THE River Tees is known for the whiffy, farty water that splurts out of springs along its banks.

Croft Spa, of course, was the best known, with its wondrous waters known to perform medical miracles from at least the 1770s. Indeed, they may well have inspired the village’s most famous resident, Lewis Carroll, to have Alice fall down a rabbit hole and discover a bottle marked “drink me” in the world’s best known childhood book.

A couple of miles east is Dinsdale Spa, where in 1789 an exploration to find coal opened up a spurt of sulphurous water, and in 1829, a magnificent hotel was built on the clifftop for the rich and the fashionable to stay in as they took the health-giving waters.

But what, asks 13-year-old James Evans of Darlington, about Gainford Spa?

It is also a plume of sulphurous water which comes gushing out of the ground beside the Tees. Like Dinsdale, it was discovered by prospectors drilling for coal, this time in 1834, and it was known as “the Borehole Well”.

In the first half of the 19th Century, the Victorians were crazy about spas. Spa was a town in Belgium famed from the 14th Century for its waters; Harrogate was the first spa in Britain in the 16th Century where travellers went to take the waters in the belief they would improve their health, but it was the Victorian era that brought an interest in holidays and tourism. Romantically rugged places like Teesdale, with their clean air and riverside walks, became fashionable, and there was a growing class of well-to-do people who could afford to indulge themselves.

And, of course, the Victorian era brought the railways.

Gainford station, on the Darlington to Barnard Castle line, opened in 1856, and brought in the vacationers. Substantial guesthouses were built on the high ground above the station for them to stay in as they took the whiffy waters.

The sulphur content of the water was said to be good for indigestion, constipation, flatulence, acidity, liver disorders and chronic skin diseases.

Medical experts may not make the same claims today, but it is still said that, when boiled, the water makes the tastiest tea.

The spa of Gainford was not as popular as those in Croft and Dinsdale. Probably the last piece of tourist infrastructure, the Spa Boarding House on the Green, closed in 1910 and the attraction fizzled out during the First World War.

The stonework around the spa, though, survived into the 20th Century, although it did attract interest from vandals. In 2000, part of it was fished out of the Tees by divers, and in 2002, with the help of proud villagers, the spout was remade.

It is on a pretty riverbank walk several hundred metres outside the village – if you can’t make it, go to YouTube and search for “Tees Cottage Guy”, where young James has filmed his recent visit.

James also visits Gainford’s holy well beneath St Mary’s Church. In times past, a spring or well that never dried up and so provided a continual source of life’s essential water was regarded as holy. This one is dedicated to St Mary and flows into a stone trough before entering the river.

It comes out of the church wall and is believed to have once been used to baptise Gainfordians.