The thought of a drowned village is compelling. It grabs hold of our imaginations and does not let go.
The waters are serene; the sun sparkles off ripples as Canada Geese swoop in to land. The purple-blooming moors of the hilltops descend into pine woods, the trees reaching the shoreline; the sedge beneath is dotted with pale yellow primroses in spring, mushrooms in the autumn, and fallen pine cones in winter. But no matter how peaceful Thruscross Reservoir looks, I cannot help but think about the village beneath the water. The homes, the families, the lives lived, the way of life taken by the dammed river.
Thruscross comes into its own when a storm breaks, when the open sky – undimmed by light pollution – becomes a fierce maelstrom of blinding light and thunderous resounding echoes. Then the waves of the reservoir whip up; their serenity transformed into ferocity by nature. The storm is somehow a fitting reaction to the changes mankind has made to this landscape, and the dead are angry. They want their village back. Their homes, their church, their school, their mills and their pubs.
Every so often, they get their wish. When a particularly dry summer empties the reservoir, the village resurfaces and people again walk the roads, cross the bridges and explore the ruins that were once busy with life.
During my research for The Haunting of Thores-Cross, Cursed and Jennet, I came across a lovely description of the lost village in The Yorkshire Evening Post dated April 30, 1914. It describes a village green with a post office (the postmaster also being the village cobbler), a mill pond complete with island, and the church as “one of the most beautiful little churches I have yet seen in Yorkshire.” In summing up, it describes the valley as “a standing type of Oliver Goldsmith’s ‘deserted village’, [yet] Thruscross is still one of the most beautiful villages in our renowned county.”
In the Ghosts of Thores-Cross series, I draw on the original Viking name for the village – Thor’s Cross – which evolved into the modern name of Thruscross. In time, the west end of Thruscross became a village in itself, although in true Yorkshire fashion, nobody but the people who lived there know where the boundary between Thruscross and West End lies. Now it’s lost forever.
The River Washburn flows from its source high on the Yorkshire Moors into the valley, and was dammed in the 1960s to increase the supply of drinking water to Leeds, marking the end of a village that had been in decline since the 1840s. Its main industries were initially sheep rearing and the wool trade, then cotton spinning before a move to flax production at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Three mills were kept busy, and the population soared to over 600. By 1950, most of the flax production had moved to the cities of Leeds and Bradford, and less than 100 people still lived at Thruscross.
As the cities expanded, their water supply needed to be increased. Three reservoirs had already been created in the Washburn Valley: Fewston, Swinsty and Lindley. Thruscross lies at the valley’s head above Fewston, and despite its beauty, Thruscross was next in line to be flooded. Work on the impressive Thruscross Dam began in the 1950s, and the gates were closed for the first time for a test flood in 1966, giving rise to the iconic picture of the church roof standing proud of the water.
Despite the legends of the church bell ringing whenever the water level drops, the church was demolished before the valley was flooded proper, and whilst the graves were relocated to the top of the nearby hill, the stone from the church was re-used to construct a new church at Blubberhouses, where it stands alone, overlooking the A59 to Skipton, with a narrow view of the dam. But if you stand quietly on the reservoir shore and listen hard, you may yet hear the sound of a bell tolling through time . . .
I shall never forget my first look down the 200-metre drop of the dam, nor my shock when I learned that the whole structure sways as it holds back 1,725 million gallons of water! I spent my childhood playing on, in and alongside Thruscross Reservoir, and it’s no wonder the lost village of Thruscross captured my imagination. I hope Jennet and the other ghosts of Thores-Cross capture yours.
There are three books in the Ghosts of Thores-Cross series, which are available from amazon for Kindle and in audiobook, paperback, large print and hardback.
The Haunting of Thores-Cross: A Yorkshire Ghost Story
Cursed: A Ghosts of Thores-Cross Short Story
JENNET: now she wants the children
Signed Copies are available by clicking here
Laurence A (1992), West End: A Sunken Village, Smith Settle, Otley, W Yorkshire
Reid M (2006), The Yorkshire Water Way, Vol 1, Innway Publications, Harrogate, N Yorkshire
My bow crashed into another wave, jolting my body from head to foot. I groaned, threw the tiller over and dived into the boat.
On the other side of the tack, I grabbed the hook, clipped on and jumped out on to the trapeze; tiller and mainsheet in hand. I looked behind – he was still there. I was determined to beat him to the finish.
Tack – tack – tack. Finish line in sight. I gritted my teeth and kept going. One last tack.
'Starboard!' I screamed. I had right of way and he had no choice but to duck behind my stern. I crossed the line ahead.
I swung back into the boat and unhooked; every muscle in my body was shaking. I was used to reservoir sailing; now I was on the Baltic in the strongest weather I had competed in at sea, and I was exhausted.
I looked behind, looking for more boats; there were none – I found out later that half the fleet had retired and I was the only woman to have finished the race – the last race of the 1995 European Contender Championships in Germany. I had done it; I was the ladies champion.
Admittedly, there were not many of us competing (some would say daft enough to compete); the contender is an extreme boat. A single-handed trapeze dinghy with a large sail; it’s hard work, often frustrating and very wet, but it is an exhilarating boat to sail.
I patted the deck of my boat, Ride of the Valkyrie. She was old, heavy, and slow, but she was my prized possession.
I managed to tack and head back to the sailing club, then laughed out loud – not caring about the other competitor's look of alarm. A brass band had struck up on the shore – they were playing Wagner's Ride of the Valkyrie!
I guided my own Valkyrie in between the harbour walls to the slipway and jumped out. My feet hit the bottom but my legs could not hold me. I sat down heavily in the water, letting go of Valkyrie in surprise. She drifted away.
I shouted and a handful of fellow sailors ran into the water to rescue the boat. They left me to get myself out of the brine.
I was 24 years old and am proud of my achievement. I treasure the memories, even though the repercussions of that race still shape my life over twenty years later.
I had a very painful journey home from Germany, my back and shoulders felt as if they were on fire, but I had a new job with a company of independent financial advisors waiting for me, and I had to get back quickly. I had sailed for years and was used to aches and pains, so I assumed the pain in my back and shoulders would get better in time.
I realised that I had never truly understood what the cause of the problem had been and had never resolved the original injury, just eased the symptoms. By this time I had bought my own house and lived alone, and had to find creative ways to cope – some simple; others not. For example using a plastic plates and cutlery; shampoo and conditioner in the smallest containers available; sticking acupuncture needles into myself (which I don’t recommend!) and learning Reiki to help ease the pain until I could safely take more painkillers. I learned to pick things up from the floor with my feet, and had to accept that some days getting dressed really wasn't that important. Then there was the humiliation of the raised toilet seat, and not being able to hold my sister's bridal bouquet for her at her wedding.
Leaving the house was impossible most of the time, and I kept bottled water and cereal bars upstairs for those days when I couldn’t make it down. I often went a week without seeing or speaking to anybody, and would only answer the telephone if I was sure it was my mum.
I still didn't understand what was happening. Why was I in so much pain? Why was it continuing for so many years with no let up? I continued my search for answers, both orthodox and non. In seventeen years I saw forty-two doctors and therapists, and have completed countless courses – both from home and at the local college, when able.
My search took me from herbalism to homeopathy to counselling and psychology, which I found fascinating. There was a side-effect to the counselling and psychology course, though: I had to talk and write about myself – something I had never found easy. I had always been the one to listen to others’ problems as a way of ignoring my own, but once I started, I couldn't stop.
Well into the second year of the course I picked up a pen and started writing. After ten minutes I was in too much pain to hold the pen, so I swapped to my left hand. It wasn't very legible at first, but did improve. It was like a hunger – I could not put the pen down, no matter how much pain I was in. Ten minutes rest, more painkillers, then another chapter.
I filled the first notebook in a couple of days and bought another, then another. It dawned on me that I was writing a book. I had loved books since I had learnt to read, and my earliest memories are centred around the books I had loved. It had never occurred to me that I might actually be able to write one myself, one day.
When I looked back at what I had written, I realised (with my new understanding of psychology) that the story, Dead Reckoning, was an outpouring of all the pain and frustration I had felt over the years. I hadn't written it as my story, but of pirates and battles, adventure and romance; all metaphors rooted in my life so far.
Once I completed the story, I also found some better answers. A combination of a hypnotherapist and physiotherapist found muscles in my hips had been in spasm, without release, for fifteen years. That had tilted my pelvis, putting pressure on my back muscles, and had resulted in so much extreme pain in my shoulders.
Now that I finally understand the problem, I can better understand what to do about it. Unfortunately, it has taken so long to find my answers, that my body has learned different ways of supporting my skeleton and I'm having to re-educate my muscles and nervous system; but I am managing my condition better, and flare ups – whilst still extremely painful and debilitating – are less frequent and usually pass in weeks rather than months.
Then life took another swerve. I entered Dead Reckoning into the Mslexia Novel Competition in 2011 and I was overjoyed to receive an email telling me I had been long-listed. This was the final push I needed to finish editing the book and publish it.
I realised the independent route would be the best way for me to publish yet pace my activity and manage my health, and I self-published Dead Reckoning in 2012. In 2015, I was asked to join other authors, including David Leadbeater, Steven Bannister and John Paul Davis in publishing a box set of thrillers: The Hot Box. Dead Reckoning was my contribution, and together we reached the top 50 of the UK Kindle chart, and the top of many bestseller lists on Amazon.
My new life had begun, and a future once more stretched out in front of me. A future to be filled with many more books…
The new Yorkshire Ghost Story is now available for pre-order.