The River Wharfe between Appletreewick and the Strid is one of the most beautiful and iconic stretches of water in the British Isles. It features in a number of my tales, especially “Summer Dusk” in Abandon Hope and “Descending, or Falling” in the final pamphlet, The Wedding Invitation.
The river valleys of the Yorkshire Dales function as a kind of destination in these tales. For the central characters in “Summer Dusk” it is a place of final freedom, of oneness with nature. In “Descending, or Falling” it becomes a resting place of a different nature.
A river is rarely seen as an image of destination. It passes through the country, it is a conduit, something to travel. It is the metaphor of a continuing journey or of learning. The unique nature of the Yorkshire Dales makes this conventional reading less persuasive.
The rivers are at the heart of the Dales. They are crossed, they are a focus, they are at the center of villages, they feed the fields and are fed by the moors. They define the valleys which they follow, but which were not made by them (being glacial). Few people actually travel down them.
Barden, at the center of this stretch of the Wharfe, has as a timeless quality about it. It has castle ruins, an 18th Century bridge, a Late Victorian Gothic aquaduct. On the river mandarin ducks, dipper and kingfishers can be seen. The woods around the river hold roe deer and woodcock. In the skies above red kite, osprey and sparrowhawk wheel. In spring the flowers are incredible. In the autumn, the mists melt the trees and the moors into one.
It is not surprising that this idyllic and yet atmospheric river is full of ghosts. They gather, they rise, free and eternally in peace. This is their resting place.