River Swale

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River Swale
River Swale, November 2003.jpg
The River Swale near Richmond.
Country England
Physical characteristics
Main source Confluence of Birkdale Beck and Great Sleddale Beck.
366 m (1,201 ft)
54°24′11″N 2°13′22″W / 54.403019°N 2.222681°W / 54.403019; -2.222681
River mouth River Ure, near Myton-on-Swale, North Yorkshire
11 m (36 ft)
54°05′16″N 1°20′36″W / 54.087853°N 1.343408°W / 54.087853; -1.343408Coordinates: 54°05′16″N 1°20′36″W / 54.087853°N 1.343408°W / 54.087853; -1.343408
Length 117.8 km (73.2 mi)
River Swale
Birkdale Beck/Gt Sleddale Beck
Holme Ash Gill
Little Ash Gill
Great Ash Gill
High Bridge (B6270)
Whitsunudale Beck
Low Bridge
Wain Wath Force
Blackburn Beck
Park Bridge
Rainby Force
Stonesdale Beck
Hoggarts Leap
Catrake Force
East Gill Force
Oldfield gutter
Swinner Gill
West Arn Gill
Straw Beck
Routin Gill
Oxnop Gill
Ivelet Bridge
Shore Gill
Gunnerside Gill
Haverdale Beck
Isles Bridge
Mirk gill
Birks Gill
Scabba Wath Bridge
Browne Gill
Barney Beck
Arkle Beck
Grinton Bridge (B6270)
Cogden Beck
Hays Gill
Gill Beck
Oxque Beck
Downholme Bridge
Marske Beck
Clapgate Beck
Lownethwaite Bridge (A6108)
Bridge Street, Richmond
Station Road, Richmond (A6136)
Sand Beck
Colburn beck
Skeeby Beck
Catterick Bridge (A6138)
Brough Beck
Fiddale Beck
Kiplin Beck
Stoney Leigh Bridge
The Stell
Mill Beck
Swale Bridge (Wensleydale Railway)
Morton Bridge (A684)
Bedale Beck
River Wiske
Howe Beck
Skipton Bridge (A61)
Topcliffe Brisge (A167)
Cod Beck
Cundall Beck
Thornton Bridge
Myton Bridge
River Ure

The River Swale is a river in Yorkshire, England and a major tributary of the River Ure, which itself becomes the River Ouse, emptying into the North Sea via the Humber Estuary.

The name Swale is from the Anglo-Saxon word Sualuae meaning rapid and liable to deluge. Annual rainfall figures of 1800mm p.a. in the headwaters and 1300mm p.a. in the lower waters over a drop of 148m in 32 km, gives proof to its name.[1] The river gives its name to the valley through which it flows, namely Swaledale.

The river and its valley are home to many types of flora and fauna typical to the Yorkshire Dales. Like similar rivers in the region, the river carves through several types of rock and has features typical of both river and glacial erosion. The River Swale has been a contributory factor in the settlements that have been recorded throughout its history. It has provided water to aid in the raising of crops and livestock, but also in the various mining activities that have occurred since Roman times and before.

The river is said to be the fastest flowing in England [2] and its levels have been known to rise 3 metres in 20 minutes.


The source of the River Swale is at the confluence of the Birkdale Beck and the Great Sleddale Beck.[3] The river flows north-north-east past lead mines on its northern bank and the end of Whitsundale and then easterly towards the first of many waterfalls in the headwaters. After flowing over Wain Wath Force the river continues south-east over Hoggarts Leap and Catrake Force near Keld, before it reaches East Gill Force and Kisdon Force. Shortly after Swinner Gill joins the river it swings sharply south towards the village of Muker where Straw Beck joins and the river turns east again. The river flows past Gunnerside towards Feetham where it turns north-east for a short while before returning east past Healuagh, Reeth and Grinton. The river then swings gently south-east and east below Marrick before turning north-eastward and then north past Marske.

It eventually returns eastward near Hudswell before it flows past the main town of the valley, Richmond. The river then starts a series of long south-east meanders past Brompton-on-Swale and under the A1 at Catterick Bridge before turning south past Catterick. The river continues long south and south-east meanders past Thrintoft and Morton-on-Swale. As it starts to pursue a more constant southerly flow it is joined by the River Wiske before passing Skipton-on-Swale, Catton, Topcliffe and Asenby. It then flows past Helperby and Myton-On-Swale before joining the River Ure.

River levels[edit]

Monitoring station[4] Station elevation Low water level High water level Record high level
Park Bridge 325 m (1,066 ft) 0.00 m (0 ft) 2.50 m (8.2 ft) 3.04 m (10.0 ft)
Grinton Bridge 178 m (584 ft) 0 m (0 ft) 1.5 m (4.9 ft) 2.51 m (8.2 ft)
Richmond Lownthwaite Bridge 114 m (374 ft) 0.00 m (0 ft) 2.0 m (6.6 ft) 4.19 m (13.7 ft)
Catterick Bridge 60 m (200 ft) 0.3 m (0.98 ft) 2.40 m (7.9 ft) 3.48 m (11.4 ft)
Morton-on-Swale 27 m (89 ft) 0.13 m (0.43 ft) 5.80 m (19.0 ft) 6.47 m (21.2 ft)
Crakehill 16 m (52 ft) 0.22 m (0.72 ft) 3 m (9.8 ft) 5.45 m (17.9 ft)
Myton-on-Swale 12 m (39 ft) 0.44 m (1.4 ft) 3.44 m (11.3 ft) 6.02 m (19.8 ft)
  • Low and High Water Levels are an average figure.

Natural history[edit]

The River Swale and its valley support a range of habitats including broadleaved, mixed and conifer woodland as well as hay meadows and grasslands. Limestone scar, bracken, scrub and heather moorland can also be found. Amongst the species of tree that can be found are ash, birch, rowan and bird cherry along with shrubs such as hawthorn, hazel and holly. There are smaller populations of yew and sycamore. Pine, larch and spruce occur mostly in plantations with alder and willow common along the river banks. The many hay meadows are filled with buttercup and wood cranesbill.[5]


There are three distinct geological areas in Upper and Mid Swaledale. the upper reaches of the river flow over Carboniferous, Permian and Triassic rock, all of which are atop a layer of Lower Paleozoic beds.[6] These rocks are rich in minerals[7] and metalliferous sulfide ores such as Galena, Sphalerite, Chalcopyrite and Bravoite. There are also deposits of Fluorite, Barite, Witherite, Calcite, Dolomite and Barytocalcite.[8]

Along the valley sides can be seen the typical Dales geology of Yoredale beds, alternating strata of Limestone and Gritstone.[9] Small seams of coal, particularly around Tan Hill, have been found and worked. During the last Ice Age, the glacier that dominated the valley was responsible for broadening it and altering the course of the river around Keld and Round Howe. It was also responsible for cutting the Kisden Gorge. Retreat moraines lower in the river valley can be seen around Gunnerside and Grinton Bridge.


The earliest evidence of occupation in the river valley can be dated to the Mesolithic and Neolithic Ages with the discovery of flint tools and arrowheads. Around Harkerside are some small stone circles that date to the Bronze Age and some Iron Age defensive earthworks. Evidence of lead mining has been traced back to Roman times with finds at the Hurst mine.[9] This industry seemed to decline until after the Danish invasions of the area. During the major ecclesiastical building of the 12th and 13th centuries, lead became a valuable commodity and mining once again increased in the valley.[10] Evidence of the lead mining can still be seen from the remains of the 18th century practice of 'hushing' that involved creating turf dams across gills that were then released to wash away topsoil to expose the ore veins.

Around the 8th century, the river valley was settled by Angles who established themselves at Reeth, Stainton, Grinton Bridge and Fremington. Two hundred years later the upper valley was settled by Norsemen. After the Norman invasion, the lands of the valley were given to Count Alan of Brittany who built the castle at Richmond between 1071 and 1091. It was built on a bluff overlooking the River Swale.


Over the centuries, lead mining and cattle farming have been the main industries, but competition from the rest of the world saw them decline by the end of the 19th century.[10] Some crop farming also took place, most notably during the warm periods of the 13th century.

Tourism now plays a major role in the economy of the river valley. the Yorkshire Dales Cycle Way follows the valley between Fremington and Gunnerside. The Coast to Coast Walk passes through Richmond to Reeth and is crossed at Keld by the Pennine Way, which goes through the upper valley from Buttertubs Pass to Muker.[11]


Along the River Swale
Whitsundale Beck joins the River Swale 
Wain Wath Force, near Keld, with the limestone cliffs of Cotterby Scar in the background. 
Lower Catrake Force 
Kisdon Force on River Swale 
River Swale near Muker 
River Swale flowing under Downholme Bridge 
Grinton Bridge 
Ivelet Bridge 
River Swale from Catterick Bridge 
Morton Bridge, A684 Crossing the River Swale 
River Swale near Brompton-on-Swale 
River Swale from bridge near Brafferton 


Settlements Location Tributaries Confluence Crossings Location
Keld 54°24′18″N 2°10′05″W / 54.405°N 2.168°W / 54.405; -2.168 Holme Ash Gill 54°24′11.37″N 2°13′6.08″W / 54.4031583°N 2.2183556°W / 54.4031583; -2.2183556 High Bridge (B6270) 54°24′26.87″N 2°12′1.64″W / 54.4074639°N 2.2004556°W / 54.4074639; -2.2004556
Muker 54°23′02″N 2°08′48″W / 54.38378°N 2.14673°W / 54.38378; -2.14673 Little Ash Gill 54°24′20.38″N 2°12′32.63″W / 54.4056611°N 2.2090639°W / 54.4056611; -2.2090639 Low Bridge 54°24′33.78″N 2°11′23.97″W / 54.4093833°N 2.1899917°W / 54.4093833; -2.1899917
Gunnerside 54°22′44″N 2°04′34″W / 54.379°N 2.076°W / 54.379; -2.076 Great Ash Gill 54°24′26.33″N 2°12′6.83″W / 54.4073139°N 2.2018972°W / 54.4073139; -2.2018972 Park Bridge 54°24′31.32″N 2°10′38.17″W / 54.4087000°N 2.1772694°W / 54.4087000; -2.1772694
Low Row 54°22′33″N 2°01′51″W / 54.37593°N 2.03088°W / 54.37593; -2.03088 Whitsunudale Beck 54°24′27.99″N 2°11′50.00″W / 54.4077750°N 2.1972222°W / 54.4077750; -2.1972222 Ivelet Bridge 54°22′32.50″N 2°6′16.39″W / 54.3756944°N 2.1045528°W / 54.3756944; -2.1045528
Reeth 54°23′15″N 1°56′32″W / 54.3876°N 1.9422°W / 54.3876; -1.9422 Blackburn Beck 54°24′33.11″N 2°10′48.27″W / 54.4091972°N 2.1800750°W / 54.4091972; -2.1800750 Gunnerside Great Brsige (B6270) 54°22′32.31″N 2°4′43.47″W / 54.3756417°N 2.0787417°W / 54.3756417; -2.0787417
Grinton 54°22′51″N 1°55′47″W / 54.38094°N 1.92974°W / 54.38094; -1.92974 Stonesdale Beck 54°24′31.73″N 2°10′28.76″W / 54.4088139°N 2.1746556°W / 54.4088139; -2.1746556 Isles Bridge 54°22′22.13″N 2°2′11.46″W / 54.3728139°N 2.0365167°W / 54.3728139; -2.0365167
Richmond 54°24′13″N 1°44′14″W / 54.4035°N 1.7373°W / 54.4035; -1.7373 Oldfield Gutter 54°24′5.88″N 2°9′6.11″W / 54.4016333°N 2.1516972°W / 54.4016333; -2.1516972 Scabba Wath Bridge 54°22′49.35″N 1°59′31.68″W / 54.3803750°N 1.9921333°W / 54.3803750; -1.9921333
Brompton-on-Swale 54°23′30″N 1°39′43″W / 54.3917°N 1.6619°W / 54.3917; -1.6619 Swinner Gill 54°23′56.07″N 2°8′36.93″W / 54.3989083°N 2.1435917°W / 54.3989083; -2.1435917 Grinton Bridge (B6270) 54°22′55.86″N 1°55′47.78″W / 54.3821833°N 1.9299389°W / 54.3821833; -1.9299389
Catterick Bridge 54°23′19″N 1°39′02″W / 54.38864°N 1.65047°W / 54.38864; -1.65047 West Arn Gill 54°23′44.50″N 2°8′25.28″W / 54.3956944°N 2.1403556°W / 54.3956944; -2.1403556 Downholme Bridge 54°23′16.77″N 1°49′36.49″W / 54.3879917°N 1.8268028°W / 54.3879917; -1.8268028
Catterick 54°22′19″N 1°37′23″W / 54.372°N 1.623°W / 54.372; -1.623 Straw Beck 54°22′35.40″N 2°8′3.83″W / 54.3765000°N 2.1343972°W / 54.3765000; -2.1343972 Lownethwaite Bridge (A6108) 54°24′5.29″N 1°46′34.13″W / 54.4014694°N 1.7761472°W / 54.4014694; -1.7761472
Great Langton 54°21′45″N 1°32′50″W / 54.362630°N 1.547290°W / 54.362630; -1.547290 Routin Gill 54°22′29.20″N 2°7′25.83″W / 54.3747778°N 2.1238417°W / 54.3747778; -2.1238417 Bridge Street, Richmond 54°24′1.96″N 1°44′25.15″W / 54.4005444°N 1.7403194°W / 54.4005444; -1.7403194
Little Fencote 54°19′58″N 1°34′04″W / 54.332692°N 1.567842°W / 54.332692; -1.567842 Oxnop Gill 54°22′32.11″N 2°6′17.05″W / 54.3755861°N 2.1047361°W / 54.3755861; -2.1047361 Station Road, Richmond (A6136) 54°24′14.23″N 1°43′50.77″W / 54.4039528°N 1.7307694°W / 54.4039528; -1.7307694
Morton-on-Swale 54°19′19″N 1°30′11″W / 54.32181°N 1.50314°W / 54.32181; -1.50314 Shore Gill 54°22′34.86″N 2°5′56.92″W / 54.3763500°N 2.0991444°W / 54.3763500; -2.0991444 A1 road (Great Britain) 54°23′17.81″N 1°39′21.14″W / 54.3882806°N 1.6558722°W / 54.3882806; -1.6558722
Bedale 54°17′00″N 1°35′00″W / 54.2833°N 1.5833°W / 54.2833; -1.5833 Gunnerside Gill 54°22′32.05″N 2°4′42.41″W / 54.3755694°N 2.0784472°W / 54.3755694; -2.0784472 Catterick Bridge (A6138) 54°23′21.44″N 1°39′5.25″W / 54.3892889°N 1.6514583°W / 54.3892889; -1.6514583
Gatenby 54°17′07″N 1°30′04″W / 54.28515°N 1.50112°W / 54.28515; -1.50112 Haverdale Beck 54°22′20.68″N 2°2′15.51″W / 54.3724111°N 2.0376417°W / 54.3724111; -2.0376417 Stoney Leigh Bridge 54°21′46.06″N 1°33′15.41″W / 54.3627944°N 1.5542806°W / 54.3627944; -1.5542806
Maunby 54°16′N 1°27′W / 54.267°N 1.450°W / 54.267; -1.450 Mirk gill 54°22′18.48″N 2°1′46.33″W / 54.3718000°N 2.0295361°W / 54.3718000; -2.0295361 Swale Bridge (Wensleydale Railway) 54°19′24.12″N 1°30′38.12″W / 54.3233667°N 1.5105889°W / 54.3233667; -1.5105889
Pickhill 54°14′49″N 1°28′12″W / 54.24705°N 1.47007°W / 54.24705; -1.47007 Birks Gill 54°22′19.31″N 2°1′44.01″W / 54.3720306°N 2.0288917°W / 54.3720306; -2.0288917 Morton Bridge (A684) 54°19′14.45″N 1°30′41.00″W / 54.3206806°N 1.5113889°W / 54.3206806; -1.5113889
Skipton-on-Swale 54°12′46″N 1°26′25″W / 54.212650°N 1.440185°W / 54.212650; -1.440185 Scabba Wath 54°22′50.16″N 1°59′15.05″W / 54.3806000°N 1.9875139°W / 54.3806000; -1.9875139 Skipton Bridge (A61) 54°12′45.38″N 1°26′37.19″W / 54.2126056°N 1.4436639°W / 54.2126056; -1.4436639
Catton 54°11′49″N 1°26′02″W / 54.197°N 1.434°W / 54.197; -1.434 Barney Beck 54°22′53.87″N 1°58′37.77″W / 54.3816306°N 1.9771583°W / 54.3816306; -1.9771583 Topcliffe Bridge (A167) 54°10′40.53″N 1°23′29.71″W / 54.1779250°N 1.3915861°W / 54.1779250; -1.3915861
Baldersby St James 54°11′13″N 1°26′31″W / 54.18687°N 1.44201°W / 54.18687; -1.44201 Arkle Beck 54°22′55.33″N 1°56′4.60″W / 54.3820361°N 1.9346111°W / 54.3820361; -1.9346111 A168 54°10′27.26″N 1°23′3.83″W / 54.1742389°N 1.3843972°W / 54.1742389; -1.3843972
Topcliffe 54°10′42″N 1°23′11″W / 54.1784°N 1.3863°W / 54.1784; -1.3863 Cogden Beck 54°22′46.47″N 1°54′45.42″W / 54.3795750°N 1.9126167°W / 54.3795750; -1.9126167 Thornton Bridge 54°8′12.15″N 1°20′19.75″W / 54.1367083°N 1.3388194°W / 54.1367083; -1.3388194
Cundall" 54°08′52″N 1°21′09″W / 54.14785°N 1.35248°W / 54.14785; -1.35248 Hags Gill 54°22′25.15″N 1°53′54.76″W / 54.3736528°N 1.8985444°W / 54.3736528; -1.8985444 Myton Bridge 54°5′41.16″N 1°20′5.23″W / 54.0947667°N 1.3347861°W / 54.0947667; -1.3347861
Fawdington 54°08′57″N 1°19′52″W / 54.14907°N 1.33099°W / 54.14907; -1.33099 Gill Beck 54°22′32.83″N 1°51′18.93″W / 54.3757861°N 1.8552583°W / 54.3757861; -1.8552583
Brafferton 54°07′34″N 1°19′39″W / 54.126137°N 1.327460°W / 54.126137; -1.327460 Oxque Beck 54°23′4.36″N 1°50′23.91″W / 54.3845444°N 1.8399750°W / 54.3845444; -1.8399750
Helperby 54°07′20″N 1°19′42″W / 54.122200°N 1.328400°W / 54.122200; -1.328400 Marske Beck 54°23′46.83″N 1°49′42.70″W / 54.3963417°N 1.8285278°W / 54.3963417; -1.8285278
Myton-on-Swale 54°05′38″N 1°19′52″W / 54.094°N 1.331°W / 54.094; -1.331 Clapgate Beck 54°24′17.93″N 1°49′20.56″W / 54.4049806°N 1.8223778°W / 54.4049806; -1.8223778
Sand Beck 54°23′53.03″N 1°43′8.34″W / 54.3980639°N 1.7189833°W / 54.3980639; -1.7189833
Colburn Beck 54°23′31.10″N 1°41′9.56″W / 54.3919722°N 1.6859889°W / 54.3919722; -1.6859889
Skeeby Beck 54°23′36.73″N 1°40′27.51″W / 54.3935361°N 1.6743083°W / 54.3935361; -1.6743083
Brough Beck 54°22′15.05″N 1°36′38.62″W / 54.3708472°N 1.6107278°W / 54.3708472; -1.6107278
Fiddale Beck 54°21′52.02″N 1°33′55.71″W / 54.3644500°N 1.5654750°W / 54.3644500; -1.5654750
Kiplin Beck 54°21′49.43″N 1°33′21.67″W / 54.3637306°N 1.5560194°W / 54.3637306; -1.5560194
The Stell 54°21′28.32″N 1°32′15.85″W / 54.3578667°N 1.5377361°W / 54.3578667; -1.5377361
Mill Beck 54°20′14.50″N 1°31′47.21″W / 54.3373611°N 1.5297806°W / 54.3373611; -1.5297806
Bedale Beck 54°18′15.21″N 1°30′50.03″W / 54.3042250°N 1.5138972°W / 54.3042250; -1.5138972
River Wiske 54°14′38.19″N 1°26′19.94″W / 54.2439417°N 1.4388722°W / 54.2439417; -1.4388722
Cod Beck 54°10′3.88″N 1°21′58.63″W / 54.1677444°N 1.3662861°W / 54.1677444; -1.3662861
Crakehill Beck 54°9′7.14″N 1°20′22.01″W / 54.1519833°N 1.3394472°W / 54.1519833; -1.3394472
Cundall Beck 54°8′13.20″N 1°20′18.10″W / 54.1370000°N 1.3383611°W / 54.1370000; -1.3383611


  1. ^ "Origin of name". Retrieved 28 January 2011. 
  2. ^ "River Swale - Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust". Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  3. ^ Swaleway.org Retrieved 28 April 2017
  4. ^ "River levels". Retrieved 23 December 2010. 
  5. ^ "Flora of the valley" (PDF). Retrieved 7 February 2011. 
  6. ^ Scrutton, C. (1994). Yorkshire Rocks and landscapes, A Field Guide. Ellenbank Press. ISBN 1-873551-08-8. 
  7. ^ Pattrick, R.; Polya, D. (1993). Mineralisation in the British Isles. Springer. ISBN 0-412-31200-X. 
  8. ^ Dunham; Wilson (1985). Geology of the North Pennine Orefield Vol 2:Stainmore to Craven. HMSO London. Unknown ID:0L254726M. 
  9. ^ a b Raistrick, A.; Jennings, B. (1966). History of Lead Mining in the Pennines. G. Kelsall. ISBN 0-946571-01-5. 
  10. ^ a b Fieldhouse, R.; Jennings, B. (1978). History of Richmond & Swaledale. London: Phillimore & Co Ltd. ISBN 1-86077-364-8. 
  11. ^ "Tourism" (PDF). Retrieved 7 February 2011.