St Winefried’s Well

St Winefried’s well is located at Treffynnon. Tref = settlement; ffynnon = well or spring, so that makes sense. However, the town’s English name, Holywell, shows the reason for its inclusion as one of the seven wonders of Wales.

The spring is said to have risen where St Beuno restored to life his niece, St Winefried, after she was beheaded by a rejected suitor. As such it became a site of pilgrimage, for healing, with many notable visitors, including royalty.

The 15th century building straddles the spring. The lower, open crypt contains the well.

Above is a chapel, which from the other side is at ground level, because of the way it is built against the hillside.

Originally the spring flowed out and away down the valley. The statue stands where the stream once flowed.

Today the water is directed into a bathing pool.

The outflow was measured in the 18th century to be 7.6 million gallons of water per day. So not only was there a tourist industry, based on the pilgrimage site, but there was also thriving manufacturing industry in the short 1½ mile valley from the spring to the sea, with the stream being dammed several times to control its flow.

Close to the fresh spring, St Winefried’s brewery operated until 1930, and further downstream there were up to 19 factories. Metalworking and textiles were the main industries. There was so much activity that a railway branch line was opened in 1869.

The flow of visitors grew through the 19th century. Perhaps the poem was an effective tourist advert. However, at the same time the flow of the stream started to decrease and in 1917 it dried up completely.

This happened because mining, in the hills above the town, had changed the route of the underground stream, directing it away from the spring. Of course it couldn’t be left dry – Holywell’s thriving tourist industry would have vanished too. So another underground stream was channeled in to restore the flow.

Today you can visit the pilgrimage site in Holywell, and further down the valley the industrial site is now a 70 acre country park, the Greenfield Valley Heritage Park.

Llangollen Bridge

Next in my Wonders of Wales series is the bridge in Llangollen.

Nestled within the Dee valley, the town of Llangollen grew up at a point where it was possible to bridge the River Dee.

The rocky river bed at this point channels the river and makes for good foundations.

The river was probably first bridged here in the 12th century, giving access to the site that was to become Valle Crucis Abbey.

The first stone bridge was built in 1282. It was rebuilt several times over the years but some of the bridge of today dates from the 16th century, resulting in its status as a Grade I listed building and scheduled ancient monument.

There have been a number of modifications over the years. In the 1860’s a railway was built along the north bank of the river and the bridge was extended with an extra arch to cross the railway line.

Originally traffic consisted of the packhorse. However traffic increased, both in terms of size and amount. Thus the bridge was widened both in 1873 and again in 1968. They did this by reconstructing the upstream side of the bridge. Today’s bridge is nearly three times the width of the original 16th century construction.

Here’s a picture of each side. You can see the differences in the stonework.

Stonework on downstream side
Stonework on upstream side

Llangollen Bridge is still an important routeway. It carries a major road and much traffic across the Afon Dyfrdwy, (River Dee) to join the A5, London to Holyhead road, which follows the valley on the southern side.

Pistyll Rhaeadr

The stream known as Afon Disgynfa rises on the slopes of the Berwyn mountains. It goes from a highland stream to a valley river (Afon Rhaeadr) in seconds, with a drop of over 70m, at Pistyll Rhaeadr.

 

It is undoubtedly a tourist attraction, though it clearly isn’t Britain’s tallest single drop waterfall, as it drops down in several stages.

 

There is a natural rock bridge across the stream, between one part and the next.

 

At the bottom of each vertical drop the water crashes to a halt. The impact, both of the water and of any rocks that are being carried, gouges out the rock immediately below the waterfall, creating a plunge pool.

 

“Pistyll Rhaeadr and Wrexham steeple,
Snowdon’s mountain without its people,
Overton yew trees, St Winifred’s Well,
Llangollen’s Bridge and Gresford’s bells.”

Is Pistyll Rhaeadr worthy of its seven wonders status?

The Changing Valley of the River Wharfe

The River Wharfe flows from Beckermonds to Buckden and beyond.  (If you missed out on the map that went out with my newsletter at the start of this series, send me a message and I’ll email a copy to you.)

At Yockenthwaite

At first its valley slopes down to the river bank, keeping the river in its channel and the channel fairly straight.

Further downstream the sloping valley sides are further apart. The river meanders across a relatively flat area.

If the river channel fills to the top and it overflows, the water will spread out over a large area. This area is called the floodplain.

Have you been to your local river to find your own example of a meander yet?

The Strid

The River Wharfe flows through the beautiful valley of Wharfedale.

On the day that I visited, the river was rather full, due to the recent heavy rain. The river bed was covered all the way across. Many islands were submerged apart from their trees.

So at the section known as The Strid, on the Bolton Abbey estate, you’d perhaps be wondering where all the water has gone.

The River Wharfe goes from being about 9 metres wide to the size of a long stride, in less than 100 metres. So where does all the water go?

If you read my first post in this series , then you may be thinking that the water has disappeared into the ground. That’s kind of right but there is so much water going through that a lot of the ground has actually been washed away.

As the river flows along it carries stones of various sizes. These swirl around in the current and scrape potholes in the river bed, helping to enlarge the natural cracks in the rock.

At The Strid, the narrowing of the channel means that the water is moving very fast. The potholes and cracks have enlarged forming a passage of interconnected caverns.

So where has all the water gone? Well it is still there, in a chasm about 9 metres deep. (That’s about the height of two double-decker buses). It’s as though the river has turned onto its side!

Looks innocent doesn’t it?

But if you fall in you don’t stand a chance. You’d be sucked under (both banks overhang) and thrown against the rocks by the turbulent flow. Many lives have been lost here.

A Wordsworth poem “The Force of Prayer” tells the story of one such tragedy. You can read it here.

If you would like a sheet of notes on the poem, sign up to receive the Blog About Britain newsletter and opt for “Geography worksheets and ideas for further study”.

Where? – 2 – Rivers

Last week we discovered the location of some of the mountains and hills in the British Isles.  Today we’ll take a look at the main rivers.

Print out a blank outline map.  You can use the one below.

The best way to learn where things are is to put them on a map, but if I just give you a completed map, that won’t help much, so grab a blank map and a pencil, find somebody for a bit of competition, and let’s see what you know already.

I’m going to give you a list of the 16 longest rivers in the British Isles.  For each one, have a go at drawing the route on the map and label it.

Hint 1 – You know from last week where the main hills are.  Rivers might start in the hills but they generally won’t cross from one side to the other.

Hint 2 – At the places where the larger rivers flow into the sea, the tide flows up the rivers so the coastline indents.

So these are the 16 longest rivers in the British Isles.  You’ll be doing well if you have even heard of them all.  I had to look some of them up!  But do have a guess.

  1. Shannon (Ireland)
  2. Severn
  3. Thames
  4. Trent
  5. Great Ouse
  6. Wye
  7. Ure – Ouse (begins as the River Ure and changes name to River Ouse, after it is joined by the much smaller Ouse Gill Beck, 74 miles from the source)
  8. Barrow (Ireland)
  9. Tay
  10. Suir (Ireland)
  11. Clyde
  12. Spey
  13. Blackwater (Ireland)
  14. Nene
  15. Bann (Northern Ireland)
  16. Tweed

If you are having a competition then score 1 point if you have the river in the right area of the map and 2 points if you’ve got it flowing into the sea at the right place.When you are ready, scroll down past my pictures to find the answers and if you are signed up for worksheets, check your inbox for a map, showing the approximate routes, just needing labels.

River Wye

 

River Severn
River Severn
River Thames
River Thames
River Thames

And finally the answers. Lines are only approximate. I’ve smoothed out the details of all the twists and turns, which does make some of the rivers look shorter than they actually are.

 

The Meandering River Wharfe

The River Wharfe has many bends, especially where its valley is wide, and thus lives up to its name, which in Celtic means ‘twisting’.

A river bend is called a meander.


The river is flowing towards the camera on the left and away from the camera on the right. As it comes towards the camera it is heading straight for the bank where I am standing. But the shape of the channel sends it around the bend. This means that the fastest flow, the strongest current, is right below the bank on the outside of the bend. The strong flow easily picks up any loose material and gradually erodes the bank away. So I am actually standing above a bit of a cliff.

Here’s another meander on the River Wharfe.

Now you can see the steep bank on the outside of the bend. The trees at the bottom of the slope look rather unstable, with the water washing away the soil around their roots.

The land on the opposite side from the river cliff is lower and flatter.

Can you find your own example on a river where you live?

Next week I’ll be telling you about a beautiful but sinister spot on the River Wharfe.

Exploring Wharfedale

The River Wharfe begins high on the Pennines in a peaty bog known as Cam Fell.


From here many springs arise, forming streams.


The faint lines show where streams are flowing down the slope. These form Oughtershaw Beck.

 

This flows on, through a deepening valley, to Beckermonds, an isolated hamlet (that’s a place that is too small to be considered a village). Here Oughtershaw Beck joins with Green Field Beck.


The combined river becomes the River Wharfe.
And then it disappears!

Well ok it depends on how much water there is to start with; how much rain there has been. It may not all disappear but some of it certainly does as there is less water flowing along the next stretch.  It had rained a lot when I was there but this is what can happen.

At Beckermonds, the River Wharfe flows over limestone rock. Limestone has lots of cracks in it and some of the water disappears down these. If the weather has been dry, and the river flow is already low, then the whole River Wharfe can disappear underground. It usually re-emerges about 3km downstream near Yockenthwaite.

‘Wharfe’ is a Celtic word meaning twisting or winding and the River Wharfe certainly does plenty of that. Next week we will take a look at some of the Wharfe’s twisting meanders and discover features that you can look out for on any river.

Meanwhile sign up for the Blog About Britain newsletter and choose ‘Geography worksheets and ideas for further study’ to get a map of the places mentioned in today’s blog.

 

Managing the Flow

The Thames and Severn Canal entered the River Thames just west of the town of Lechlade from where boats could use the river to make their way to London.

The main water supply for the canal was taken from the River Churn, with the pump at the Thames source providing extra supply in the summer. The Churn joins the Thames at Cricklade. (If you’ve signed up, there will be a map in your inbox, that shows how all this fits together.)

So at Cricklade there was less water coming down the Thames, as the spring was drying up, and less water coming down the Churn as it was being pumped into the top section of the canal, not all of which would find its way back to the Thames.

At Lechlade some water would come in from the canal, but not as much as had been put into the canal originally.

Lower river levels made it hard for boats to get through and during periods of low rainfall it was even more difficult.

When the river was low more water was taken from the ground, which meant that more springs dried up and the river got even lower. In the end there is only a certain amount of water available.

The Thames and Severn Canal closed in 1933. The railway was now used to carry goods to and from London, whereas the canal needed repair and the water shortage was a major problem.

The Thames is still used by boats as far as Lechlade but most of them are carrying holidaymakers.


There are 45 locks enabling boats to safely pass the changes in level of the river.


Many of these have a lock keeper, part of whose job is to monitor the flow of the river. Too much water can lead to flooding. Too little causes problems for boats. At each lock the water that is not needed for the lock passes over a weir. The lock keeper can control how much water is allowed over the weir to maintain the correct water level upstream of his lock.


Quite a spectacular amount of water by the time you get further downstream.

Join me next Friday for a look at how the power of the water is being used.

Springs in the Cotswolds

The River Thames once began as a spring, in this field, on the lower slopes of the Cotswold Hills.

The Cotswolds are made of limestone, the same type of rock that we encountered in Wharfedale, where the river Wharfe disappears into the ground. On the Cotswolds you won’t find much in the way of rivers for the same reason. Limestone is full of cracks, enabling rainwater to sink into the ground. It is a permeable rock.


The water flows down through the permeable limestone until it can’t go any further, either because the rock has changed and no longer has holes, or because the holes are already full. The water will then flow sideways, out of the hillside, forming a spring, the source of a surface stream.

So if there hasn’t been rain in a while, water stops flowing out and the spring dries up.
But where the Thames is concerned, that is only part of the story. Find out more next Friday.