The Bolton Strid, a narrow segment of the River Wharf in North England, is a picturesque stretch of river that looks like the type of place one might find fairies frolicking in the heath. However, it has a reputation that doesn’t quite suite its appearance, and just beneath the surface is a natural booby trap that has claimed a number of lives. It is informally known as the most dangerous stretch of water in the world, with an alleged fatality rate of 100% for everyone lucky enough to have fallen in it.
Despite there is no official death toll for the Strid, the local legend is that no one who has dared enter the waters has ever made it out alive. Not even their bodies. Its deadliness is infamous not only in Yorkshire, but the whole of England, and thanks to its literary references about its appetite for taking lives over centuries, one would say that its reputation is well deserved.
Part of what makes the Strid so dangerous is how calm and harmless it looks to the unsuspecting stranger, which is why there are now signs along its banks that stated “The Strid is dangerous and has claimed lives in the past. Please stand well back and beware slippery rocks!“. Even with these in place, it seems unlikely that the bloodlust of the Bolton Strid has been sated.
In 1998, the death of a honeymooning couple believed to have drowned in the Bolton Strid made national headlines, but mentions of its deadliness can be traced back already in the 1800’s, when writer Gertrude Atherton wrote that “there was no lonelier spot in England, nor one which had the right to claim so many ghosts, if ghosts there were,” in her short story, ‘The Striding Place’.
One supposed victim of the Strid was young William de Romilly, the son of Lady Alice de Romilly, who attempted to leap across the Strid in 1154 and perished. His mother was so grieved by her loss that she donated the surrounding land to establish the Bolton Priory monastery. This tragic legend was later immortalized by William Wordsworth in his poem “The Force of Prayer”.
“This striding-place is called THE STRID,
A name which it took of yore:
A thousand years hath it borne that name,
And shall a thousand more.
And hither is young Romilly come,
And what may now forbid
That he, perhaps for the hundredth time,
Shall bound across THE STRID?
He sprang in glee,- or 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.”
Around the area of the Strid, the River Wharf runs between two banks of mossy boulders, looking more like a stream or a creek than a rushing river, but travel just upstream of the spot and you will see that the waterway expands into a proper river, some 9-meters across with frothing currents and waves.
The reason the Strid is so thin is because the waters simply change orientation: instead of flowing in a wide horizontal course, the waters begin to flow vertically in the tight shaft created by the natural rock. The narrow gap on the Strid is only an illusion as both banks are seriously undercut. Hidden underneath is a network of caverns and tunnels that hold all of the rest of the river’s water. Nobody really knows how deep the Strid goes, a and this change in orientation has created a deceptively deep and powerful current, even carving out some area beneath the shore rocks to create a void where debris (and people) in the water can be trapped.
Anything or anyone that falls or jumps in is sucked into the deep water and likely tumbled against the rocky walls by the currents.
Despite there are many other turbulent and deadly waters around the world, its the Strid’s deceptive appearance that makes it so deadly.
On the surface the Strid appears so modest and the banks so close to each other that many unaware visitors in the past have assumed they could jump across it, or walk across its stones because it only seems knee-deep. Indeed, it’s believed that the name Strid comes from the word “stride”.
The most recent tragedy reported dates back to 2010, when a young boy died after slipped off a rocky bank and fell in the water, but still there are plenty of stories of individuals slipping and getting sucked mercilessly into the underwater caves and eroded tunnels.
There are warnings signs on trees around the area discouraging people to attempt the leap.
In any case, despite its infamous reputation, the hiking trail that takes people near the Strid is still a popular place to stroll and it remains a great destination for hikers and adventure seekers.
Images from web – google research