It’s a bit rich of me to start a collection of posts called ‘Hidden Yorkshire’ with Malham Cove, one of the county’s worst-kept secrets, but one of the special things about Yorkshire is even the most famous bits are probably pretty tricky to get to. Malham Cove is no exception, nestled in the south of the Yorkshire Dales, half a mile up from Malham village, which is one of those places you can’t help but wonder how residents cope when it snows.
Getting to Malham
We decided to head to Malham Cove on a total whim one Saturday when we had no plans, and we’re incredibly privileged that we can make that kind of choice, jump in the car, and just go. Getting to Malham Cove by public transport is less than easy; you effectively need to get yourself to Skipton (from York, that’s two trains) and then take a bus. During the summer, buses run on Sundays and Bank Holidays from Dewsbury, Bradford, Ilkley, Morecambe, Lancaster, Slaidburn, Settle, and Malham Tarn (source). I can’t seem to find how much a standard single or return ticket is for these, but a ‘Dales Freedom Rover’ pass will give you unlimited travel on a huge range of services through the Dales, at £10 per adult or £8 for students (with valid ID), railcard holders, elderly passengers (with a pass) and disabled passengers (with a pass). Further information on fares can be found here.
The bus will take you to Malham village, stopping outside the Buck Inn. If you drive, you can park up at the National Park Centre. Parking costs £2.50 for up to two hours, and £4.50 for over two hours. You can park overnight for an additional cost of £5.00 for 24 hours and £7.50 for 48 hours; weekly tickets are also available. Vehicles must be left unoccupied overnight. Parking charges apply to all vehicles including blue badge holders. All Yorkshire Dales National Park car parks are fitted with public toilets and a disabled toilet fitted with a RADAR key. Further information on parking is available here.
The Malham Centre has varying opening times; between April and October it’s open daily between 10am and 5pm; between November and March it’s only open on weekends between 10am and 4pm; and it’s closed throughout January. Further information available here. Within the Centre you’ll find the requisite touristy shop, as well as various sources of information about the local area and the weather you might be likely to encounter if you head out and about.
The most useful source you’re likely to find which you won’t get anywhere else is the staff; we had a lovely chat with a friendly staff member to find out how she recommended we reach Malham Cove. We were anticipating just popping up the staircase-path to reach it, but she convinced us to commit to a five-mile circular walk instead which would take us past Janet’s Foss, Gordale Scar, and eventually up to Malham Cove itself. We were ambivalent to begin with, but it turned out to be an amazing choice.
Janet’s Foss – Gordale Scar – Malham Cove
Clutching our leaflet of directions, we walked up through the village, crossed the road, and took a small and somewhat precarious bridge over Malham Beck. This joined us up with the Pennine Way, a section of path which is flat and well maintained. We followed it alongside the beck for a while, and then curved round to the left, now following Gordale Beck. We’d been extremely lucky with the weather, especially after a week of rain, and the views were astonishing; bright fields rolling towards the Dales protectively lining the horizon, blue skies stretching far ahead.
Pushing through a gate we made our way into a section of magical National Trust woodland following a narrow path lined with wild garlic and running against the Beck, which gathers pace with every step. We were headed towards Janet’s Foss, so named after Janet (or, traditionally, Jennet), the local Queen of the Faeries, who is alleged to live in a false cave behind the waterfall. The Foss itself is nestled in a cosy dell, framed by foliage, and despite its small size it packs power – much like its namesake, no doubt.
From the Foss we headed upwards and left of the waterfall, joining a gravel path next to the Beck up to a road. There are two options here; either you can take a footpath up a steep hill through a field towards Malham Cove, or you can take a detour to visit Gordale Scar, and return afterwards to complete the circle. If you have the time and the ability (maybe an extra 30 minutes) I highly recommend making the effort. The gravel path is fairly wide and well-kept, and the cliff walls drew us in magnetically, closing in above us, taking us somewhere new.
Gordale Scar is a gorge and waterfall created when Ice Age meltwater collapsed, carving a gash in the rocks creating a sheer cliff edge which tips inwards. The waterfall is climbable in dry weather, but we took in the view and the resounding crash from the waterfall before heading back down the path.
Having found our way back to the road we crossed through and headed up a relatively steep grassy hill towards our final destination. From the top of the hill our leaflet pointed us to spot a fault line running alongside the river on the hills opposite, so we took the opportunity to rest before the next stage. We followed the path through a gate which took us into a field of cattle, including a bull. It’s worth noting that this adds an element of risk; a cursory internet search informed us that bulls generally don’t cause trouble so long as they’re in a field with cows, but it’s always worth exercising caution; they can be extremely dangerous.
At the end of this field we climbed some steps and headed through a gate. The views here across the Yorkshire landscape were utterly stunning at every turn, and we continued along the path until we reached a road. The crossing point is not particularly safe – it’s right on a bend – but traffic is hardly likely to be heavy; just listen out for anything coming round the corner before you head across. On the other side we reached some steps to take us over the wall and onto another grassy path on Shorkley Hill.
The Limestone Pavement atop Malham Cove is visible from the top, so we picked our path towards it past some inquisitive sheep. As the weather started to close in, we made our way through a gate in the drystone wall and stepped up to the limestone pavement. The Cove was formed by the melting of a glacier after the last Ice Age; the glacier turned into a waterfall which eroded the edge of the cliff into the curve we see today. Cave systems underneath the limestone now “swallow” any water before it can reach the edge of the pavement, making it safe to walk on, when done so with care. The pavement was formed in a similar fashion, where the cracks in the limestone have been eroded leaving large grooves in the rock. More here if you’re geographically minded…
It can be a little nervewracking to walk on, particularly when the rocks move unpredictably underfoot. Those nervous of heights should stay away from the cliff edge, but otherwise it’s well worth spending some time climbing across the pavement’s crevasses, and it’s obviously an amazing spot for photographs.
We picked our way across to the other side of the pavement, and found the lengthy set of steps which took us down to the bottom of the Cove. You’ll probably some tired and regretful-looking tourists climbing up them – give them some encouragement!
Once at the bottom, we met back up with Malham Beck; the path alongside it took us gently back to the road. Make an effort to turn back every so often to properly take in the grandeur of the Cove’s sheer and curving cliffs, carved by history.