Walk 165: Malham Cove, Gordale Scar & Janet’s Foss Circular Walk (Voted No.3 in ‘Britain’s Best 100 Walks)

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 5.8 miles (9.31km)

Time to walk: We really took our time doing this walk, especially with a young dog & because you just have to sit & admire the views & waterfalls which are amazing. The walk follows the ‘Malham Landscape Trail’ in the opposite direction

Difficulty: Mainly off road along a mixture of surfaces. The steps to the top of Malham Cove are steep, but not dangerous. The limestone pavement is uneven & will be slippery in wet weather. Dogs will need to be on the lead on several occasions due to livestock & there’s one large “ladder” stile over a wall

Parking: £5 for the day at the National Park Centre in Malham or, if you can get a space, on the road, but don’t forget to put your £2 gratuity in the ‘milk churn’

Public toilets: The National Park Centre

Map of the route:

Have you ever seen ITV’s ‘Britain’s Top 100 Walks’?

Well…Helvellyn was voted No.1; Snowden No.2 &…No.3 is the one we are doing today. It was also featured in Julia Bradbury’s series ‘Best Walks with a View’

And you can see why as it’s spectacular. It’s been over 40 years since I was last here & have wanted to come back for a long time. If you have time you can also visit Malham Tarn, Britain’s highest lake. The time of year, or the amount of rainfall, will dictate how fast the streams & waterfalls are flowing

Malham, our starting point, & meaning “settlement by the gravelly places”, lies within the Yorkshire Dales, in the south-west corner of North Yorkshire. A popular walker’s destination, the Pennine Way passes through the village 

There’s been a settlement for at least a thousand years, dating back to the Iron Age. If you’d have visited one hundred years ago, you would have seen mills & mines. Today the main industries are farming & tourism

Right then…let’s see if it lives up to being No.3…

Let’s Walk!

1. Our walk starts at the National Park Centre with its large car park. I can highly recommend exploring the centre. The staff are extremely friendly & very helpful in helping you plan walks in the local area…

Come out of the Centre & turn left up towards the village

If you do manage to get a parking spot on the road, there’s an interesting pay meter…

2. Follow the road straight up through the village, being careful as the footpath runs out. On the right, beside the stream are several small pocket parks that are worth a visit. The stone bridge is beautiful…

The road now narrows & care is required as it begins to climb

3. At the top, as the road bends left, across to the right you get your first view of where we’re heading…Malham Cove

On the right’s the gate leading into the Malham Tarn Estate…

The estate covers 7,200 acres & includes around 160 acres of woodland. The majority of the land is used by six holdings who operate based on agricultural tenancies and grazing licences for cows and sheep

4. The hard footpath will take you directly to the Cove…

Continue straight ahead on the path getting ever closer to this sheer rock face. The beck is crossed by some wonderful stone bridges…

5. It’s amazing to think that Malham Cove was once a waterfall that was higher that Niagara! 

The cove was formed by a large Ice Age river that fell at this point as a cataract. The water drop was 260 ft high & more than 980 ft wide. The water flowing over the waterfall created the curved shape of the cove because the lip was more heavily eroded than the sides

Malham Beck originates on Malham Moor & emerges from a cave at the bottom of the cove

6. Come back from the wall & bear right at the fork…

…& pass through the gate to begin to climb the 400 steps up the side of the Cove

And don’t forget to keep turning back to admire the view that’s developing down the valley…

7. At the top of the steps bear right & cross the phenomenal limestone pavement. Tread carefully though, especially in wet weather as some of the crevices are quite deep

During the last ice age the top soil in this area was eroded by the movement of ice. Since then no new soil has formed. The views are incredible…

It’s also one of the scenes where ‘Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows’ was filmed

8. Walk straight across the pavement to the other side & you’ll see the footpath sign. Pass through the wall & bear right up the grassy path. The views across to the limestone pavement show the sheer size of it…look at the size of the people!

Continue diagonally right up the hill passing a signpost & carry on to the right…

9. The area you’re walking on now is known as Sheriff Hill & is actually a burial cairn, one of many in the Malham area dating back to the Bronze Age. A group of farmers once lived in a settlement here, growing crops & tending sheep

This really is wonderful high level walking…

Eventually the path arrives at a wall leading onto a road. There’s nothing for it than to use the “up & over” stile

10. Carefully cross the road & continue on the path in the same direction…

On this side of the road, the path now starts to descend down the valley

At the junction, pass through the gate on the right which is signposted to Gordale Scar & Janet’s Foss

11. After a few yards look for a gate on the right with a signpost…

Continue down in the same direction, passing through a gate in the wall…

12. Now the path starts to drop quite steeply towards the road &, if you’re feeling thirsty or a bit peckish, there’s normally a snack van waiting for you

13. It’s time now to turn left, pass through the gate & follow the hard-surface, level path towards Gordale Scar

A steep cliff had already arisen along the Middle Craven Fault that caused the same at Malham Cove. Melting water from several Ice Ages came over the cliff & gorged out what you see today

It is a spectacular bowl, but sadly today not much water was coming over the falls…

14. Return along the same path & back along the road, past the refreshment van. Walk through the gate signposted to ‘Janet’s Foss’…

If it’s been raining, be careful as you descend down the rocks as they will be slippery. It’s well worth it, but again there wasn’t much water coming over the falls…

Janet’s Foss carries Gordale Beck over a limestone outcrop topped by tufa into a deep pool below. The pool was traditionally used for sheep dipping. It’s so named as Janet, Queen of the Fairies was supposed to have lived in a cave here

15. Continue to follow the path through what is a wonderful ravine with its own climate. 

When we visited in May the whole area was covered in ransoms (wild garlic)

16. Exit through the gate & continue to follow the path…

There’s several barns long this stretch of the walk, known as ‘laithes’. They date back to the 18th & 19th centuries & were used for storing hay & cattle

17. Continue in the same direction through several gates…

The fields in May were full of dandelions & buttercups

18. Continue past another laith…

After passing through the final gate, turn left & head back towards Malham village…

19. If you’re feeling brave & the beck’s low, you could always try crossing by way of the stones…

However, the safer & more sensible crossing is slightly further on, over the wonderful small bridge

Now turn left to return to the National Park Centre

So that’s it the end of the ‘Malham Landscape Trail’ & how wonderful & varied it was. Was it worthy of it’s position as the 3rd best top walk?

Well…you’ll have to go & find out…

Go Walk!