Alan Crosby: The year that the great waterfall flowed again

By Jon Bauckham, 10 December 2015 - 11:30am

On Sunday, water flowed from the rocks of Malham Cove in the Yorkshire Dales – a natural phenomenon last witnessed by our ancestors more than 200 years ago, says Alan Crosby

Dr Alan Crosby is the editor of the Local Historian and a columnist for WDYTYA? MagazineThursday 10 December 2015
Alan Crosby
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Last weekend, Malham Cove briefly became home to Britain's highest waterfall – click here to see a video (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Amid the devastation caused by flooding over the past week, there was a remarkable event: England’s highest waterfall flowed for the first time in at least two centuries.

Malham Cove in the Yorkshire Dales is a tremendous limestone cliff, 230 feet high. Many centuries ago the large beck (‘stream’, for those of you unfamiliar with the dialect!) flowed out of Malham Tarn and ran a couple of miles down the valley before pouring over the cliff. Over time the waters began to find their way down underground passages and channels, and the stream no longer flowed.

Until last weekend, that is, when the unparalleled rainfall and the sheer quantity of water turned back the clock. Nobody alive had ever seen the great waterfall – indeed, neither had the parents, grandparents or great grandparents of even the oldest people alive today. But a few days ago, thanks to Storm Desmond, this awe-inspiring sight briefly reappeared.

We often hear that in the past our ancestors, many of them illiterate, didn’t really have a clear grasp of dates and time in the way that’s second nature to us. The precise sequence of days, months and years was elusive, the names and numbers mattered little.

So they memorised births and deaths and other family events by reference to rare and unusual occurrences – “She was born in the year the old oak tree blew down”, “We married the year that the new church bell was hung”.

And so I can imagine that if we still thought in that way 2015 would certainly be a year to remember: “It happened in the year that the great waterfall flowed again".
 

Alan Crosby lives in Lancashire and is editor of The Local Historian. He is an honorary research fellow at Lancashire and Liverpool universities

 

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