The Ghaistrills Strid – Grassington

The Ghaistrills Strid

  The Ghaistrills Strid is a section of the river Wharfe, 3/4 of a mile to the north west of Grassington in the Yorkshire Dales.

  The Ghaistrills were mentioned in a previous post about the Ghost of Tom Lee, who was hanged in 1768 for the murder of Dr Petty – the local doctor in Grassington. Tom Lees body was hung in chains by the road side in Grass wood to the west of Grassington, and later his gibbet irons (and perhaps the remains of his skeleton) were thrown into a deep part of the river at the Ghaistrills.

  The Ghaistrills Strid, like the Strid at Bolton Abbey, is a place where the river Wharfe is funnelled into a narrow channel cut through a rock outcrop spanning the river. All the water flowing down the wide river bed above the Strid is forced into the narrow (but deep) channel only a few metres wide, creating a churning torrent of fast flowing water. The narrowness of the gap gave rise to the Strid or stride name, as it was possible to stride or jump across the gap in the past. This however was a very risky activity, as the Strid at Bolton Abbey has claimed lives in the past, where people have fallen in and been dragged down into the deep water filled chasm below.

The Ghaistrills Strid – looking downstream

  Although there are no written records of the Ghaistrills having claimed lives, locally it was said that several people had drowned there in the past. This may have led to the belief that this part of the river was haunted, and a place to be generally avoided (Robertson 1882). Thomas Whitaker, writing in the early 1800’s, mentions a couple who tried to jump cross the Strid, but stumbled and fell in. On that occasion the turbulent waters swept the couple rapidly along the narrow channel, and ejected them, rather than drawing them down into its depths. Whitaker goes on to say…..
“This place is happily named the Gastrills; i.e. the Rills or Streams of the Ghost; the plural form being possibly chosen by our ancestors, as the river, when a little swelled, pours over the broad surface of the adjoining rock in distinct and numerous rills. But the Saxon scholar may be inclined to derive the latter syllable from thirlian, perforare; in which case the word becomes ‘Gast thrills’, and must be understood to mean the narrow aperture of the Ghost, a name which is certainly more exact, though less poetical. Fear and fancy are nearly allied; but the most elegant superstition could scarcely have imagined fitter scenery than that of the Gastrills for an haunted stream.” (Whitaker, 1812).

  The information from these writers lends support to the old belief that many rivers (including the Wharfe) demanded one or more lives every year. These victims were seen as a kind of tithe taken by the river, and perhaps this was a memory of a time when sacrifices were made to the spirit of a river. At the Bolton Abbey Strid, this spirit seems to have taken the form of a white horse which was said to appear before someone drowned in the river. There may be an echo of this same water spirit in the ghostly white horse (said to belong to doctor Petty) which was sometimes seen near Grass Wood alongside the Wharfe at Grassington.

An old piece of river lore relates that …
The Wharfe is clear and the Aire lithe; Where the Aire drowns one, the Wharfe drowns five.”
(Andrews, 1881).

  Bailey John Harker suggested that the Ghaistrills name referred to the spirits of those who had perished in the river. Harker also noted that the deep part of the river below the Strid was known as the Ghaistrills Parlour. Elsewhere in Yorkshire, the Parlour name, when used in an outdoor setting, refers to a supernatural dwelling place, for example the Fairy’s Parlour at Almes Cliff Crags, and the Devil’s Parlour at Roulston Scar.

  Finally, there is a hint that Tom Lee’s spirit simply took its natural place, becoming linked with locations which already had supernatural associations. His ghost haunted the cave at Cove Scar – said to be a fairy dwelling place. His gibbet irons (and bones?) were taken to the Ghaistrills – a haunted stretch of the river, above the suggestively named Ghaistrills Parlour, and further down stream the isolated rock in the river called Tom Crag.

Eroded basins and bone-like rocks near the Ghaistrills Parlour

Andrews, A. (1881) Old Yorkshire Vol 1.
Harker, B.J. (1890) The Buxton of Yorkshire – Grassington.
Robertson, J. (1882) Tom Lee – A tale of Wharfedale.
Rowley, R.G. (1982) Tom Lee – The Grassington Murderer.
Whitaker, T.D. (1812) The History and Antiquities of the Deanery of Craven.

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