valley before exiting the valley and entering the Vale of York, entering the town of Tadcaster. Here in Tadcaster, the river provided both transport and raw material for the brewing industry for many years. The city is still home to several large breweries, from the huge John Smith complex to the smaller but still very popular Samuel Smith Brewery. The story of these two breweries, both originally owned by the Smith family, descendants of the original Samuel Smith – a butcher from Meanwood, Leeds – reads like a historical epic with family feuds and rifts. The two breweries continue to exist side by side although only the Samuel Smith Brewery remains independent.

Below Tadcaster the river flows through several more settlements, some with very Nordic names like Ulleskelf or Ozendyke. Around this area the river also becomes tidal with the water rising and falling twice a day from or back into the much larger River Ouse which flowed from York.

The River Wharfe finally flows into the Ouse just above the urban village of Cawood – famous locally for its drawbridge which seems to break down with depressing regularity. Cawood is also famous as the place where the Earl of Northumberland arrested Cardinal Wolsey and took him south to stand trial for treason against Henry VIII. However, he was never to reach London; fell ill in Leicester and eventually died of his illness.

The waters of the River Wharfe now mix with those of the Ouse and continue south-eastwards to become the Humber estuary below Selby and finally flow into the North Sea east of Kingston upon Hull.

The vast majority of the Wharfe’s course can be followed on foot, the whole walk takes 6-7 days, and accommodation can be found along the way at Yorkshire Accommodation. [http://www.best-yorkshire-accommodation.co.uk].

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