Flooded rivers reform the landscape

SOURCE TO SEA: The beautiful setting of Cod Beck Reservoir pictured on a winter’s day. Cod Beck eventually joins the Swale on the way to the North Sea

SOURCE TO SEA: The beautiful setting of Cod Beck Reservoir pictured on a winter’s day. Cod Beck eventually joins the Swale on the way to the North Sea

First published in Countryman's Diary by

ONE of our regular outings is to the top of Sutton Bank, near Thirsk. With such a fascinating and busy history, that area never fails to produce something of interest and my most recent visit, a fortnight ago, was no exception.

Those famous long-distance views towards the Pennines in the west, with further views towards the southwest and north-east, contain so much information that the directional map beside the footpath that leads to the Yorkshire Gliding Club is an essential guide, even for those of us who are equipped with maps.

It seeks to provide a means of identifying the locations and names of places that can be seen from there.

Despite all that assistance, and even with the aid of binoculars, plus a suspicion of mist in the distance, it is sometimes difficult to identify a particular place.

However, the view during that recent visit was complicated by serious flooding that had affected a wide area of North Yorkshire.

York, Stokesley, Malton, Pickering, Dalton and many other areas had suffered from incessant rain that saturated the ground so that the rainfall could neither flow away nor sink into the earth.

With the midday sun shining upon areas within our range of view, we could see countless glistening silvery images of new lakes and ponds, some of them appearing to be dangerously close to villages and farms.

In mid-distance, somewhere between Sutton Bank Top and the foothills of the Pennines, we could see a long broad ribbon of water shimmering in the sunlight.

Its orientation was north to south, albeit winding slightly through the flat landscape, and we could identify Thirsk to the north. We could not see whether that ribbon stretched beyond the north of Thirsk.

To the south, however, it ran through the landscape like a polished snake of some kind, albeit with a wide flat back.

There was no doubt it was floodwater and that it was a water-course of some kind.

So was it Cod Beck?

That curiously-named beck flows into Thirsk from the north, having begun its journey at Cod Beck Reservoir near Osmotherley, then flowing via the western slopes of Over Silton Moor.

Along its route, it absorbs natural drainage from the land plus water from Howl Beck, Leake Stell, Broad Beck and Spital Beck. It flows through Thirsk, where it heads south to take in Willow Beck before joining the mighty River Swale near Maiden Bower at Topcliffe.

The Swale later joins the River Ure when all those waters then head for the Ouse, the coast and the North Sea.

So was I looking at the River Swale with a dangerously high level of water as it twisted and turned along its flat route from Topcliffe towards Myton-on-Swale, where it joins the River Ure?

Examination of a map, along with the knowledge that the Swale was heavy with rainwater at the time and that it is not difficult for it to overflow its banks as it meanders through the Vale of York, caused me to think that those views from the top of Sutton Bank embrace far more countryside that we realise.

I think we were seeing the southern part of Cod Beck but also the southern stretch of the River Swale before it joins the Ure and eventually the Ouse to carry heavy water from the Dales that resulted in flooding at York.

This raises one small point – why is Cod Beck so named?

Clearly, it has no association with cod fish that are so popular in our fish and chip shops after being caught in the North Sea. You would not expect to find one swimming happily in Cod Beck.

It may be significant that the early stretches flow alongside Cotcliffe Wood in an area known as Cotcliffe. Cotcliffe literally means a cottage by a cliff or hillside, and one of the early names of Cod Beck was Cotesbec.

It seems that over the centuries, its name has been corrupted into Cod Beck.

Another interesting part of Sutton Bank Top relates to the former racecourse on this site. It has largely been forgotten in modern times although I noticed a map of the location in the Hambleton Inn near the top of Sutton Bank.

The racecourse was to the north of the A170 beyond the national park visitor centre and close to the present nature trail.

The turf in this area is said to be the best for training racehorses and even today strings of them from the nearby modern racing stables can be seen exercising on what used to be known as Black Hambleton racecourse.

The peak of its popularity was between 1715 and 1770 when it became known as the Newmarket of the North and received the patronage of both Queen Anne and King George I.

In the hills below Sutton Bank, there is a small lake known as Gormire and this is intriguing because no stream flows into it or out of it.

It was formed naturally, probably as long ago as the Ice Ages and the various local legends of white horses or mares may have arisen from its old name of White Mere. This came from the silvery sheen on the surface – just like those floods we noticed.

W ITH reference to my notes about the old name of Bedale (D&S Times, Nov.23), I have received a helpful note from a correspondent who lives nearby. She has included a note from a member of the Bedale Archaeology and History Society from which it seems the name may be of Anglian origin, not Saxon.

It may date from the 17th century and be descended from Beda h(e)alh which meant Beda’s nook of land.

Many place names ending with -healh were recorded as ending in -al. The personal name here is certainly Old English, and it was commonly spelt as either Beda or Bede.

At that time, most of the population could not write and so if a name was recorded by a scribe, its spelling was an effort to emulate the sounds of local speech, resulting in a variety of different spellings or names.

If Bedale’s name was originally Bedhealh, it suggests its ending of “dale” is not associated with other places bearing the suffix “dale”.

My correspondent has sent me this list of Bedale’s name-changes and their respective dates: 1086 – Bedale; 1256 – Bedhal; 1504 – Bedehale; 1514 – Bedel; 1564 – Bidell, and now Bedale. However, the conclusion is that some local residents still refer to the town as Beadle.

A correspondent from Darlington has also added a slice of Bedale history that has probably escaped most of us.

He tells of a local historian who had been to a séance in London when the participants were baffled by the name of Bedle, thinking it was a type of dog.

Our local historian was quick to realise this was a reference to Bedale and as a result that séance has produced the following story.

A servant girl from a big house in Bedale took a child of the house for a walk, and the little girl was clutching her doll.

They decided to go and see Bedale church which was then undergoing some building work but the child lost her doll down a cavity in a wall.

It was impossible to retrieve it and it seems the servant girl lost her job as a consequence.

That doll has never been recovered and we can only wonder whether, if some future reconstruction work is undertaken, that missing doll will be found.

So was this tale merely a figment of someone’s imagination, or can we believe in the message from that séance?


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