Caught by the River

The River Ure

David Stead | 29th March 2016

The Ouse At Nun MonktonRiver Ouse at Nun Monkton’ Oil on canvas 100cm x 100cm

Words and picture by David Stead.

I suppose it’s true that on this journey down the Ure I’ve avoided the messy issue of its name change, and indeed the area where the change occurs… see, for no apparent reason the river Ure changes its name to the river Ouse, and where it does this ‘one minute I’m doctor Jeckyl, the next I’m Mr Hyde’ trick was also something of a mystery. I’d asked quite a few people along the river bank and you’d expect, would you not, that people who know and love the river, would love and know the river, but I’d drawn a blank so I’d no option but to search for it myself. Well, it took a while – zipping along country lanes, asking directions, turning round in farmyards, plodding along farm tracks and across muddy fields and when eventually I found it, it seemed to throw up more questions than answers: on the bank of a perfectly straight stretch of deep, slow moving river stood a two armed finger post……or is it two fingered? Anyway, the southward pointing arm was carved with the single word ‘Ouse’ and the Northward, ‘Ure’……all very well, but why? Had someone simple got bored with the name and thought, sod it we’ll call it something else – the river Bacon say, or the Overcoat? There appeared to be no clues in the vicinity, only cows and they were mute on the subject, so I clod-hopped back to the car collecting so much oomskah on my shoes I could start my own arable farm and drove around some more in the hope of inspiration. Eventually the drive took me to a brace of very agreeable villages called Great & Little Ouseburn and there I thought (for I have a razor sharp mind), was a clue. Standing between the villages is a very smart, three arched, brick built bridge over a tiny stream, and the stream, I’m told by a local farmer, is called Ouse Gill Beck. At the delightfully named Cuddy Shaw Reach, hidden by trees and undergrowth, the beck flows into the Ure opposite the finger post I’d seen earlier but why would a river already 74 miles long and in opulent maturity, change its name to that of a mere runnel?

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:

It has been suggested that the Ouse was once known as the ‘Ure’, but there seems to be no supporting evidence for this claim. The suggestion that the name derives from the Celtic name of the Ure, assumed to be Isurā from the Roman name for Aldborough and over time evolved into Isis and finally the Saxon Ouse, would go some way to explaining how the little tributary Ouse Gill Beck usurps the name of the much larger river Ure. However the form Ouse is little changed from the eighth century.

Well that’s about as clear as the river after heavy rain. For the time-being I have given up hope of finding a definitive answer to this vexing conundrum (unless anyone out there can supply the answer?) and the River Ure Project continues its stately progress, only now, much of it is on the river Ouse (except when it’s on the Humber of course!).

The River Ure archive

David is a professional artist working largely in the north of England, Scotland & Ireland. He is currently working on the ‘River Ure Project, an artist’s exploration of the river in words and pictures’ and ‘London Waterways’ focussing on the area around Regent’s canal and the river Lea.