A description of the North Riding of Yorkshire




THE RIVERS AND COAST OF THE NORTH RIDING. The Western Moorlands form the great watershed of Yorkshire, from which almost all its rivers derive their supplies, and, after flowing in an easterly or south-easterly direction for some distance, unite their waters with the Ouse in the Plain of York. A few less important draw their waters from the Eastern Moors, and flow directly into the sea.

The Tees

The Tees, which forms the northern boundary of the county, rises among the wild moors of Milburn Forest, on the borders of Westmoreland,
              "Where Tees in tumult leaves his source
Thund'ring o'er Caldron and High Force,"

and flows eastward through Teesdale, one of the most beautiful river valleys in England. A few miles from its source, the river is narrowed by the near approach of the rocks on either side, and through this cleft it flows with great force, and then expands into a broad sheet called The Wheel (probably from whirl). From this lakelet the water is precipitated down a steep incline, appropriately named in expressive Saxon, Caldron Snout; and from this point the Tees becomes the boundary of Yorkshire. After flowing about five miles through a romantic dell, the river throws itself in three leaps over the rocks of High Force, forming a beautiful cataract 70 feet in height. A little further on its course is again narrowed at Winch, and it rushes impetuously through the rocky gorge. On its way it receives the waters of several small tributaries which descend from the hills on either side; thence on past Barnard Castle, once a famous stronghold, Egglestone Abbey, and Rokeby woods, where
              "from the grassy slope he sees
The Greta flow to meet the Tees."

Further down it passes Wycliffe, the birth place of the Reformer, Old Richmond, with its ancient ruined chapel, Piercebridge, where the ancient Roman road crossed the river; thence it flows in tortuous windings through meadows to Croft, with its famous spa, past the cosy village of Yarm, below which it receives the winding Leven, from "Kildale brows," in the Cleveland Hills. A local historian has sung the praises of "the sylvan and romantic vale of the Leven" in a strain that recalls to our mind Moore's "Sweet Vale of Avoca." The stream, according to Professor Phillips, derives its name from the ancient British word Lleven, signifying smooth or gentle, but another writer, the Rev. G. S. Faber, supposes it to have been dedicated to Leben, the moon, as was the Ribble sacred to Bel, or the sun. At Stockton the Tees is navigable for large vessels, and below Middlesbro', now the chief port of the river, it expands into a broad estuary, and enters the sea at Tod Point, where an immense breakwater has been constructed for the protection of shipping. The whole length of the river is about 95 miles. The etymology of the name is doubtful, Es meaning water, with the Celtic preposition Ti or Di, "at," has been suggested, and Taff or Tavon may be quoted as instances of similar usuage.

The Swale

The Swale is formed by the union of several becks, or brooks, which rise in the moorlands bordering on Westmoreland. These streamlets in their descent have furrowed for themselves deep ravines in the mountain sides, down which they pour, forming in their course many pretty cascades and waterfalls. The largest of these streams are Sleddale beck and Birkdale beck, which unite their waters at Stonehouse, near the Lane End lead mines, and thence flow on under the name of Swale. Its course is through a deep narrow valley with rocky sides, which begins to widen out a little at Muker, a small town with a market, much frequented by the leadminers of the district. At Reeth, the capital of Upper Swaledale, the Arkle beck contributes its waters to swell the stream, and the dale becomes less narrow, though still bounded by hills from 1,000 to 1,500 feet high. A few miles lower the Swale sweeps past Grinton and its time-honoured church, and about three miles further on it passes the ruined abbeys of Marrick and Ellerton, on opposite sides of the river; and thence past Marske, the ancient seat of the Huttons, through woods and meadows to Richmond, where the ruins of the ancient castle stand upon a rocky eminence rising abruptly from the river's bank. Leaving Richmond the Swale passes on close by the ruins of Easby Abbey, thence past Catterick Bridge, - the Cataractonium of the Romans, - and enters the vales of York and Mowbray. In its further course it receives the Wiske, Codbeck, and a few smaller streams, and joins the Ure at Myton, a few miles below Boroughbridge.

The Ure or Yore

The Ure or Yore has its source in a spring on the summit of a hill, 2,186 feet high, on the borders of Westmoreland, and for the first few miles of its course flows through a district so wild and weird that, according to Camden, "the borderers dwelling thereby have called certain rivulets creeping this way, Hell becks." They were so named, however, not from any fancied resemblance to the Stygian pool, but from the rapidity of their currents, hella being an old Norse word, signifying the rushing of water. Passing Lunds Chapel, the Ure flows on to Hawes, receiving in its course numerous small streams, the principal of which is Hardraw beck, with its beautiful waterfall (99 feet), called Hardraw Force. Waterfalls scarcely less beautiful occur in some of the other streams. Below Hawes the valley takes the name of Wensleydale. At Aysgarth the Yore tumbles in glorious confusion over three broken limestone shelves, - a beautiful picture at all times, but especially when swollen by rain, - and continues its course eastwards, through a valley richly wooded and lined with rocks. A mile or two to the left, on the rocky slope, stands Bolton Castle, once the baronial fortress of the Scropes, and for two years the prison of the beautiful but unfortunate Mary Queen of Scots. Further down is the little village of Wensley, which gives its name to the dale; and on the right the majestic ruin of Middleham Castle, one of the most celebrated baronial piles in Yorkshire. About a mile below, the Cover, which gives its name to a long narrow dale, empties itself into the Ure, opposite Danby Hall. Further down the Ure sweeps past the picturesque ruin of Jervaulx Abbey, formerly one of the most magnificent monastic houses in Yorkshire. Wensleydale now begins to merge into the Vale of York, through which the course of the river lies, past Masham, Tanfield, with the ruined castle of the Marmions, Ripon, and Boroughbridge to Myton, where it joins the Swale, and from this point the united waters are known as the Ouse. By Camden and some other antiquarians the river is said to have borne the name of Eur, Ure, or Yore, down to its confluence with the Humber, and the chief city on its banks was in consequence named by the Saxons Eur-wic (the fortress or camp on the Eur), now abbreviated into York; but this derivation is doubted by many modern authorities. The name Eur or Ure is believed by some recent writers to be a kindred word with Ura, signifying water in the language of the ancient Basques, from whom the earliest inhabitants of this country are supposed to have been descended.

The Nidd, Wharfe, Aire, Calder, and Don, which also receive their waters from the western moorlands and empty themselves into the Ouse, lie without the the North Riding, and do not come within the scope of the present volume.

The Esk

The Esk is formed by the union of several small streams named Esklets, which rise near Ralph Cross, in the highest part of the Cleveland Hills. It flows in a winding course through a narrow valley, whose sides are, in many places, richly wooded, past Danby Castle, Lealholm, Beggar's Bridge, Egton Bridge, and Grosmont to Whitby where it enters the sea. Its name is of Celtic origin. Uisge, in that language, signifies water, and is the parent of our Esks, Usks, Wiskes, and Ouses, the names of rivers in several parts of the island.

The Derwent

The Derwent, which also derives its name from the same language, Dur gwin, the white or clear water, rises in the eastern moorlands, within a few miles of the sea; after running parallel with the coast for several miles, its course is deflected by the Wolds, first to the west and then to the south, and finally it unites with the Ouse, near Barmby-on-the-Marsh. On the banks of this river stood the ancient Derventio, first a British and then a Roman town. The basin of the Derwent is computed to cover 870 square miles - an area that includes much the larger part of the eastern moorlands. At the Carrs, - a low, marshy tract of land often flooded, - the Derwent becomes the boundary of the North and East Ridings, and further down it receives the Rye (the rapid stream, from Rhe, swift), which gives its name to a beautiful dale. A little further on are Old and New Malton, built on the site of a Roman station, and away to the right the stately mansion of Castle Howard. On the left bank, a little below Castle Howard railway station, are a few remains of the ancient Priory of Kirkham, and a little further down is Stamford Bridge, where Tosti, the traitorous Earl of Northumberland, and his Norwegian allies were thoroughly defeated by Harold. From this point to its junction with the Ouse, at Barmby, the course of the Derwent lies wholly within the East Riding.

The Coast

The coast of the North Riding is generally bold and precipitous, the cliffs in many places rising to a height of 200 or 300 feet. From the mouth of the Tees to Redcar the shore is rather level, with a fine stretch of sands. At this point the coast begins to rise into bold scars and rocky precipices. The rocks belong to the Lias series, and are rich in ironstone, and deposits of alum shale, from which alum was formerly largely manufactured. At Huntcliffe, the cliffs are 336 feet above the water, and farther south is the small rock-bound bay of Skinningrove, where several streams unite and cut their way through the Lias strata. Continuing along the coast we reach Boulby Cliff, 679 feet high; and farther on is the little inlet of Runswick Bay, bounded on its south-eastern side by the promontory of Kettle Ness. A few miles beyond is Dunsley Bay, supposed to be the Dunum Sinus of Ptolemy, with its margin of cliffs from 50 to 100 feet high, which wind round to the port of Whitby, the ancient Streanshalh, where stand the ruins of St. Hilda's Abbey. The Lias rocks continue as far as Robin Hood's Bay, and abound with fossil remains of Ammonites, Belemnites, Nautili, &c. South of this bay the cliffs belong to the Oolitic series, and attain their greatest height in the promontory on which the castle of Scarborough is built. South of Scarborough the coast again runs into wide bays, with lofty rocks along the shore, and headlands or nabs running far out into the sea. At Filey Brig the rocky ridge forms a natural breakwater, preventing the influx of much sand and affording protection to vessels in the bay. The cliffs here are rich in the fossil relics of a former world. Recent discoveries have shown that the Romans had a station at Filey, and some antiquarians think that this, and not Dunsley is the "well-havened bay" mentioned by Ptolemy. On the north side of the village, which lies under the cliffs of the Brig, a small rivulet flows through a deep ravine into the bay, and marks the division of the North and East Ridings.
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Data transcribed from:
Bulmer's North Riding
Scan, OCR and html software by Colin Hinson.
Checking and correction by Peter Nelson.