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Malhamdale is an area of outstanding natural beauty set in the Dales of South Yorkshire. Malham is the local village and home to scenery that can scarcely be rivalled in England. Part of the Pennine Way; the eight mile walk between Gordale Scar and Malham Cove is certainly a contender for the title of 'Best Walk in England'.
At the southern entrance to the village is the National Park information centre, a good place to start any visit and find out about local events, there's a large car park here too. Malham attracts about half a million visitors a year although there are only about two hundred residents, who live in old stone houses huddled on either side of the beck. There are two pubs - both of which serve meals, a couple of tearooms, a small corner shop and a larger gift shop. Of the pubs, The Buck Inn has a laid back feel to it, plus a pool table and a decent jukebox, whereas The Lister Arms could be described as more quintessentially English.
Malham Cove is the most remarked upon feature of Malham. It is a stunning white amphitheatre of limestone that rises almost three hundred feet above its surroundings. The cove lies one mile north of Malham village and is easily reached by a broad track. It's a beautiful sight and well worth a trek up the hewn out steps to a wonderful view across the dale below. The top of the cove is covered in Limestone Pavement. This was formed by retreating glaciers, which covered the area about 15,000 years ago and left behind the strange flat rock. Deep fissures are formed by water seeping through weaker areas in the limestone. Malham's Limestone pavement is a habitat for rare plants and ferns and is the subject of much geological study.
Peregrine falcons nest in the area and as they are protected, some parts of the walk may be restricted during the nesting season, it's a privilege to see them flying by in close proximity. Little Owls also live here. There are RSPB viewpoints with telescopes and regular guided walks also provide visitors with telescopes and binoculars.
North of the cove a path runs through a magnificent dry valley known as Watlowes. Anywhere else this would be a celebrated local feature but here it is somewhat overshadowed by the sheer wealth of natural beauty in the area.
Walk across the moors from the Cove and you will find Malham Tarn. This is England's highest lake, formed by glacial debris and of much interest to conservationists. It's one of only eight upland alkaline lakes in Europe, notable for it's geology, flora and fauna. A variety of waterfowl can be seen here. If the weather's warm it's a great place to stop for a picnic if you are doing the walk between Malham Cove and Gordale Scar, otherwise it's a bit exposed. If you want a less strenuous walk, there's a route across a track which misses out the tarn and cuts three miles off the journey.
Gordale Scar is spectacular. Approached from a beautifully situated campsite to the south it looks like an impressive limestone gorge, but it is not until you turn the corner that the full effect is felt. It's huge. You are standing in a deep ravine believed to have once been a cave where the roof collapsed. There are two waterfalls here. The second of these is reached by a short but steep scramble, precarious in wet weather. I've climbed up into this bit, having started my walk from Gordale Scar campsite, but people who come from the opposite direction after a long walk have to climb down, I've done this walk more than once and seen a few tantrums being thrown here, it's not an easy end to a walk. There is a footpath around the Scar rather than through it, best taken by those not too fit or with children or dogs. Into the second cavernous area which takes you up a steep path onto the moors where you can carry on to the tarn, then the cove and on into the village. If you end your walk at the Scar, there's often a mobile cafe parked up outside the campsite for a welcome cuppa.
There's a pretty waterfall not far south of Gordale Scar called Janet's Foss. The flow can be quite variable depending on the weather, but it must be visited if you're in the area. It's in a magical setting in the woods near a path back to the village, much better than walking along the road. Easy to see how there is a supposed local legend that the Queen of the Fairies, (Janet/Jennet), lives in a cave near here.
There's another campsite in the village, as well as a youth hostel and several B & B's. Malham is less than forty miles from Leeds and there are regular buses from Skipton which is eleven miles away. For more information visit the useful website www.malhamdale.com.