The Vale of Pickering is a place of many watercourses. Some are ‘proper’ rivers, in name and in appearance – all wiggly meanders, pools and riffles, natural banks. Others rather blur the distinction between a river and a drainage channel.
A cursory glance at a map will reveal there are many alternative names for watercourses and drainage ditches in the vale, including becks, dykes, cuts, drains and delphs.
In Yorkshire a beck is another name for a river or stream and many of the settlements peripheral to the Vale of Pickering have their own beck, indeed it may have played a defining role in the formation of settlements in ancient times.
In the Vale of Pickering I would suggest that a watercourse named a beck is likely to be a natural one. In contrast a cut, dike/dyke, drain or delph indicates a man-made channel, perhaps hundreds of years old but engineered to move water efficiently away from the land around it. The history and evolution of land drainage makes a fascinating subject – certainly I’ve had many revelations and surprises as I learnt about the carrs.
Some artificial drainage channels carry significant flows. The larger ones, which one might call ‘arterial drains’ are important for conveying water away from the fields. Even a small blockage or impediment causing water to back up a few inches can push water tables up in the middle of fields and result in surface flooding. This presents problems for harvesting or other agricultural operations. It is no accident that Internal Drainage Boards are funded by drainage levies from the landowners in their catchment.
Conversely it means that by controlling water levels in drainage ditches, one can deliberately cause splashy flooding on the land where it may benefit wetland species, such as breeding waders. There are some information on the practical methods for doing this on the Resources page.
Further info on the mechanics of land drainage and its history locally can be found on the land drainage page.
How well do you know the rivers in the Vale of Pickering? Here are a few examples:
‘Rivers’ – River Hertford, River Derwent, River Rye, River Seven, River Dove, River Riccal.
‘Becks’ – Pickering Beck, Costa Beck, Thornton Beck, Scampston Beck, Rillington Beck, Wintringham Beck, Holbeck, Hodgebeck, Brompton Beck, Ruston Beck, Beedale Beck, Weldale Beck, Cripple Beck, Difford Beck, Ellis Beck, Marrs Beck.
‘Drainage ditches’ – Loder’s Carr Drain, Pry End Drain, Black Dike, New Dike, Double Dikes, Red Bridge Sewer, Sherburn Cut, Twelve Foot Cut, South Delph.
I suspect that whilst many people are aware that the Vale of Pickering is a floodplain, few are aware just how many watercourses there are, natural and made by human hand.