Sorting through some old photographs from my Wetland Project Officer days I found some awesome shots of a bitingly cold, snowy, winter morning when I stopped off near Folkton Bridge, (over the Hertford River) to snap these atmospheric pictures.
The Hertford River was straightened or ‘canalised’ in 1801 after an Act of Parliament was passed to drain the low grounds of the eastern Vale of Pickering. (The Muston and Yedingham Drainage Act of 1800.) Local historians tell us that the channel was hand-dug and the work was done by prisoners-of-war from the Napoleonic Wars, between Britain and France.
A local farmer whose family have lived here for generations, told me once of the small round artefacts they used to find on the banks – which they believe to be musket-balls. Perhaps these conscripted ‘navvies’ were watched over by armed soldiers, who may have dropped the odd bit of ammunition or, who knows, fired a warning shot to ‘encourage’ the workers in their toils!
The Hertford is in some ways a river whose course was straightened but more accurately a new, direct line was cut and the old river diverted along it. The watercourse we see today is still referred to on some maps and in conversation with locals as the ‘New Cut’ or simply ‘The Cut’. Remnants of the original course of the Hertford are given away on Ordnance Survey maps by the wiggly, apparently illogical boundary between the parishes of Cayton and Folkton. Some of these are still used as drainage ditches between the fields, carrying a shallow flow of water and perhaps with more diverse aquatic flora.
On the OS map (the 1:25000 scale) there is a dotted Parish boundary which follows a meandering blue line of a drainage ditch. Farmers did not dig wiggly drains separating the fields, but if they were already there, would likely maintain them periodically. This is the clue that they mark older, natural watercourses.
Incidentally land drainage is a complex beast, not always as simple as it appears to the layperson. I certainly learned a lot in my time as Project Officer. You can read more about Land Drainage elsewhere on the site.) Notice that the Hertford, flowing east to west appears not as one but three parallel blue lines. The central one is the Hertford Cut itself, the substantial channel in my first and second photos. Either side are counter drains called the North Delph and South Delph. It’s all about gradients. Rivers are not flat, they flow gently downhill.
Field drains – the ditches flowing out between fields, empty into the counter drain, then flow parallel for maybe several hundred metres until a culvert links it to the main river. If the field drain emptied directly into the river, then being more subject to rise and fall, river levels would often be higher and cause water to ‘back up’ in the field drain, thus impeding the flow and consequently the drainage of the field. By carrying the water a little further downstream the natural gradient of the river can accommodate the outflow from the land. It’s rather neat really. Even if it messes with my head sometimes trying it understand it.