After a beautiful week in Cornwall and making it down to Land’s End, my boyfriend and I still had three days of annual leave to use. Not one to let ‘impractical’ stop me, I decided it would be nice to pop up to Yorkshire to stay in my parents’ holiday home near Harrogate.
‘Popping up’ actually turned in to an eight-hour, 386 mile drive from hell as the weather took a turn for the worse and we sat in traffic jam after traffic jam but there was one thing that I knew would make it all worth while – standing at the top of Malham Cove and looking down over the Yorkshire Dales.
I was born in North Yorkshire and despite moving down south when I was very young, I still feel an incredible sense of coming home when I pass the succession of power stations and their chimneys blowing out smoke in the distance from the M1. An eyesore to many but a trail of breadcrumbs to me.
There’s just something about the North. I love the way the landscape starts to climb and the hills roll out in front of you. I love the way the pretty, little villages wind around roads that are just about wide enough for a bicycle. I love the way the Yorkshire stone looks charred like it’s survived a fire. I love spotting the first Yorkshire dry-stone wall, snaking its rickety way up an impossibly steep field. Most of all I love hearing accents that remind me of days out with my grandparents.
With a 400 mile commute we had just one full day to spend in the Dales and there was one walk I wanted to take more than any other: Malham Cove to Gordale Scar and Janet’s Foss. It’s just over 7KM (4.5 miles) of steep climbs, waterfalls and green, rolling hills as far as the eye can see.
Hiking the Cove:
There’s great dispute in our family about the best way to do this circular walk to make it easier on your legs. Ignoring my Dad’s advice, I think it’s best to start at the Cove and end at the Foss.
The walk sets off with a comedy moment when cows are wandering across the Pennine Way. I’m very wary of cows and suggest to my boyfriend that we should either freeze or run. He, laughing, assures me they are totally harmless and would make a great photo. With camera trained on the pair as they cross our path, the larger of the two suddenly moves in with its head down – pace decidedly quickening – in our direction. Squealing like a child, I firmly suggest that we might take up the ‘run’ option now.
Anyway, it turns out we were both right – while unpredictably terrifying, they do make a cute picture.
The cove is stunning and a great picnic spot by the water as you watch people attempting to rock climb up the vertical face. Once you’ve made it to the Cove, the climbing really starts. Follow the footpath up the western side of the Cove which leads you to an interminable amount of steps – fortunately there are mini stopping points along the climb so you can catch your breath.
The steps may look gentle on approach but seconds in and we were grumbling and wheezing our way to the first resting point, moving off the path to clear the way for an elderly lady.
It’s hard going but the steps are even and fine as long as you are wearing hiking boots or something with good grip. The main thing to focus on – as you curse your way, red-faced up the hill – is that the view from the top is way more breathtaking than the steps that take you there.
You arrive at the top to walk out across the limestone clints and grykes to look down over the Dales as far as the eye can see in every direction. I remember this view as a child and the excitement of walking on stone that looks like the surface of another planet. Clints and grykes form in previously glaciated locations. Due to the solubility of limestone, when drainage occurs it leaves joints and cracks which causes the slabs of clints and the deep fissures which are the grykes.
If you’re careless you could probably lose a child or small animal down there but it’s great fun to step from clint to clint and it really is a stunning sight.
The walk continues across fields and hills with sheep roaming freely and traditional walls to hop over. A couple of hours in to the walk and we start to descend towards Gordale Scar.
The Scar is a limestone waterfall nestled away in a gorge. It was created during the Ice Age. As the water melted down the cliff-side it created a cavern that collapsed under the strain to leave a beautifully, rugged waterfall.
You can climb the waterfall or take shade under the overhang of the cliffs 100 metres above you. It’s a great place to watch people making valiant attempts to jump stepping-stones only to slide unceremoniously down in to the running water.
Walking back along the scar, past Gordale beck (stream) you can relax in the knowledge that there are no more hills to climb. If you’ve gone the other way and started at the Foss, the strain will be just about to kick in, so, good luck with that!
Janet’s Foss takes you on a scenic walk through a tree canopy following the beck on your left-hand side. Foss is a word of Old Norse origin meaning waterfall. There were a few slightly blue-looking children taking a dip in the shaded waterfall and lots of spots to sit on a rock for a well-earned break by the relaxing sounds of the beck.
Wind your way through the plant-lined path until you emerge back on to the Pennine Way heading towards Malham village.
Definitely one of the most enjoyable ways to pass two to three hours without it costing you a penny…That’s aside from the car park, which is, naturally, rather costly. We paid around £4 to park in the YDNPA Car Park but that seems to be pretty standard at beauty spots.
Was it worth the eight-hour drive from Cornwall? Without a doubt it was. You just can’t put a price on the feeling of ‘home’.