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The most famous walk in Yorkshire (probably)

Walk Summary
Distance:About eight miles
Difficulty: moderate - but lots of steps up the cove 
Start/Finish: Malham
Time: 4 hours
Dogs: Lots of sheep

Malham - a circular walk

Malham Village

I've titled this as the most famous walk in Yorkshire - and while there's a few other contenders I think this one wins. I guess the other contenders would be Simon's Seat, Ilkley Moor to Dick Hudson's, The Strid, Ingleton Waterfalls, The Three Peaks and The Lyke Wake Walk. And while they're all good, none of them pack so much interesting stuff into one easy half day's walking.

Malham itself is a picture postcard village, with two pubs (both excellent), a Youth Hostel, a beck flowing down the main street and some of the best attractions in Yorkshire just round the corner. Plus it's on the Pennine Way.

But the trouble is, the place is overrun with cars. There's a fair sized car park at the entrance to the village, but it's £3.50 (2010) a day, so visitors quite naturally park anywhere else they can. Some enterprising locals use this as a fundraising opportunity, which is fair enough, but it really needs a decent sized free car park to sort the problem out. But then that would go against the global industry and the plan to get people to leave their cars at home, so it's Catch 22 really.

Malham Village

But on with the walk. Going down the main street (there is only one street really) past the Buck Inn, there's a fork in the road in front of the shop. It's signposted to the right for "Gordale" and to the left for "Malham Tarn". Our first ojective is Malham Cove and you can get there either way. You can take the right turn, then take a quick left up the side of the Youth Hostel, and walk up the path till you get there. Only thing is, that brings you out at the Cove on the wrong side of the stream. Not a problem in Summer because you can just walk across, but a bit trickier in Winter.

So erring on the side of caution, take the road signposted for "Malham Tarn". After a very short way you'll see a couple of small campsites and possibly fields opened up as temporary car parks, and then in the distance Malham Cove. The footpath starts on the left and is well signposted as "Malham Cove" and "Peregrine Viewpoint".

Malham Cove

As if Malham didn't have enough attractions. In the early 90's some Peregrines took up residence on the sheer face of the Cove, and every Spring and Summer people now flock here to spend hours peering through telescopes to marvel at them and their young.

Fortunately you don't need to be carrying several thousand pounds worth of optics to see them, as the RSPB run a viewpoint with telescopes you can use. You can check the dates and times here. And even if you're not into birds, it is quite a sight.

Following the path you can see Malham Cove in the distance - a great curved wall of Limestone in the side of the hill. Formed when a glacier melted after the last Ice Age, and the water poured over the Cove, it's now 300 feet high and very impressive.

Limestone Pavement above Malham Cove

You can wander about at the bottom of the Cove and paddle in the stream that emerges from the base of the cliff - but this isn't the source of the River Aire (that's at Airehead Springs a few miles away).

The route from here is the side of the Cove, and fortunately there's a very well cut flight of steps to take you to the top. Bit of a steep pull, but once at the top you have magnificent views, and you're able to walk about on some of the finest limestone pavements in Yorkshire. And if you're lucky you might even get to see the Peregrines at close quarters.

If you look carefully, you should be able to see some interesting ferns and orchids hiding in the Clints. In Limestone pavement terms, Clints are the slabs and Grikes are the fissures between.

Watlowes - Malham

From the top of the cove, there's an unmistakable Dry Valley called Watlowes, that runs due North towards Malham Tarn. It's a long time since I did "O" Level Geology, but briefly; after the last Ice Age a river ran down here, then the ground thawed out and the river disappeared down a sink hole leaving the valley behind. Be that as it may, walk up the valley alongside the dry stone wall running up the middle. The wall was actually the boundary between the lands of Fountains Abbey and Bolton Priory, which shows just how extensive their reach (and their wealth) was.

Towards the top of Watlowes, break off to the right following the Pennine Way sign. This takes you across a few fields and brings you out right opposite Malham Tarn. The Tarn is a small glacial lake, bleakly set right on top of Malham Moor. Beautiful it may be, but the lack of shelter makes it a bit exposed for a picnic in anything but the best weather. On a brighter note, there's sometimes an ice cream van here in Summer.

Malham Tarn

Nowadays it's owned by the National Trust, who have turned it into a wetland reserve with a bird hide, and Tarn House is now a field study centre. Probably the most famous Victorian visitor was the Rev Charles Kingsley, who made Malham part of the setting for his novel "The Water Babies". Ostensibly a children's book, it operates on quite a few levels, sort of a cross between Pilgrim's Progress and Gulliver's Travels. And very politically incorrect it is by modern standards. Definitely a recommended read.

After exploring the tarn, take the path from the main entrance gate heading South-East to the cross-roads. Go straight across and after a few hundred yards the footpath to Gordale starts on the left. Initially this is across a couple of open fields, but then the cleft in the landscape that is Gordale appears on the left. Keep your eyes peeled because this is often a better place to see the Peregrines than the Cove.

Gordale Scar

Following the footpath along, you reach a point where it starts to descend rapidly through rocks. And this is decision time. From here the path continues down, and gets steeper until you eventually have to climb down past a waterfall. If you have a dog with you, or young kids, or you're just not as fit as you once were, then forget it. Fortunately, at the start of the descent, there's a footpath leading off to the right which leads round the hill and down to the bottom of Gordale Scar.

But assuming you're fit and young, follow the path down past the upper waterfall, and climb down around the second fall. I've done this in apalling weather in the past, but I really wouldn't recommend it. If it's bad weather don't do it.

Once past the waterfall, the bottom of Gordale is as flat as a pancake and is a popular campsite in Summer. Totally basic with limited facilities, but what a place to camp!

Going through the campsite leads to Gordale Bridge, where there's usually a mobile cafe. Very welcome.

Janet's Foss

At this point the walk's nearly over, but there's one more fantastic attraction to come, and that's Janet's Foss.

From Gordale Bridge, take the footpath on the far side of the road following the beck downstream. After a very short way this comes to Janest's Foss, a lovely pool with a waterfall. Ideal for a picnic.

Foss is the Norse word for a waterfall, and if you believe the information boards there's all kinds of legends attached to this place. Be that as it may, it is undoubtedly beautiful.

And that's it. Follow the path through the woods, which becomes a wide well maintained track that leads all the way back to Malham.

Pictures From the Walk

Comments (2)
please bear in mind that limestone can be smooth and very slippery in damp conditions. Going up the path by the waterfall in Gordale is not to be recommended, and coming DOWN can be definitely dangerous.
posted by Suron 12/11/2011 12:43:47
I agree - this walk should be done the way AW Wainwright describes in his 'Walks in Limestone Country' - in reverse. That way you can assess not far off the start if you can manage the climb out of Goredale Scar. Otherwise if you leave that bit till the end, and find it's too wet, you have no option but to retrace your steps all the way back, or risk a dangerous descent.
posted by Ursula Deith 07/01/2012 10:51:17
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