A FLOAT carrying a ten-foot replica of Verbeia, the Roman goddess of Wharfedale, will be carried through the streets of Ilkley at this year's carnival parade on May 7.

Children at Ben Rhydding Primary School will be making the float themed around Verbeia, who appears on an ancient altar stone in Ilkley holding two snakes and wearing a pleated skirt.

The 88 schoolchildren will parade with the float dressed as Roman soldiers, and local plants and animals. The animals will be both nocturnal and diurnal, including kingfishers, dragonflies, hedgehogs and bats, as well as two giant Chinese dragon-style snakes.

The goddess herself has been made with a papier mâché head set on a water-butt body and she will be dressed in clothes hung off hula-hoops.

Verbeia is known as the goddess of Wharfedale as the only discovered image of her appears in All Saints Church, which stands on the Roman fort of Olicana.

The two serpentine objects Verbeia holds are said to represent the two twisting streams flowing past the Roman fort from Ilkley Moor into the River Wharfe.

The streams can be traced back from the River Wharfe up past a mound, where they separate and flow around before converging and separating again at source - one starting at Barmishaw Wood and the other near White Wells.

There is some evidence that the mound the streams flow around may have had some ancient religious significance, as there is a boulder at the top of the mound that has been carved with cups and rings. The waterfall near White Wells has also been likened to Verbeia's skirt in the carving.

Apart from the visual similarities between the shapes and the streams, the goddess is also linked to the river by her name, Verbeia: Verbeia can be traced back to the British root verb that means to wind or turn, and the etymological roots of the word Wharfe also mean to turn.

Heather Munro, from Ben Rhydding Schools PTA said theming the float around Verbeia seemed ideal as a celebration of the local area, as not only is she closely linked to Ilkley but the route itself passes All Saints Church, down Brook Street and over the River Wharfe.

A second-century inscription has identified Verbeia by Roman soldier Clodius Fronto, which reads: "To Verbeia. Sacred. Clodius Fronto. Ded. Prefect of the Cohort, Second Lingones." The soldier was part of the Lingones division who came from Mavilly in France, and carvings of a similar snake-holding goddess have been found there.

The idea of a goddess formed by a fusion of different cultural ideas-Gallic, Celtic and Roman- also appealed to Mrs Munro, as the main reason for taking part is to get the schoolchildren more involved with the local community.

Mrs Munro said: "Everybody makes a huge effort and of course it's nice for the children to win, but for us it is all about developing their sense of community with other schools and to get them to feel part of something bigger."