The Pennine Watershed


The Parish Council would like to make people aware that the Pennine Watershed runs through Foulridge, and wishes to erect a plaque on the A56 main road at the appropriate location. Cllr. Graham Cannon has embraced this project, and defines the watershed below:

Foulridge watershed UK
Plan of the national watershed as it passes through Foulridge (no pun intended!) – Click for full image.

The true meaning of the word watershed has nothing to do with swearing and what children might watch on television, and literally means how the water will flow or ëshedí when it lands on the top of a hillside or ridge.

The Pennine Watershed is a line running north-south along the crest of the Pennine Chain and indicates the boundary where rivers flow to the east (North Sea), or to the west (Irish Sea).  The Pennine Watershed leaves the Midland Plain around the Stoke-on-Trent area and rises up to the high ground near Buxton.  From then on, it follows the moors along the crest of the Pennines for about 70 miles, keeping at a high level of over 1,000 ft, just occasionally dropping down into steep sided valleys, like the Cliviger Gorge, before rising back up to high moorland.

However, as the watershed approaches Foulridge, everything changes.  Here, the watershed turns west, drops down from the high moors, and comes right down into the village, the first built-up area in all that distance.  It crosses the main Skipton road (slightly to the north of the church), roughly follows Alma Avenue and the road up to Hill Top, and goes round the back of Whitemoor Reservoir before reaching Weets Hill.  It then runs back down into Barnoldswick and wanders through West Marton and Hellifield before rising up again on to the high moors between Settle and Malham, then continues on a predictable, north-south, high-level route between the rivers of the Lune and the Eden to the west, and the Tees and the Tyne to the east, all the way up to the Scottish border and beyond.

The reason for this anomaly in the Foulridge area is our glacial history.  In the last ice age, finishing about 12,000 years ago, there were massive glaciers (or ice sheets) on both sides of the Pennines, and in most areas the tops of the Pennines (above about 1,000 ft) projected above the ice as frozen tops, something like the pictures we see in Greenland and Antarctica today.

But in our area, the ice swept southwards from the Lake District and cut through the Pennines in the Skipton area to join up with the ice on the eastern side.  When the ice retreated, in effect it left a gap in the Pennines (the Aire Gap) rather than a ridge as over much of the rest of the Pennines.

This results in some unusual anomalies: Foulridge is supplied with water by United Utilities because it is situated in Lancashire.  However, most of its sewage is treated by Foulridge Sewage Works (which is run by Yorkshire Water) because eventually it reaches the North Sea.  Some people (a little less polite than I) might argue that that is all that Yorkshire is fit for.

So, water the flowers in St. Michael’s Churchyard and the water will end up at St. Anne’s –  spill your pint outside the Hare and Hounds 200 yards away, and it will flow under the Humber Bridge.