The Devil’s Kettle and the Deadly Strid

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPseudo-scientific flights of fancy were dime a dozen back in the 18th and 19th centuries, from mesmerism to phrenology. Most of them have gone the way of the dodo but one of the most enduring is the notion that there are vast, perhaps even habitable, spaces beneath the earth’s crust where all sorts of wonders await, otherwise known as the Hollow Earth Theory. This isn’t the place to explore the long and colorful history of this idea (for those interested, I recommend Walter Kafton-Minkel’s book Subterranean Worlds, or this quick summation by Peter Fitting), but suffice it to say that it hasn’t only been the provenance of crackpots–Edmund Halley of comet fame, for example, was one early proponent. It certainly doesn’t help that there remain a vast number of deep dark mysterious holes in this world, places where no man or woman has yet gone or at least not gone and come back to tell the tale. Two of the most frightening and fascinating are The Devil’s Kettle and the Bolton Strid.

The first is found in Minnesota, about a mile and half north of Lake Superior. There, within the otherwise benevolent boundaries of Judge C. R. Magney State Park, a jutting rock outcrop splits the Brule River into two roughly equal size cataracts. One continues normally, down a series of additional waterfalls, but the other drops straight into a hole in the earth with no known exit. A truly staggering amount of water pours into this hole every second of every day and it never ever fills up. Geologists and amateur glory seekers have been trying for decades to figure out where all this water goes–using everything from dye to pingpong balls–but so far no one has succeeded. If you’re wondering why someone doesn’t just go in there and have a look-see, this video might help explain.

If you think that’s scary, just wait until your hear about the Bolton Strid. This legendary waterway in Yorkshire, England is considered one of the world’s most dangerous. In fact, it supposedly boasts a 100% mortality rate–which is to say no one who has fallen or gone swimming in it has ever survived. Upstream, the Strid (the name derives from Anglo Saxon word ‘Stryth’ meaning turmoil or tumult) is fed by the River Wharfe, a wide and relatively shallow body of water but within a few miles the geological foundations of the Wharfe flip ninety degrees onto their sides and it becomes a narrow stream of Stygian depths, with a vicious undercurrent and countless hidden chasms and snags. And just like the Devil’s Kettle nobody has any idea where those underwater death pits lead–more often than not, the bodies of its victims are never found. Signs are everywhere warning hikers of the dangers, but drownings and disappearances continue to be a sadly common occurrence, largely due to the fact that jumping the Strid remains a popular dare. This inadvisable tradition evidently goes back quite a ways; William Wordsworth even penned a morbid poem about it in 1888, a section of which goes:

Young Romilly through Barden woods
Is ranging high and low;
And holds a greyhound in a leash,
To let slip upon buck or doe.

The pair have reached that fearful chasm,
How tempting to bestride!
For lordly Wharf is there pent in
With rocks on either side.

This striding-place is called THE STRID,
A name which it took of yore:
A thousand years hath it borne that name,
And shall a thousand more.

And hither is young Romilly come,
And what may now forbid
That he, perhaps for the hundredth time,
Shall bound across THE STRID?

He sprang in glee,–for what cared he
That the river was strong, and the rocks were steep?
But the greyhound in the leash hung back,
And checked him in his leap.

The Boy is in the arms of Wharf,
And strangled by a merciless force;
For never more was young Romilly seen
Till he rose a lifeless corpse.

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