I first visited Malham in the mid-1970s on a geography field trip with colleagues and pupils from the school I then worked at. As we approached the village on the coach I could not believe my eyes. Beyond it were the most spectacular geological features I had ever seen – the magnificent dry waterfall of the Cove and across to its right the deep cleft that was the entrance to Goredale Scar. What was hard for me to comprehend was why I hadn’t heard of Malham until it was intimated to me that I had be assigned to the trip.
A Londoner by birth and upbringing to my 20s, Malham had never crossed my radar. For many Londoners and residents in the Home Counties few things outside of London cross their radar. Everything else outside is so…provincial, hardly worth their attention which may explain the obvious division between the bubble of our capital and the rest of the country.
More recently I visited Malham on an outing with the Norwest Fellwalking Club (having been there on frequent occasions in between). Our group had started at Gargrave on the A65 and approached it along the Pennine Way. As we neared the village we were struck just how many people, mainly in families, were about. Then we realised – it was a half term weekend. And with this realisation I could see it was a perfect place to bring children if you wanted to introduce them to the outdoors. The area has a network of well signed and well maintained paths which take in woodland, pastureland and impressive limestone scenery. Secondly it provides a degree of manageable challenge which children enjoy so much when not on their screens. Finally with a large car park and information centre, public conveniences, pubs, cafes and small shops it covers all other bases. So reader if you live with a reasonable distance from the Yorkshire Dales and wonder where to take the family for their yuletide walk I would most definitely recommend Malham and at the same time wish all my readers a merry Christmas and happy new year.
Start. Malham Village car park and Information Centre. BD23 4DA
Distance: 4 ½ miles
Time: 2 – 3 hours
Map: OS OL2 Yorkshire Dales Southern and Western areas
From the information centre turn left onto Chapel Gate to enter the village. After a short distance cross a stone footbridge on the right to join the Pennine Way. Turn right to follow it south. This leads into fields. After ¼ mile close to a stone barn turn left onto a footpath that soon joins Goredale Beck. For the next section of the walk this will provide a useful reference point. The path crosses several fields to enter a wooded valley which will bring you to Janet’s Fosse a waterfall. It’s not Niagara Falls but an impressive feature all the same. The pool it has created was once used by farmers for washing sheep. The path soon after comes out onto Goredale Lane.
Now there is a short but recommended diversion to view Goredale Scar. Turn right cross the bridge and then turn left onto a footpath taking you through a wide valley to the impressive cliffs ahead. Apart from the certainty of the path there does not appear to be a way through. Soon the rock is towering above you as the path turns a bend and you enter the defile. Keep on the path until you arrive at a terminus with water cascading over a limestone shelf. In the confines of this canyon its noise is amplified to contribute to the spectacle – you can be in no doubt that this is one of Britain’s great natural wonders. There is a way up and for most experienced walkers it represents an easy scramble but for the purposes of this walk you need to retrace your steps to Goredale Bridge.
Just after crossing it turn right onto a footpath from a lay by that most times in the year is occupied by a tea van. The path leads uphill and after passing through a wall continues along the steep sided escarpment to the right. Keep on the path to reach a quiet lane – Malham Raikes. Cross a ladder stile on the far side and on a less distinct path at first continue for half a mile to arrive at the limestone pavements above the Cove. The wide area of pavement is impressive but be wary of going close to the edge – it will result in a one way ticket to your demise. With clints (limestone blocks) and grykes (the gaps in between) limestone pavement is awkward especially when wet so it is advised in these conditions to keep to the right edge of the pavement as you make your way across.
On the far side from your approach go through a gateway in the wall. This gives access to the steep way down. When you reach the base of the Cove you will be able to fully appreciate one of the natural wonders of Britain. It is a dry waterfall. The water that once formed it now follows underground course through the porous rock. When there was water it fell 280ft to the valley below across a rim almost 900ft wide. From the cove the path leads obviously back to the village.