Hidden deep within the enchanting landscapes of Yorkshire, England, lies a seemingly innocent segment of the River Wharfe known as the Bolton Strid. But don’t let its tranquil facade deceive you, for beneath its picturesque appearance lies something deadly. Dubbed the ‘deadliest stretch of water in the world,’ the Bolton Strid has claimed countless lives throughout history, earning a reputation that shrouds it in mystery and intrigue.
The River Wharfe
The River Wharfe is a natural marvel that weaves its way across Yorkshire. Spanning over 100 kilometers, it is one of the region’s longest rivers with a rich history and captivating charm. The river is home to a diverse ecosystem, attracting an abundance of wildlife, including otters, crayfish, and numerous species of birds. Its tranquil waters offer opportunities for boating, fishing, and leisurely walks along its scenic banks.
It is also renowned for the magnificent stone bridges crossings the river, adding a touch of timeless beauty to the surroundings. Its banks are adorned with quaint villages and majestic ruins, providing visitors with a glimpse into Yorkshire’s heritage. In fact, the oldest remains are a series of Iron Age hut circles on the hills near Kettlewell and Grassington. Despite this, it’s the Bolton Strid segment that has captured people’s attention for hundreds of years because of how deadly it is.
The Bolton Strid starts off just as innocent as the rest of the River Wharfe. It’s 30 feet wide, and the water flows calmly and slowly. Only a little further along, all that water abruptly gets squeezed through a six-foot-wide channel in the rock. This causes the water to speed up, creating deadly whirlpools. This isn’t the only dangerous part of the river. Even though the Bolton Strid isn’t wide, it is actually very deep, with a whole host of underwater caves that you do not want to get sucked into.
Carolyn Roberts, Professor of Environment at Gresham College, London, explained just why it’s so deadly. “Rather than carving a stately way through silt, it 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. It’s not a good place to play.”
The oldest victim
According to local legend, 100 percent of those who fell into the Bolton Strid died, with many getting sucked under and never coming back up. Another legend states that when this happens, people have seen a spectral white horse trotting along the water where the victim died. This is what earned the river a very ominous sign, reading, “The Strid is Dangerous and Has Claimed Lives in the Past. Please Stand Well Back and Beware Slippery Rocks.”
It’s no wonder, then, that there have been so many documented victims of the river. One of the most ancient was the young William de Romilly, who died while trying to cross the Bolton Strid in the 1100s. Supposedly, he was walking with his dog when he decided that the pair should leap over the six-foot gap. The dog refused the jump, and Romilly was jerked into the water when the leash caught, never to be seen again.
He became the subject of the poem The Force of Prayer, written by William Wordsworth, with lines like: “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 corpse.”
Other victims of the Bolton Strid
There were a number of other notable victims of the Bolton Strid throughout the years. In 1934, watercolor artist Arthur Reginald Smith drowned when he also tried to cross the river while moving locations during a painting session. A highly publicized loss was in 1998 when newlyweds Lynn and Barry Collett died only two days after their wedding when a flash flood sucked them down into the Bolton Strid, never to be seen again.
One would think that with such a deadly history, we would be more cautious around the Bolton Strid, but that thought would be wrong. One of the most recent tragic deaths happened in 2010 when eight-year-old Aaron Page was celebrating his birthday along the river when his brother Joshua was asked to take him to the bathroom. While walking there, Page slipped on the rocks and fell in.
His older brother tried to grab him, but he slipped and was forced to let go. Page was just one of many who were lost to the Bolton Strid, one of the most deadly bodies of water in the world.