Aquatic booms in West Yorkshire

Benjamin Myers moved to the Calder Valley a decade ago. His adventures over its land and in its waters are collected in Under the Rock: Stories Carved from the Land. Here we publish an extract in which Benjamin captures the multi-sensory nature of immersion in waters still and falling.

With each day the tone and hue of the waterfall alter.  In mid-September, after another prolonged downpour, it is roaring, and from a distance the central flow of fluted water appears as solid as a gleaming marble Ionic column, the spiralling, spitting aquatic scrolls of its capital flowering out over the circling pool below. Yet when experienced close up it is in fact a shower of deep amber jewels, thunderously strewn.

I am careful as I push out off the rock and swim towards the centre of the pool alone, passing through a swirl of twigs and leaves and into the turbid froth at the foot of the falls.

I position myself on the usual stone shelf for a shoulder massage but the heavy water has other ideas and dispenses me quickly with a flurry of smacks about the head, throwing me back into the pool, punch-drunk and reeling, and laughing too.

Like a journeyman pugilist that won’t be put down, though, I come back at it, but this time box-clever as I circle around the waterfall and take the side entrance, slotting into the small space behind the main unbroken gush of pure water and the concave of the back-rock that has been hollowed away.

Janet's Foss

This drone can only have been created by a specific amount of water falling at a certain amount of litres per second, and created in this very cavity, at this very moment. Caught between waterfall and crag, I feel the sound run through me. I am its instrument, its conduit.

Here I crouch like a troll behind the falling veil, once again between stone and water, concealed from the world. Only as I catch my breath back from the stun-gun immediacy of the cold do I notice a strange and foreboding sound, a drone, deep, wide and sonorous. It is a dank hum, a stone-chant, a hypnotic bombination. It is a deep bass vibration that I find myself sitting within.

This drone can only have been created by a specific amount of water falling at a certain amount of litres per second, and created in this very cavity, at this very moment. Caught between waterfall and crag, I feel the sound run through me. I am its instrument, its conduit. The drone is in my bones as it emits a note quite unlike any other. I have discovered a new note. A new sound.

The boom in my blood and organs now, I do not move. There is a sense of dramatic foreboding to its timbre but it is compelling too, and reaches back to something embedded in a subconscious past when our forefathers might have cowered naked and afraid in such caves or hollows, hiding from the peals of thunder as they churned over the moors, the taut air around them crackling, malevolent and prognostic.

I stay in this space and am lost in the drone for some time. Its pitch does not falter, but when my skin is dimpled and I am beginning to shake beyond control I push out into the pool again, straight into the churning centre, tumbling in the barrage of its chorus of detonation.

Another baptism, full immersion.

  • Under the Rock is published in paperback this week by Elliot & Thompson