WELCOME to Wrackwater Bridge, Yorkshire, home to the main characters in my series-in-progress. They don’t all start out there, but this place seems to call out to the broken-hearted.
Like every Regency-era hometown, Wrackwater Bridge contains folks of all classes: aristocrats and gentry, farmers and manufacturers, servants and shopkeepers. And like your hometown today, there are rich and poor, kind and cruel, realists and dreamers. Those who are liked by all, and those who bring nothing but trouble.
Above is the real, modern town of Ilkley, located on the River Wharfe at the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. My fictional town of Wrackwater Bridge lies not far from here and looks very much like this. The estate on the far hillside, backed up almost to the moor itself and surrounded by its park, its wood, and its tenant farms, could be home to the Earl of Ryndale, highest-ranking landholder in Wrackwater Bridge.
This is the River Wharfe upstream of Ilkley, where it runs through the village of Bolton Abbey. The Dukes of Devonshire still maintain a shooting box here – no doubt the Earl of Ryndale would have joined in the hunt (if he were real).
The Wrackwater runs north of the Wharfe and roughly parallel to it. One might mistake it for a river following heavy rains, when the moorland streams become downhill torrents, racing to swell its volume and overrun its rocky banks. In the words of Wrackwater Bridge’s unofficial historian,
“We who live near the river are familiar enough with the debris that washes down from the fells: the bracken and fern, branches and whole trees, pieces of sheds and fencing. Nor is it unusual following a storm to find drowned and battered lambs, rabbits and other livestock and wildlife washed up along the banks. Indeed, the Wrack has all too often taken human lives when in flood, for it runs swift and deep along its rocky course.”
And this is a slice of moorland on the outskirts of Ilkley. The clay that underlies the peaty soil is slow to absorb water, making the moors prone to runoff and unable to support forest or agriculture. Yet they have a barren beauty all their own, justifying their popularity with hikers… and, 200 years ago, riders. A perfect place for a troubled young man to nurse his emotional wounds and ponder his options.To scramble to the top of that rocky promontory and sit for a while, with no sound but the wind across the moor, the occasional call of a lapwing, and the keening of his own aching heart.
Melodrama? Yes, there will definitely be some of that! But while Wrackwater Bridge calls out to broken hearts, it has a way of healing them as well. My way.