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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & General Editor
Volume 8, Number 3, September 2014

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Claire Everett
Northallerton, North Yorkshire, UK


Hardraw Force

Chances are you take the quarry-stone path through the meadows, stopping along the way so that lungs and eyes can take their fill of the best of Wensleydale. Like as not, you tether the horse at the beginning of the approach to the gorge; banks that will be heavily-wooded again in time, are now all but bare, stripped of timber after the long years of war with the French. Before you catch sight of it, it has taken hold of your senses, first as song, then as a scent that lies somewhere between petrichor and the hymnal-and-incense dankness of the village church. And there it is! Issuing forth like the triumphant opening blast from the organ (had it only one pipe) yet on, and on—but even so, more slender than you imagined. If the dry summer should continue in this vein, surely the force will be no more than a harp-string? When the breeze plucks it you will have to strain to hear its vibrato.

Sun through the clouds. Now, how to describe it? Like the point of a chinagraph pencil clattering over the surface of a crystal bowl. Ah yes, a flurry now and then, when, in the hands of wind or stone, the paper is peeled away to expose a little more wax. Perhaps you should venture into that darkest chancel, beyond the choir of light and water? What it is to look back at the cove, as if through a veil! Then out again, with your ears still ringing just as the sun throws open a door to a counting house of toppled coins; how is it that the edges of the pebbled pool barely ripple?

And when you have walked, sat, stood in the outer reaches of the spray in an apse of teeming light, eyes raised in wonder at each stained-glass arc as if you were some illiterate parishioner drawn to that “Bible of the Poor”, you know that it is time to make the first mark. This, your chosen aspect, inches away from the rock where Megapezia first clambered from the water to sun its scales. Your pencil skims the wove, as if to tap some other Helicon. And so it begins.

From there to here, who knows the secrets of its course, other than it spills now, invisibly, from your shoulder’s crag, through blood and sinew, out onto the page. Your mind runs ahead, inexorably, bound for the studio, setting up easel, choosing your palette. Such hunger. Like the dark clouds amassing over Shunner Fell, decades from now.

hard rain
tugging on the bell rope . . .
from fell to scar
the clang of the beck
in its limestone tower

Yoredale:
half-rock, half-beast
this gargoyle
louring from the gutter
of a storm-blackened sky

now peals of thunder
from that highest belfry
as falls become flood
like some wayward Styx
hell-bent on Hardraw

gravestones pulled like teeth
coffins tossed on the swell
prayers for the souls
of the dear departed
safe on the other side

the preacher's tirade
about the evils of drink . . .
a tree, uprooted
is a spear in the side
of The Green Dragon

the burst keg
of a late summer day . . .
through the same front door
to which an artist came
in search of lodgings

come the dawn
bridges of rubble
and paths of mire
girders that were tallow
in a chandler's hands

the lip that had held
since the ware was fired
in a kiln of ice . . .
sure-footed masons
told to “put it all back”


Author's Notes: At 100 feet, Hardraw Force is the highest overground single-drop waterfall in England.

JMW Turner RA (1775-1851) visited Hardraw as part of his Grand Tour of Yorkshire in July 1816. He stayed overnight at The Green Dragon Inn through which 21st century visitors can still gain access to the Falls for a small fee.

Turner made two sketches of the waterfall, as well as a fine watercolour study, all of which paved the way for the final piece, a spectacular watercolour.

In July 1899, the village of Hardraw was almost obliterated by a great flood caused by the bursting of the beck over Hardraw Scar. The event was documented in The Yorkshire Post. On inspecting the broken scar, the local landowner, Lord Wharncliffe, ordered his estate manager to see that it was fixed. Very few visitors realise the limestone edge from which the force still plummets was repaired in this way.

In 1978, fossilized footprints from an early amphibian ancestor, Megapezia, were discovered at Hardraw Force.

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