River Ribble
River Ribble at Preston
Physical characteristics
 • locationConfluence of Gayle Beck and Cam Beck, Selside, Ribblehead
 • elevation807 ft (246 m)
 • location
Irish Sea at Lytham
Length75 mi (121 km)
Basin features
ConservationRibble Rivers Trust

The River Ribble runs through North Yorkshire and Lancashire in Northern England. It starts close to the Ribblehead Viaduct in North Yorkshire, and is one of the few that start in the Yorkshire Dales and flow westwards towards the Irish Sea (the Dee in Dentdale and the Twiss in Kingsdale being notable others).


The name Ribble may be a Brittonic compound-formation.[1] The second element is the noun *pol, with connotations including "puddle, pond, upland-stream" (Welsh pwll).[1] The first is rö-, an intensive prefix, with nouns meaning "great" (Welsh rhy-, Cornish re-).[1]

Ribble may once have been known as *Bremetonā-, underlying the name Bremetenacum, the Roman fort at Ribchester.[1] Involved here is the Brittonic root *breμ–, meaning "roaring" (c.f. Welsh brefu),[1] as observed at the river-names Breamish in Northumberland,[1] Braan in Scotland and Brefi in Wales.[1]


Neolithic to Saxon finds from along the River Ribble during the creation of the Preston Docks and others revealed man has been in the area for a long time. The River Ribble looked completely different then and the coastline is likely to have been much further inland than it is at present where land has been reclaimed and the marsh extended out into the River Ribble due to sedimentation.

The Ribble would appear to have been known in Roman times as the Belisama,[2] possibly giving its name to Samlesbury. Ptolemy's "Belisama aest." seems to represent the estuary of the Ribble. Bremetennacum was a Roman fort that guarded a crossing-point of the river at Ribchester. Remains of another Roman site were discovered at Walton-le-Dale in the mid-19th century.

The medieval silver Mitton Hoard was found near where this river joins the River Hodder in 2009.[3] Whilst the Cuerdale Hoard, the largest Viking silver hoard ever found outside Russia was discovered in 1840 on the southern bank of a bend of the river, at Cuerdale near Preston.

At one time the Ribble marked the northernmost extent of the ancient kingdom of Mercia.[4] At the time of the Domesday Book, the river formed the northern boundary of an area of land (known as Inter Ripam et Mersam) that was included in the Domesday information for Cheshire,[5] though it was probably not formally part of the county of Cheshire.[6][7][8]

After his defeat in the Battle of Hexham in 1464 (during the Wars of the Roses), King Henry VI went into hiding at a number of houses belonging to his supporters. A little over a year later he was at Waddington Hall in Waddington. On 13 July 1465, a group of Yorkists, including the property-owner's brother, arrived at the hall to arrest him. Escaping into nearby woods, Henry was captured soon after crossing the river at the old stepping stones at Brungerley.[9]


Ribble estuary

The Ribble begins at the confluence of the Gayle Beck and Batty Wife Beck near the viaduct at Ribblehead, in the shadow of the Yorkshire three peaks. It is the only major river rising in Yorkshire which flows westward.[10] It flows through Settle, Clitheroe, Ribchester and Preston, before emptying into the Irish Sea between Lytham St. Annes and Southport, a length of 75 miles (121 km).[11] Its main tributaries are the Hodder and Calder which join the river near Great Mitton, the River Darwen which joins at Walton-le-Dale and the River Douglas which joins near Hesketh Bank.

Above Hellifield the valley of the river is known as Ribblesdale.

The Ribble Way is a long-distance footpath which follows the river for much of its course. The river is connected to both the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and the Lancaster Canal (via the Ribble Link). The river downstream of Preston was actively dredged when Preston was an active port; this is no longer done and silt from the river is now spreading more widely over the (sand) beaches around Fairhaven and St. Annes.

Its 10-mile-wide (16 km) estuary forms part of the Ribble and Alt Estuaries Special Protection Area for wildlife. An average of 340,000 water birds over-winter in the estuary making it the most important wetland site in Britain. The Ribble is also a key breeding ground for the endangered Atlantic salmon.[4]

1.25 million people live in the Ribble's catchment area.[4]

The Normal Tidal Limit (NTL) of the river is at Fishwick Bottoms, between Preston and Walton-le-Dale, 11 miles (18 km) from the sea.[4]

The River Ribble has the third-largest tides in England, with tides that run at 4 knots (5 mph; 7 km/h) and a tidal range at the mouth of the river of 30 feet (9 m) during spring tides. Since River Ribble dredging ceased, the estuary is filling up with sand and is developing a meandering path, depending on the tides and river runoff. In addition, many tributaries flow into the main channel including the Savick Brook/Ribble Link, while the River Douglas, has a significant influence both on sediment transport and hydrodynamics of the estuary.[12]


There was a bridge at Edisford, Clitheroe in 1339. The age of the present sandstone bridge is not known, but parts contain features indicating they may date to the late medieval period.[13] The current Ribchester Bridge dates from 1774. It replaced one built in 1669, which also had a predecessor of unknown age.[14]

Evidence of a bridge between Preston and Walton-le-Dale occurs in a deed in the early 13th century. A stone bridge was built in the early 1400s, possibly just west of the present Walton Bridge which was completed in 1781. Until 1755 this was the only bridge over the Ribble at Preston.[15] The original attempt to build a bridge directly to Penwortham was completed in 1755, only to collapse the following year. The Penwortham Old Bridge opened in 1759 to replace it.[16] In 1802 the Lancaster Canal Company completed a timber trestle bridge to facilitate a temporary tramroad to connect the two isolated sections of the canal. The missing section was never completed and, although heavily modified, the disused Old Tramroad Bridge still stands today.[17]

Estuary crossing proposals

A Ribble estuary fixed crossing has been proposed on several occasions, to provide a quicker route between the seaside resorts of Southport and Blackpool. Two routes for a tramroad were proposed; the first in 1899 outlined a route between Crossens and Lytham, then between 1900–06 as a route from Crossens to Warton via Hesketh Bank.[18] A railway tunnel was proposed in 1907, between Hesketh Bank and Warton.[19] A bridge was proposed between 1938 and 1947.[20] A road link was campaigned for in 2007, envisaging a development similar to the Rance Tidal Power Station in Brittany.[21] In 2011, an April fools' joke suggested a 9-mile-long (14 km) road tunnel from Marshside to Lytham St Annes.[22]


The River Ribble catchment is covered by the Ribble Rivers Trust, a UK based charity working to improve, protect and promote the River Ribble for both people and wildlife. The Ribble Estuary is an Internationally important Ramsar Wetland site,[23] a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the Joint Nature Conservation Committee,[24] a Marine Conservation Zone up to Samlesbury,[25][26][27] Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI),[28] a National Nature Reserve,[29][27] and is under development as a Coast & Wetlands Regional Park.[30]

Preston City Council published plans to build a barrage across the River Ribble, in their 'Riverworks' proposals (2006).[31] The aim of these proposals was to build a barrage and a water sports park on a section of the Ribble, coupled with over 4,000 units of housing and businesses in the river's flood plain. Some local residents opposed these plans, arguing that they endanger wildlife, increase flood risk to local housing and damage greenbelt areas. These residents set up the Save The Ribble campaign, and their two-year information campaign successfully overturned Preston City Council's proposals, and South Ribble Borough Council announced the alternative creation of a Country Park. Parts of the river are a County Biological Heritage Site.


North Yorkshire


Main tributaries

Further information: List of tributaries of the River Ribble

A tidal bore wave moves along the River Ribble between the entrance to the river Douglas and Preston.
Tidal bore on the Ribble, between the River Douglas and Preston


The River Ribble gives its name to the local government boroughs of Ribble Valley and South Ribble, and the Ribble Valley parliamentary constituency. The Ribble Bus Company once operated throughout North West England. The Ribble also lends its name to the Ribble Steam Railway.[citation needed]

See also



  1. ^ a b c d e f g James, Alan. "A Guide to the Place-Name Evidence" (PDF). SPNS – The Brittonic Language in the Old North. Retrieved 13 October 2019.
  2. ^ Hutton, p. 218
  3. ^ Coin hoard BM-193206, Finds.org.uk, Retrieved 16 September 2015
  4. ^ a b c d "River Ribble Factsheet (pdf file)" (PDF). Mersey Basin Campaign Official Website. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  5. ^ Morgan (1978); pp. 269c–301c,d.
  6. ^ Harris and Thacker (1987). write on page 252:

    Certainly there were links between Cheshire and south Lancashire before 1000, when Wulfric Spot held lands in both territories. Wulfric's estates remained grouped together after his death, when they were left to his brother Aelfhelm, and indeed there still seems to have been some kind of connexion in 1086, when south Lancashire was surveyed together with Cheshire by the Domesday commissioners. Nevertheless, the two territories do seem to have been distinguished from one another in some way and it is not certain that the shire-moot and the reeves referred to in the south Lancashire section of Domesday were the Cheshire ones.

  7. ^ Phillips and Phillips (2002). pp. 26–31.
  8. ^ Crosby, A. (1996). writes on page 31:

    The Domesday Survey (1086) included south Lancashire with Cheshire for convenience, but the Mersey, the name of which means 'boundary river' is known to have divided the kingdoms of Northumbria and Mercia and there is no doubt that this was the real boundary.

  9. ^ Abram, William Alexander (1877). Parish of Blackburn, County of Lancaster: A History of Blackburn, Town and Parish. Blackburn: J. G. & J. Toulmin. p. 57. Retrieved 3 October 2021.
  10. ^ Chrystal, Paul (2017). The place names of Yorkshire; cities, towns, rivers and dales. Catrine: Stenlake. p. 104. ISBN 9781840337532.
  11. ^ Clayton, Phil (2012). Headwaters: Walking to British River Sources (First ed.). London: Frances Lincoln Limited. p. 157. ISBN 9780711233638.
  12. ^ "A Vertically Resolving Model Of Sediment And Radionuclide Transport For The Ribble Estuary". 18 October 2007. Archived from the original on 18 October 2007. Retrieved 2 April 2018.((cite web)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  13. ^ Historic England. "Edisford Bridge (44715)". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 2 October 2021.
  14. ^ Historic England. "Monument No. 43617". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 2 October 2021.
  15. ^ Historic England. "Monument No. 42467". Research records (formerly PastScape). Retrieved 25 October 2021.
  16. ^ Historic England. "Old Penwortham Bridge (1279848)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 25 October 2021.
  17. ^ Faulkner, Paul (21 February 2021). "REVEALED: The cost of replacing Preston's old tram bridge – and why there is no sign of it happening". Lancashire Evening Post. JPIMedia Publishing Ltd. Retrieved 2 October 2021.
  18. ^ Naylor, Callum (4 August 2020). "Plans For Cross Ribble Links From Lytham To Southport (Pity They Are More Than A Century Old!)". Lythamstannes.news. Retrieved 18 March 2021.
  19. ^ "Ribble Tunnel Scheme 1907". Lytham Times. 22 March 1907. Retrieved 18 March 2021.
  20. ^ "Proposed bridge over River Ribble estuary (including other schemes for crossing river)". The National Archives. Retrieved 19 March 2021.
  21. ^ Gee, Chris (5 July 2007). "A bridge too far for Lytham link". The Westmoreland Gazette. Retrieved 18 March 2021.
  22. ^ Sinister, David (1 April 2011). "Exclusive: Report recommends Ribble tunnel to link Southport and Blackpool". Champion. Archived from the original on 28 August 2016. Retrieved 18 March 2021.
  23. ^ "Ribble & Alt Estuaries | Ramsar Sites Information Service". rsis.ramsar.org. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  24. ^ "List of UK SPAs". jncc.gov.uk. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  25. ^ "Marine Conservation Zones: Ribble Estuary". GOV.UK. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  26. ^ "Ribble Estuary". Living Seas North West. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  27. ^ a b "Biodiversity in South Ribble". South Ribble Borough Council. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  28. ^ "Ribble Estuary SSSI / Ribble & Alt SPA Intertidal sediments condition monitoring – IPENS022". Natural England – Access to Evidence. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  29. ^ "The Ribble Estuary National Nature Reserve Conservation". The RSPB. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  30. ^ "Welcome to the Ribble Coast and Wetlands". Ribble Coast and Wetlands. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  31. ^ Carter, Helen (6 December 2006). "Ripples of discontent on the Ribble". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 May 2023.


Further reading

53°45′N 2°46′W / 53.750°N 2.767°W / 53.750; -2.767