Wild strawberries and garlic strange bedfellows make,
Perfuming the hardy birch that cling to gritstone valley walls,
Girding gurgling ghylls that snake
To join the peaty Wharfe, which falls
In sudden rage. Then calm, slow.
But from the idle eye is hid
The anger boiling deep below.
This place is called The Strid.
It’s here the young, foolhardy life is lost
By he who dares The Strid to stride.
One slip, one fall: then count the cost,
As, all common-sense denied,
He’s pulled full five fathoms deep
Or more – who knows? And spun, and tossed,
As would a virgin kitten keep
Its mouse alive, before it’s lost.
It’s then the ghastly white horse rides,
Rising from an inky deep,
It stands a silent while then strides
The mere, its ancient lore to keep.
With steaming breath and shooting eyes
It runs the woods, untouched, untamed;
All this, it’s said, to exorcise
The souls of those The Strid has claimed.
It was here they met, some ten years past,
And, one supposes, loved at once like these
Two dandelion clocks, locked, and cast
Adrift on a carefree summer breeze.
She was finishing-schooled and landed,
Vowels neatly clipped, well-heeled.
He was self-made, smug, and branded
Brash, but sometimes ‘rough’ appealed.
Wild strawberries and garlic neighbour well
Across The Strid, but what cuisine might long
For the stark, culinary hell
Of these two blended for the tongue?
In time they drifted sad apart,
Like unlocked dandelions, and so,
With head now ruling once warm heart,
‘Alas’, he breathed, she’ll have to go.’
‘It’s ten years past since we first met
At the stoney Strid, the birchen glade.
We should return, lest we forget
Our first words shared, our first games played.
Let us once more find the fire,
Let us love as we once did,
Let us rekindle our desire,
Let’s kiss once more beside The Strid’.
And so they journeyed, and they walked
A tender twilight walk. And when
They stood on watery rocks and talked
Of first love, they kissed. And then
She felt the flames, the love anew.
She felt the fire burn deep within.
But then he stopped. He said ‘adieu.’
He pushed her once, and she fell in.
He fled like a coy fawn chased
Through twilit birch by salivating
Hounds, and, with inhuman haste,
He stumbled on his car, still waiting
By the trees. And then to Ilkley
Blindly drove, where, through practised
Tears he told so achingly
What tragedy befell their tryst.
She gasped, filling her lungs with ease,
A timely gasp, as, from the bank
She plunged into the vortices
Below The Strid, and down she sank.
The white horse screeched a haunted death.
She swirled, held back the steed, then spun,
And, holding hard her precious breath.
Her anger rose, and she had won.
From full five fathoms down she clawed
At submerged walls. She climbed, then slid.
At perfidy her anger roared
A roar to drown even The Strid.
And with a strength that’s only borne
Of rage, she grasped the sides and then,
With screaming lungs and red nails torn,
She climbed an age and breathed again.
All round the waters swirled, and tore her
From the rocks once more, then
Downstream past the islands bore her
Wailing, flailing, gasping, when
With widened banks the Wharfe stilled
Suddenly. She called, but heard
None back. And yet alive! She thrilled
To evening cries of water birds.
Exhausted, drifting, miles she swept,
Until, by The Old Bridge she fell
Ashore, and, trembling, shivering, crept
High beyond her watery hell.
Face down she lay where she had crawled,
Unconscious for an hour or more,
Until two guardian angels called:
An aged man and a labrador.
They offered warmth, hot drink and food,
With licks and nuzzles all thrown in,
But ‘No, no’, she breathed, ‘though rude
It may appear, I’ve yet within
The strength to talk, the strength to write
With this cold, trembling hand, and tell
Of such deeds that this same night
At the foaming, frenzied Strid befell.’
‘So help me stand and be so kind
As to guide me, man and hound,
Constabulary offices to find.
And there I’ll tell how I but drowned
At the hands of one who, with his tender
Kisses lured me there. I bear
Only guilt of innocent surrender.
The truth, and nothing but, I’ll swear.’
So helped by eager labrador
And aged owner, off she set.
Two gritstone streets she trudged, no more.
Her steps were cautious, slow, and yet
With cold clothes clung to goosey skin,
The blue light lit her final prize,
And when she took one step within
She met her husband’s eyes.
We wonder who was most surprised!
The man? The dog? The heroine?
Or one whose crime was compromised
By friendly flows that chanced within
The angry Strid? Statements given,
Dry tears shed, but charges filed
Would fall as love healed what was riven.
In time, the two were reconciled.
Wild strawberries and garlic still thrive
And scent the wooded Wharfe today.
And eager lovers who arrive
To thrill to nature’s cabaret
And breathe this scene of slighted
Trust, will like as not espy
Fresh signs of love as reunited
Dandelion clocks float by.
The Strid is a short but notoriously dangerous stretch of water on the river Wharfe near Bolton Abbey in the beautiful scenery of The Yorkshire Dales National Park.
The depth of the river at this point has never been established, but it is thought there are large underwater caverns, from which it is impossible to escape once pulled down.
While this narrative poem has much poetic license, the gist of the tale is true. In the 1950s a man attempted to murder his wife by pushing her in. Miraculously, she lived, and was swept downstream, becoming the only known survivor from a fall into these waters. Even more bizarrely, she forgave, dropped charges, and the two were eventually reunited.
Local lore has it that a ghostly white horse rises from the depths every time a death occurs.The veracity of this is still in question.