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Yorkshire Dales Itinerary: Malhamdale

Created in 1954, the Yorkshire Dales is one of Great Britain’s most beautiful National parks. Comprised of a number of ‘dales’ including Ribblesdale, Malhamdale and Airedale, Wharfedale and Nidderdale, this area of Britain is definitely one worth visiting. Starting from the south in Malham, we spent a week circling the Yorkshire Dales and I promise this is a trip worth taking.

Google maps image showing the route from Malham to Grassington, via Hawes and Middleham.
Thanks to Google Maps

Seeing Malham confirmed all the comments I had read. Bryson said that Malhamdale might be the finest place in the world and it is obvious understand why. Fields were full of cars as we made the descent into the emerald green village, a clear sign that it is a popular place on a sunny afternoon. Old fashioned stone houses welcomed us just as I noticed the beck to the right of the road. A stone bridge forms a picturesque crossing point, and from April, is decorated with clusters of flowers. Towards the northern end of the village was our destination, The Lister Arms public house, and their annex B&B The Lister Barn, separated by a small forest walk. With the windows wound down, we could already hear the shrill sounds of the crows and cockerels that nested by pub, and I suddenly felt the adrenaline rush of the exploration. It was a glorious, warm day, and I just wanted to dump our things and explore.

The Lister Barn, where we spent the night, is a rustic gem. On entering the barn, you are met with a light and airy communal area. At the far end is a wood burner, which undoubtedly makes the room very toasty, leading onto a terrace. Beside the wood burner were a collection of family board games, which I thought was a wonderful, homely touch. A hotel employee showed us to our room, on the upper floor. The room itself was incredible: I had booked The Lister Barn based on photos alone and ignored the fact that it was not the number 1 hotel in Malham and was a whole £30 more expensive than any of the other local rooms. Although small, it was superbly decorated and the collection of ‘minor touches’ made it feel as though it could be my own bedroom! Hanging on a rail were two extraordinarily soft dressing gowns and a bag containing eye masks and ear plugs. Dan was most excited by the skylight: a complete novelty and unfortunately totally underused by us, just like the torch that was generously left in a drawer to use when finding our way back from the pub itself at night. It gets very dark. There are no street lights in the countryside.

Our first walk was northwards towards Malham Cove, then to Gordale Scar, through Janet’s Foss, and back to The Lister Barn. Beginning at 2pm, we headed up the road (on the right hand side to face oncoming traffic) and went through the gate towards the 12,000 year old cove. That is when it hits you. Standing at 260ft, the sheer scale of the white, grey cove seems to be enormous, even when you are a good 50 metres away, plodding alongside grazing cows. Although excited to be in such close proximity to cattle, I was desperate to see a peregrine falcon: they are well known to nest at the top of the cove. The waterfall was not flowing on the day we arrived, but in its place were a number of climbers attempting to scale the daunting rock face.

Malham Cove in the centre of the image, with Malham Beck flowing from it.

Instead of taking the path like sensible people, Dan and I decided to climb partway up the western side of the cove, in line with the base of the climbers, and some 40 feet in the air. My nerves started to kick in, and I suddenly became thankful for dishing out £30 on a pair of climbing boots at Sports Direct the week earlier. We re-joined the rest of the walkers after I used at least seven trees for stability (breaking the branches of one) and continued our ascent to the top of the cove, dodging the hundred dogs that eagerly raced around us.

We knew of Malham Cove from a scene in the seventh Harry Potter film, but I didn’t really know what to expect. The only thing I could think to seriously compare it to is skin. The grey, cracked limestone seems uncannily human-like, if you were to observe the lines and wrinkles on the skin of your knuckles, perhaps. And this seems to be decoration on the top of a cliff, like dried icing on a cake. Some of the rocks wobbled as I stood on them, and I refused to allow Dan to stand too close to the edge, even though he is a grown man, and I wondered just how many people manage to injure themselves. The views across the village were some of the most beautiful I had ever seen. The blue body of water weaves its way through fields and forests, the bright blades of grass complement it perfectly. Crows call to one another as they soar along the edge of the cove. And although I looked desperately, I didn’t see any peregrines: perhaps they were busy nesting.

View from the top of Malham Cove: the ground is formed of large grey rocks.

As the wind picked up and the temperature dropped, we made our way to the eastern side of the cove and started our descent to Gordale Scar. To reach it, we had to ramble through a number of fields, climbing wooden structures, crossing roads and watching for cow dung. I thought, instead of a pair of black leggings and walking boots, I should be wearing an ankle length, woollen, plaid dress and a bonnet. A sense of nostalgia for something I had never experienced washed over me and I savoured it.

A ladder stile leaning against a stone wall in between two green fields.

The journey to Gordale Scar took us about 40 minutes of meandering through hills and valleys, passing fields of sheep. One ram had managed to escape and we found him lost in a valley – the first of many we would encounter in the Yorkshire Dales!

On reaching the Gordale Scar campsite, we followed Gordale Beck on our left side towards the Scar. The sound of crashing water became louder as we approached, but the scar is hidden behind a wall of rock on the right. At the end of the path, the temperature drops a few degrees and I had to put my jacket back on, while I looked in horror at the family climbing in the waterfall itself.

Large dark grey rocks on either side of a three tiered waterfall.
Gordale Scar

Sandwiched between a visit to Malham Cove and Janet’s Foss, for me, Gordale Scar was somewhat forgettable, because as we descended the steps towards Janet’s Foss, I thought I could be walking into Shakespeare’s enchanted forest of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Janet's Foss - a small waterfall leading to a deep pool of water, surrounded by trees.
Janet’s Foss

By the pool and waterfall, the scent of wild garlic is just noticeable, but also surprisingly pleasant. In contrast to the cold, biting waters of Gordale Scar, Janet’s Foss seems to subvert nature – suddenly, in the middle of a forest, it was hot, and all I wanted to do was jump in the pool to refresh. Legend has it, a fairy queen lived near the foss, which certainly explains the mystical atmosphere surrounding the area.

A small river surrounded on either side by high banks and trees, with a log joining each side.
Gordale Beck from Janet’s Foss

Then, we continued along Gordale Beck, back towards Malham, listening to the rush of water beside us and the zealous chirp of birds, smelling the wild garlic wafting on the breeze, destined for dinner in the Lister Arms, surrounded by locals and their dogs, then bed!

A rustic style hotel room with a double bed in the centre, covered with a blue tartan pattered blanket. On the bed are two rolled white towels and the key.
Our room in The Lister Barn

Next stop: Ingleton – Mountains and more waterfalls!

Disclaimer: We actually visited Malham in the spring and the remaining locations in the Yorkshire Dales in the summer, but it would have been the logical beginning to a trip round the Dales, had we not already been!

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