Peggy and Pete Wright began our 2016 programme in the spring with a different angle. They presented a photographic journey of a variety of historic crossings of the River Wharfe and some ‘feeder’ becks. In the past, crossing water was a much more hazardous experience and safe river crossings were so important that settlements often grew around them. The earliest means were surely fords at places where the river or stream ran shallowly and the bedrock was flat. Remaining signs of at least twelve fords were discovered on their investigative walk. (Apparently there was an occasion in the 15th century when a funeral procession carrying a coffin along the corpse way from Buckden to the burial grounds in Arncliffe actually lost their corpse in the swollen waters of the Wharfe.) A number of packhorse bridges were also identified, the prettiest of which is probably the stone arch over Lower Cray Gill Beck.

Wharfe river crossing

Wharfe river crossing. Photo Phyllida Oates.

In Starbotton a unique means of crossing was spotted between the two footbridges: a double chain strung one above the other, requiring precarious balancing, but fortunately marked ‘Private’ so it couldn’t be tested! Peggy and Pete encountered stepping stones at Beckermonds, Cray and Starbotton, and two sets at Linton, and Kettlewell where one set at the top of the village was all but washed away, though the approaches at either side are obvious with openings through the walls. Two clapper bridges were recorded at Starbotton and Linton, and the possible remains of one outside the old brewery at Kilnsey. It may be surprising to learn that a total of 100 crossings of the river and connecting becks were captured on this short stretch of our beautiful dale.