The River Aire at Gargrave
The river and the village greens have always been Gargrave’s pride and joy and a great attraction to the many visitors who come to enjoy its amenities.
Few villages can boast unlimited access to a major river along almost 90% of its course through the village. It has always been a playground for the young where parents could sit back and watch the kids paddle to their hearts content. Sadly with the exception of the area around River Place, this is no longer the case.
Access on the High Green this summer has been limited to a couple of yards around the stepping stones, the rest of the river bank being a forest of wild rhubarb and long grass labelled by some as “wildlife areas”. Similarly the area below the bridge is also inaccessible due to the wilderness. Far from being scenic these days it is an eyesore.
Not only that but by effectively raising the river bed on either side of the central stream by up to a metre the risk of severe flooding is now a serious concern. The right hand arch looking east is virtually half blocked by silt and vegetation. The river bed has narrowed to half its original width below the bridge, it used to run alongside the walls of the old stone ford but they now sit in splendid isolation.
The floods of 1998 and 2000 were probably the highest for many years, at one stage the water was level with the top of the plantain wall. Another few feet and the village could have problems.
An abortive attempt was made more recently to deepen the river bed above the bridge but the stones removed were deposited a hundred metres upstream and promptly returned on the next flood.
The Environmental Agency, on their flood risk map, do not appear to worry about this part of the village but they do add that in these days of climate change there is always the chance that the next flood will be higher than the last. It was not always like this.
Prior to 1968 the river ran through two arches on a shallow flat bed. A small stone area above the bridge deflected the main flow through the centre arch but in practise this had no effect. The only problem was that by using two arches a narrow island, particularly after a flood, gradually built up behind the central pillar of the bridge extending half way down to the ford at the Gofa Mill. Affectionately known as the “duck island” for obvious reasons, it did get untidy but was removed on the odd occasion. The river banks however remained tidy and accessible.
The Parish Council in their wisdom, in conjunction with the River Board decided in 1968 to channel the stream through the centre arch “to minimise the risk of flooding and to enhance the scenic amenity of the village.”
Where the risk of flooding came in is difficult to visualise but the result was that 500 tons of limestone were used to guide the water through the centre arch. Top soil was added to the banks to level the build up but within weeks most of this had gone downstream with the first flood. Many of the stone blocks have also followed.
Thirty odd years on the result is exactly the opposite. The risk of flooding is now a possibility, nature has taken its course and sadly our greatest asset is no longer an attraction to villager or visitor alike.
Dennis French. Nov 3 2005.