'The day I met a gorilla.. while walking the River Swale!'

·6-min read
A ‘Gorilla encounter’ at Langton cottages. Picture: Bob Adams
A ‘Gorilla encounter’ at Langton cottages. Picture: Bob Adams

Retired York psychiatrist BOB ADAMS has resumed his walk along the entire 73-mile length of the River Swale. On the sixth leg, he walked from Thrintoft to Catterick Bridge

Swale Trail Day 6: Thrintoft to Catterick Bridge

Distance: approximately 11 miles

Day six of my walk along the whole length of the river Swale, from its confluence with the Ouse at Myton-on-Swale to its source, took place at the end of May.

For various reasons it has taken me over eight months to get this far.

As there are no clear footpaths and no bus routes along this section of the river I had to bide my time.

Then the opportunity arose of a lift to Thrintoft, just west of Northallerton, and a pickup at Catterick Bridge. The forecast was changeable with cold winds and the possibility of showers.

I set off at 08.45am heading north along a quiet country lane towards the edge of Langton Park where the road curved to avoid the private estate.

Black and white cows looked down on me from a bank enclosing Pool’s Waste, a collection of ponds marking what used to be a meander of the river.

Reaching Langton cottages (c.1933) I was surprised to see a life-size gorilla staring at me with bared teeth from behind a garden fence. Thankfully it turned out to be a model.

The next excitement was Saint Wilfred’s church and its war memorial. The villagers of Great Langton have to walk half a mile down the road to get to their parish church, situated up a grassy lane. However the location is a beautiful, secluded place of tranquillity and calm with overgrown grass, undisturbed graves and not a house in site.

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St. Wilfred’s Church, Great Langton

This section of the river Swale meanders around fields, woodland and places where gravel has been extracted leaving lakes, some of which are now nature reserves.

Towards the north end of the Vale of Mowbray the river begins to curve to the west to enter Swaledale at the town of Richmond. This meant that travellers following ancient routes from England towards Scotland had to cross the river.

Centuries ago the area was laid waste many times by waves of invaders coming in both directions including Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans.

River crossings were sites of battles and strongholds, such as the Roman Garrison at Catterick and Richmond Castle. The area was also inhabited in late neolithic times as evidenced by the Scorton Cursus, a series of ditches stretching for at least two kilometres, now destroyed by gravel excavation and farming.

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Meandering: the River Swale at Great Langton

In neolithic times these monuments may well have linked up with the Thornborough Henges and the standing stones at Boroughbridge, the Devils Needles, marking the route from north to south.

In the middle-ages the river was partially navigable so lead and wool could be brought down from Richmond and the Dales to the Ouse and beyond.

I continued my walk northwest to Kiplin Hall, situated on the Northallerton to Richmond road, where I planned to stop for lunch.

It was just as well that I did as the hall is a gem. My coronation chicken sandwiches, served in the opulent surroundings of the entrance hall, complete with china tea service, ticked all the boxes.

Kiplin Hall was built in the early 1620s by George Calvert who later went on to found the colony of Maryland in America. Although the hall has been added to, it still retains its unique Jacobean identity.

It was sensitively restored in the 1970s and 90s using money from the lease of land for gravel extraction. The resulting lake now improves the beauty of the grounds.

Rooms include a collection of watercolour paintings by Lady Waterford, the ‘admiral’s’ room and the ‘second world war kitchen’ that recreates the state of decay the hall was in when it was requisitioned for wounded veterans of Dunkirk, then as a bomb storage site during the war.

The last owner, Bridget Talbot, was responsible for saving the hall, despite it being rejected by the National Trust in the 1950s. An innovative and pioneering woman, amongst other deeds she invented a waterproof torch for lifebelts that saved many lives.

It was time to move on.

I took a cross country route through fields to Bolton-on-Swale. The promised rain came and by the time I got to the village I was soaked and freezing cold.

I took refuge in Saint Mary’s Church. It was just as well I did as in this church lies the tomb of Henry Jenkins, alleged to have been born around 1501. He apparently died in 1670 at the advanced age of 169!

A memorial was erected in the graveyard in 1743 to commemorate his life when it was noted that he was the longest-living English person ever recorded.

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Catterick Bridge

The life-giving atmosphere of the village suitably revived me and I was able to resume my trek between yet more gravel pits to reach the banks of the Swale just a mile east of Catterick Bridge.

Here were meadows filled with poppies, lapwings and Highland cattle, their calls complimented by the sound of the rushing river.

In no time at all I reached the historic Catterick Bridge.

Most people, as they zoom along the A1M at 70mph, do not look to the east as they cross the motorway bridge.

If they did they would see two bridges. The first is an iron bridge that once carried a branch line to Catterick camp.

Beyond this is the stone bridge that once carried the Great North Road.

There were thought to be several river crossings in the vicinity, but this particular bridge was constructed in 1422 and restored and widened in 1792, when the lady chapel at its southern end was removed.

A hostelry at the south end, the Bridge House Hotel, was destroyed by fire in 2014, and at present stands derelict.

There are actually four habitations around Catterick Bridge.

The first is the village of Brompton-on Swale, on the northern bank, the second is the now disappeared Roman town of Cataractonium on the southern bank. The village of Catterick lies a mile to the south.

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Guarding the way: three 'soldiers' near Catterick

To the west, on the other side of the motorway, is Catterick Garrison, by far the largest settlement of them all. In between lies Catterick Racecourse.

Just down by the river I was accosted by three soldiers guarding the way.

One was Roman, another a British tommy and the third a modern example.

They were all constructed out of steel. I repaired to the thankfully still open and thriving Farmers Arms to await my lift home.

  • Bob will continue his walk along the River Swale soon...

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