Gaddings dam is a disused reservoir situated high on the moors above Todmorden. It is a desolate place, continually swept by bitterly cold gale force winds even when the weather is warm and sunny down in the valley.
The climb to reach the dam is treacherous, long, and very steep. From below it doesn't look too bad but beware, that's just a foreshortening effect. A number of people have collapsed on the way up and several have found themselves hopelessly lost. In late summer and autumn, a herd of angry bulls are placed on the hillside to deter visitors.
Those few visitors that eventually reach the reservoir are faced with such a scene of utter bleakness that they usually turn and head straight back down.
The murky, stagnant water is dark and cold and the temperature never exceeds 14.0 centigrade even on the 17th June. It is very acidic (apparently good for cleaning old coins) thanks to over a century of accumulated sheep urine. Some very peculiar organisms have evolved within this isolated ecosystem to cope with these extreme conditions - which in part explains the area's SSSI status. It is probably a good idea to avoid any contact with the water.
There is a very small beach in one corner, formed from a mixture of coarse gritty sand, broken glass, and torn rusty beer cans. It is interesting to pick out the broken bone fragments from the sand and guess which are sheep and which are human. It is possible to paddle in the water but suitable heavy duty waders are recommended for protection against the corrosive water and the vicious bites from the giant waterboatmen. You may notice some dark coloured blobs in the sand - do not touch them.
In the south corner, a small green metal box may be seen. This functions as a temporary mortuary. Under no circumstances visit the south corner - unspeakable things happen there.
Amazingly though, you will sometimes see one or two idiots swimming in the dam - an act of recklessness which defies comprehension. Why anyone would want to swim in that festering, dead sheep-littered swamp is way beyond any rational understanding. Only the most insane or stupid would try it. If the icy cold water doesn't cause an immediate seizure, hypothermia will quickly set in. A well padded swimmer may survive the cold, only to be overcome by the noxious swamp gases which bubble up from the putrid depths. Those that do manage to remain in for any length of time are likely to contract one or more of a long list of horrible diseases from the exotic bacteria that lurk in the purple-green slime which coats everything. Rumour has it that people have disappeared in the water, never to be seen again. This is probably due to the powerful hidden whirlpool near the center of the reservoir.
It should be said, if you do encounter any swimmers, at all costs try to avoid them as they may be crazed by the water-borne parasites affecting their brains.
Despite the inhospitable conditions at Gaddings, there are a few very strange persons who can be seen regularly at the dam. There's a large fat bloke who wanders around with no clothes on, inviting anyone he meets to undress. Another character is recognisable because he always carries a hammer, 'just in case'. One less frequently seen, is outwardly normal in appearance (apart from a slightly oversized head). He is more often heard rather than seen - apparently his fondness for classical music explains the eerie wailing noises occasionally heard on the wind. He has been known to chase people. Occasionally, loud bangs may be heard. This is a chap with a shotgun who likes to hide in the reeds and take pot shots at the ducks. He has never been known to hit one. He is easily recognised by his jam-jar-bottom spectacles, shaven head, and combat jacket.
Needless to say, these disturbing people must be given a wide berth. To be on the safe side, avoid approaching anybody you might meet up there as it stands to reason they must be deranged in some way.
On rare occasions the incessant wind drops. When that happens, conditions become truly nightmarish. The fetid air is filled with dense swarms of insects of various kinds: many species of flies, beetles, midges, and some that have not yet been classified. They quickly home in on any and every living creature and either bite, sting, or smother their victim. Millions of fire ants take to the wing and roam in dense clouds searching for prey. By the time you see the dark cloud, it is too late. Unfortunate sheep caught in these circumstances invariably throw themselves into the water to drown.
Visitors that do manage to spend any time at the dam will be assured of a memorable experience. The lasting effects of frostbite, hypothermia, Lyme disease and various intestinal ailments will serve as an enduring reminder of their visit.
Originally built to provide water to power the mills, Gaddings fell into disuse when nobody could be persuaded to go up there and turn the water on each day. Then for a time an attempt was made to use it for witch dipping, but this failed when the witches demanded the stake instead. Its last known use was as a dump for diseased livestock.
One of the stranger and more insidious horrors of Gaddings is its addictiveness - thought to be caused by a subtle organic component of the farts of the giant long-clawed black-bellied bats (Vampyrus Gaddingsus) which emerge from the walls at dusk to prey on anyone foolish enough to still be there. They spend their days inside the walls, farting in their sleep, and one whiff of the gases which percolate up through the stones can have life changing consequences for the unfortunate minority who are susceptible.
The primary symptom is an inexplicable compulsion to return to the dam again and again and they soon develop a peculiar obsession with the terrible place. Sufferers can be seen swimming up and down alongside the walls, unconsciously driven to imbibe more of the evil gases on which they have become unwittingly dependent.
A side effect of a successful intake of bat fart is an unnatural gaiety which is often witnessed when the addicts congregate on the beach after a swim. Maniacal laughter and shouts of glee are a sure indication. Suffers are not dangerous, indeed they are very sociable and friendly for several hours after a successful hit. If approached, they will usually offer you cakes or chocolate and in extreme cases you may be hugged.
However, the long term prognosis is not good. Sufferers quickly become tormented souls, shadows of their former selves. Abandoned by employers and family, too late they discover their only satisfaction in life is to be at Gaddings.
In one sad case, a young lady was so traumatised by her addiction to Gaddings that she was driven to swim the English Channel in an attempt to expunge her torment. She almost made it too - reaching the French coast, but then changed her mind and promptly swam all the way back to Dover. Even this 65 mile 27 hour ordeal failed to cure her condition and as soon as she could walk again, she headed back north to Gaddings.
In another severe case, the sufferer - a bald skinny chap with skin burnt dark by long term exposure to the corrosive water - has taken to living in a cave in the quarry nearby and is frequently seen wandering about. He has become obsessed with measuring things (a rationalisation of his need to be at Gaddings) and often carries a ruler and a thermometer.
Many of the addicted visitors to Gaddings have got together to form self-help groups to offer mutual support in their recovery process. Some of these are listed below. Typically they are described as 'swimming' or 'triathlon' clubs in order to spare embarrassment.
Keep away: visit the maggot farm instead.
Don't swim: bathe in your neighbour's septic tank.
If you really feel the urge to go in the water and cannot afford councelling:
Don't tell anyone: you need to keep the few remaining friends you have.
Swim at night: you are less likely to be seen and laughed at.
Wear a wet suit: it makes body recovery much easier.
Swim alone: it is much easier to recover one body than two (the pieces don't have to be sorted).
Essential reading before a visit to Gaddings: