A beck flows through our village. It rises up on The Moor, about half a mile above us, goes underground and emerges at the West end at a bore hole. Almost every house in the village has the beck either in the garden or in front or behind . Anyone going through cannot fail to notice it - we are a village built on water.
Now just a pretty sight it was, of course, the main reason the village was built here in the first place. There are ancient bridleways all around and early artefacts have been found - axe heads, a wonderful Saxon figurehead, flint knives, crotal bells - there is even a Bronze Age crouch burial site
Through all the generations people have depended on the beck to support their everyday life. As late as the twentieth century we drank its water and throughout the years people have washed in it, washed their clothes in it, dipped their sheep in it, cooled their butter in it, cleaned their houses with it and watered their cattle. Sometimes it floods. In the 1930's there was a flood which devastated parts of the village and even earlier this month the beck came over the road and flooded the village pub and some of the houses.
Drovers from Scotland passed through with thousand-strong herds of cattle. They would pay a half penny a head to water them in our beck (around £2 for the whole herd). There is still a Halfpenny House to remind us of it!
Most of the land here belonged to the Cistercian Abbeys. There were Abbeys at Rievaulx, Easby, Jervaulx, Coverham and Ellerton and they all owned land here. They used our beck to dip their sheep and wash the fleeces as well as for drinking purposes. Monks from these Abbeys must have walked our beckside throughout the generations.
There were mills as well. There was a corn mill in our village working until 1928. Two miles downstream there was a bobbin mill and a saw mill. Where the beck runs through the grounds of Constable Burton Hall there was a trout pond. Naughty local boys used to dam the beck when the trout swam upstream and do a bit of poaching.
Along its twenty mile or so length it is joined by several other becks running off the moor. Along its length there were several other corn mills and a fulling mill. One mill is still in working order today and grinds corn into flour for sale.
Perhaps strangest of all, where the beck widens in the little town of Bedale, there is a Leech House on its bank. Here in the nineteenth century leeches were kept for use in medicine. And a little lower downstream there is the remains of a harbour. This was being built when suddenly the railway came - and that spelled the end of any attempts to make it navigable.
Now it is just a picturesque waterway - yellow mimulus lines its banks in places, here and there you can see water forget-me-not and water cress. Yellow flag irises flourish - some say that where irises are is where there was once a ford across it (the rhizomes got caught on the boots and were deposited a little way downstream). There are fish - trout and bullheads abound, but the trout never get big enough to eat.It is still useful in that it flows through the fields and provides drinking water for the cattle, horses and sheep. Its banks provide nesting places for mallard, coot and moorhen. Its fish provide food for kingfisher and heron and the sound of its gentle trickle through the fields provides a peaceful accompaniment to any walk.
Eventually - after twenty miles or so - it flows into the River Swale, then via the Ouse and the Humber it makes its way to the North Sea.
Over the centuries it has been such a hard-working stretch of water that I think it has earned its rest as it gently goes on its way.