A wander into Wharfedale today – my favourite valley of them all. It’s not just the beauty of the scenery, or the built heritage; it’s the stories that cling to the place.
The Wharfe is the domain of Verbeia, Roman deity of the river. Her image can be seen on a carved stone in Ilkley Museum. How many British rivers have a known god or goddess? Only a select handful. The Wharfe is the valley where the giant Rombald kicked up vast quantities of earth and rock – these became the Cow and Calf, a popular picnic spot on the side of Ilkley Moor. The outcrop of rocks above Appletreewick known as Simon’s Seat is associated with the legendary ‘Simon Druid’, suspected of occult rites by many a disapproving antiquarian.
Nearby, Trollers Gill is where the Norsemen believed a troll to live; later generations assumed it was a Barguest, a spectral dog, which haunted this steep ravine. At Bolton Abbey the Wharfe claimed the life of the fabled ‘Boy of Egremont’ who attempted to jump the dangerous stretch known as the Strid. And here the ghostly White Doe of Rylstone would visit, crossing the moors to comfort the remaining daughter of the Nortons, massacred after rebelling against the crown.
Fact mingles with myth in the hills around the Wharfe, and that gives this place a special feel for me. And remember, myths aren’t just silly tales: they often have some long-acknowledged truth at their heart. Never assume that ‘mythic’ is a synonym for ‘false’!
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