A pre-planned outing to one of Yorkshire’s most beautiful wonders seemed like the perfect opportunity to break in my new walking boots and get some snaps of this limestone wonder. A plan blighted only by horrendous weather. Well that’s not entirely true; I did break in my new boots!
After a pleasant but seemingly endless drive through Keightly, Skipton and Haworth we enter Malahmdale and stop off for a quick coffee at the Town End farm shop in Airton. Decent coffee, mediocre service and a disproportionate amount of patrons wearing lycra. After refreshments and the dog emptying his bladder we drive the final few miles into Malham Village and park up at the National Trust car park. Malham Village itself is a very quaint and picturesque place sporting two very comfortable looking pubs (more of that later), an outdoor shop and at least one café. All the businesses welcome muddy boots and dogs which is good to know.
We head through the village and follow the signposts for Malham Cove/Pennine Way. Following the road for about half a mile before joining to footpath proper, it is not long before the spectacular view of the cove presents itself. We stop momentarily to take in this truly beautiful natural amphitheater, carved into the limestone hills.
The path runs along side Malham Beck which emerges from a cave at the foot of the cove, and makes for a picturesque walk towards the beautiful but imposing cliff-face. The closer you get the grander this natural wonder becomes, eventually blocking out the whole field of vision and towering over the now seemingly valley to its foot. I attempt to take some pictures with my new camera but not matter how much I play with the settings there is no way you can capture the sheer enormity and scale of this behemoth.
You would generally expect a waterfall to feature at a cove like this, especially given its pronounced curvature, however the water sinks through a cave system before it reaches the cove’s edge. The cove formed at the end of the last ice-age when the melting glacier (which formed the valley) water ate away at the soft limestone rock. This water now drops underground over a kilometre before it reaches the cove at ‘water sinks’ and is dispersed through a network of caves. Curiously this is a separate cave system to the one that produces the water of Malham beck, spewing from the foot of the cove.
We take in the epic views from the bottom before backtracking a little and re-joining the Pennine Way trail that leads to the top. The incline is steep and made up of around 400 irregular steps. It feels like 395 of them are at least 18” in height and stopping for regular ‘photo opportunities’ is the only thing saving my quadriceps from exploding. If you ever want a fantastic leg work out, this is the walk for you!
On the ascent we are warned by descending travellers that the weather is a little ‘wild’ on top and on arrival it is hard to argue with their words. The howling wind blows straight across the valley top as if commanded by the god Njörd himself and carries with it sheets of fine, piercing rain. The conspiring elements diminish all but the most immediate view of this beautiful valley and make any attempt to photograph all of Malhamdale futile. Despite the conditions we make the most of our trek and explore the famous limestone pavement.
The almost rectangle and uniform presentation of ‘clints’ (slabs of rock), carved up by the ‘grykes’ (the partitions in the rock) give the impression of natural paving (hence the clever name). This is yet another geological feature of the Yorkshire Dales caused by the rich deposits of limestone. As limestone is slightly soluble in rainwater, especially acidic rain more, cracks, nooks and crannies are soon widened to form the features we see before us now on our trek. (I’d like to take a moment to thank Mr P. Cooke of St. Francis Xavier School, Darlington Road, Richmond, N Yorkshire for successfully imparting this information to me in the early 1990s. I’m amazed I have retained it so long! Well done Sir)
After admiring the views, the weather eventually becomes too much for us and we move on wards. We dare to approach the edge and witness an ongoing feat of either tremendous bravery or stupidity (I’m still debating which). The pictures and video link will speak more than my words can muster, I’ll let you arrive at your own conclusions.
We head on round the other side of the cove, wet-through and beginning to succumb to the elemental onslaught. The plan to cut over the top of the fell and drop down at Gordale Scar is sadly curtailed by the conditions and we head back down the pathway towards the village in search of a dry and warm environment.
Once back in the village, after some deliberation we settle on the welcome looking Lister Arms (www.listerarms.co.uk), overlooking the village green. Their sandwich board sign boasts a warm open fire and a warm welcome and on entry we are not disappointed that both are present. After what feels like a much longer walk than 5-6k we have actually covered, we settle down and tuck into a fine Sunday Dinner (or steak and venison pie in my case) and a fine pint of bitter, in this case, suitably called Wainwright Ale. We observe the pub, car park, footpaths and village are all very busy, despite the freezing cold wind and rain. Come July/August time I doubt there’s room to swing your arms in Malham, such is the draw of this natural beauty. We propose to return when the weather is more clement and make the walk to Gordale and onwards to Janet’s Foss, but despite the weather we are both satisfied with the day’s rambling (and even more satisfied with the food and beer afterwards).