My female reader of a certain age may recall the scene in the film, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991), in which Kevin Costner in the title role bathes naked under a waterfall. He is surprised by the fragrant Maid Marion, played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, and the rest is inevitable. With all due respect to Mr Costner, who I generally consider to be a fine actor (JFK is an excellent movie), for some reason that particular scene has not seared itself onto my memory – though I can remember a bit from Basic Instinct if I try really hard. Moving on, the point is that the Robin Hood scene was apparently filmed at Hardraw Force, which claims to be the highest unbroken waterfall above ground in England, with a drop of 98 feet (30 metres). The ‘above ground’ qualification is important, because there are underground waterfalls with longer drops; for example, Fell Beck falls some 315 feet (96 metres) down Gaping Gill on the side of Ingleborough.
Do not expect to see a Niagara, but Hardraw is worth a visit if you’re in the area. Plus, the experience is relatively painless, and a bit different. You can walk to Hardraw village – it can be included in several local walks and is also quite close to the Pennine Way – but you can’t actually get to Hardraw Force safely without passing through the Green Dragon pub and paying a small fee – £2 each last time I went. Now, the pub is one of those where I instinctively want to squander several hours with some beer and good company. It is old, dark, with lots of different rooms and non-mass-produced furnishings, and has managed to escape the dreadful thrust of ‘themed pubs’ – God save us! But to spend that kind of time, of course, you need to leave your car somewhere else – Hawes, perhaps, or maybe Leeds – and I’ve always been driving.
Whatever – you will need stout footwear for the short walk to Hardraw Force from t’ pub. The path is good, but can be muddy – and slippery, as you’d expect. You’ll hear the waterfall before you see it – past a campsite and bandstand, round a corner through a wood – and there it is, in a kind of natural amphitheatre, the exposed layers of rock different colours. The flow obviously varies according to recent rainfall, from a thundering torrent to a slightly worrying and embarrassing trickle. It has been, so they say, visited by other famous people in addition to me and Mr Costner. It seems that the poet Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, and the artist J MW Turner, all stayed in the “Green Dragon” (though not simultaneously). They evidently felt the same way about the pub as I do.
The name ‘Hardraw’ is said to be derived from the old English for ‘shepherd’s hut’ and ‘Force’ is the same as the Norse word foss, meaning ‘waterfall’. You’ll find the pub in the village of Hardraw on a minor road a little north of Hawes, in Yorkshire’s celebrated Wensleydale. Rumour has it they hold musical events there too – including brass band competitions. What more could you ask? Kevin might have suggested brass monkeys.
To round off, from the big screen to the small, the church of St Mary and St John in Hardraw doubled as Darrowby church in the TV series All Creatures Great and Small. Check out Hardraw Force and other places nearby in the Attraction Directory.