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Route No. 259 - Wednesday 23 July 2008
Malham, Janet's Foss, Gordale Scar, Malham Tarn,
Malham Cove circuit - 12km
Airedale, Yorkshire Dales . . .

Ordnance Survey route map on the Landranger series map base
View the route in Google Earth

Map: OS Explorer OL2 Yorkshire Dales Southern & Western areas


Malham Village near the car park
Malham Village near the car park

Incidentally if you do not have the change for the car park ticket machine, you can buy a ticket from the shop in the visitor centre. We walked into the village for about 100m and then turned right to cross the infant river Aire on a stone slab footbridge.

This morning my neighbour, Jim, and I drove to Malham. It's over an hour and a half's drive, but the scenery there is well worth the long drive. (I know, we're just spoilt living so close to so much gorgeous countryside)We started walking at about 10.30 from the large car park next to the visitor centre at the southern edge of Malham village.

Stone Slab bridge over the stream that becomes the River Aire
Stone Slab bridge over the stream that becomes the River Aire

Goredale Beck by the path to Janet's Foss
Goredale Beck by the path to Janet's Foss

Path towards Janet's Foss
Path towards Janet's Foss

There we turned left to follow a path beside Gordale Beck across the fields for about 1.5km to Janet's Foss.

Over the footbridge we turned right again to follow the public footpath downstream for about 300m.

A natural weir on Gordale Beck
A natural weir on Gordale Beck

The woods approaching Janet's foss
The woods approaching Janet's Foss

More people were gathering to look at the waterfall so we moved on to join the road near Gordale Scar.

This is a very pretty waterfall in a little wooded area. It's the kind of place where you just have to stop and look for a while before you move on.

A log studded with coins hammered in by poeple for good luck
A log studded with coins hammered in by people for good luck

Jim looking at Janet's Foss
Jim looking at Janet's Foss

Approaching Gordale Scar
Approaching Gordale Scar

Thousands of years ago the roof collapsed leaving the deep rugged limestone gorge with Gordale beck running through it. As we approached the limestone walls of the gorge towered above us and the light began to fade a little.

We walked along the road for about 150m to map ref. SD913634 where we turned left off the road to follow a path across a camp site field to the mouth of Gordale Scar. I believe that originally this was a huge limestone cave.

Approaching Gordale Scar
Approaching Gordale Scar

The mouth of Gordale Scar with the waterfall in the distance
The mouth of Gordale Scar with the waterfall in the distance

The floor of the gorge is still a rubble of limestone boulders from the roof collapse all those years ago, but there is a reasonable path around the foot of the right hand wall of the gorge. Ahead is a waterfall about 10m high over what is essentially a large stalagmite. The material is called tufa and is still being deposited by the calcium rich water. You can see the coating on the bed of Gordale Beck as you walk across the camping field towards the gorge. The waterfall seems to block any progress up the gorge, but there is a public footpath. We crossed the beck - it was more difficult than usual because there was a strong flow in the beck after the recent heavy rain. Then we approached the waterfall from the left hand side of the beck. With the high flow there was a second smaller waterfall to the left of the main fall. Between the two falls there is a large boulder of the tufa material.

Approaching the mouth of Gordale Scar
Approaching the mouth of Gordale Scar

Large tufu boulder at the foot of the waterfall in Gordale Scar
Large tufa boulder at the foot of the waterfall in Gordale Scar

View from the top of the waterfall climb
View from the top of the waterfall climb

We scrambled around the boulder (in the beck) to the foot of the main waterfall and climbed on top of another boulder there. From this position we could see a series of large hand and foot holds going up the left hand side of the waterfall. We climbed up to the top of the waterfall. This was a bit of a struggle for me because my old knees do bend as freely as they used to do and I only just managed to reach a couple of the large foot holds.

Jim at the starts of the climb up the slope from the top of the waterfall climb with another watefall to the right
Jim at the start of the climb out of the Gordale Scar gorge from the top of the waterfall climb with another waterfall to the right

The gorge approaching the top of the waterfalls
The gorge approaching the top of the waterfalls

Looking back down the slope we had just climbed out of the gorge
Looking back down the slope we had just climbed out of the gorge

This height is gained in no more than 200m forward so an average gradient of one in two (or 50% if that how you measure them) It took me about 25 minutes to make the climb and Jim, as usual was waiting for me at the top. We stopped here for a drink and several other people joined after they followed us up the slope.

At the top of the falls we began the long hard slog up the very steep rocky path to the rim of the gorge on the west side. The whole climb from the foot of the waterfall to the rim of the gorge is about 120m.

Jim waiting for me near the top of the climb out of Gordale Scar gorge
Jim waiting for me near the top of the climb out of Gordale Scar gorge

Path from Gordale scar to Mastiles lane
Path from Gordale scar to Mastiles lane

Edge of some limestone pavement by the path to Mastiles Lane
Edge of some limestone pavement by the path to Mastiles Lane
Orange lichen on a stone wall
Orange lichen on a stone wall
Wild thyme gowing by the path
Wild thyme growing by the path
Approaching Malham Tartn around the foot of Great Close Scar
Path around the foot of Great Close Scar - just out of camera range there were numerous wheatears flying ahead of us and perching on the rocks
Approaching Malham Tartn around the foot of Great Close Scar
Approaching Malham Tarn around the foot of Great Close Scar
Malham Tarn
Malham Tarn

A female mallard came to scrounge some crumbs
A female mallard came to scrounge some crumbs

We sat by the tarn for our lunch. We had barely unwrapped our sandwiches when a female mallard duck flew directly towards us from across the tarn (near a boathouse that was being renovated). It landed on the grass just in front of us and was clearly expecting to be fed. There were other ducks about but they took no notice of us at all. After a few crumbs from us the duck flew off to try its luck with some people a few hundred metres away.

After our break we continued along the path to the road at map ref. SD904656. At this point we crossed a track called Mastiles Lane which is an old "green road" that goes all the way down into Wharfedale at Kilnsey Crag. We continued northwards on a track for about 1km to map ref. SD904664. Here we took the left hand fork in the track around the foot of Great Close Scar, another high limestone cliff, again for about 1km to the edge of Malham Tarn.

A lapwing by the path
A lapwing by the path (alternatively called a green plover or a peewit)

The outlet stream from malham Tarn
The outlet stream from Malham Tarn
The stream from Malhsm tarn disappears underground here
The stream from Malham Tarn disappears underground here
The dry gorge leading to Malham Cove
The dry gorge leading to Malham Cove
The dry gorge leading to Malham Cove
The dry gorge leading to Malham Cove

The dry gorge leading to Malham Cove
The dry gorge leading to Malham Cove

After our lunch we followed the Pennine Way route past the outlet from Malham Tarn and back to the road at map ref. SD893657. From there we continued to follow the Pennine Way for about 2km down the rocky gorge of a dried up river. The gorge was worn into the rock by the huge torrent of melt water from the retreating glaciers at the end of the ice age. This water must have been an awesome sight as it thundered over the cliff of Malham Cove.

Small colourful snail by the path
Small colourful snail by the path

The dry gorge leading to Malham Cove
The dry gorge leading to Malham Cove

Blue speedwells growing from a crack in the rocks
Blue speedwells growing from a crack in the rocks

Above Malham Cove is an amazing area of limestone pavement where the gaps between the blocks of limestone have a variety of plants growing that enjoy the sheltered climate in there.

Nowadays the stream from the outlet of Malham Tarn disappears underground a few hundred metres from the road and emerges at the foot of the Malham Cove cliff to become the River Aire, a beautiful clear stream at this stage.

Path round a cliff, step, in the gorge
Path round a cliff, step, in the gorge

A cliff (a step) in the gorge leading down to the top of Malham Cove. There would have been a huge waterfall over this 'V' in the rocks when the glacial melt water was flowing at the end of the ice age
A cliff (a step) in the gorge leading to Malham Cove where a huge waterfall poured over this 'V' in the rocks at the end of the ice age
The Limestone pavement on the top of Malham Cove
The Limestone pavement on the top of Malham Cove (the top of the flat slabs are called 'clints' and the gaps between them are called 'grikes')
Looking across Malham Cove from the edge of the limestone pavement
Looking across Malham Cove from the edge of the limestone pavement

The path down the side of Malham Cove
The path down the side of Malham Cove

As we crossed the fields at the foot of the cove there was a observation post set up by RSPB volunteers with their large twitchers' telescopes to watch the peregrine falcons nesting on the cliffs of the cove, but we did not see them.

After a lingering look at the views, and the limestone formations we continued along the Pennine way down the long winding path and steps down the western end of Malham Cove.

The stream from the foot of Malham Cove that becomes the River Aire
The stream from the foot of Malham Cove that becomes the River Aire

A last look back at Malham Cove
A last look back at Malham Cove

Woodland path beside the road into Malham
Woodland path beside the road into Malham

The whole route had been about 12km and had take us five hours to walk including all our breaks and sightseeing stops. It had been a memorable day in the striking limestone scenery of Malham.

From there it was about 1km back to the car park where we changed into our shoes before walking back round the corner to a very pleasant tea shop for a coffee (well two large mugs each actually) and a bacon sandwich to round off our day before driving home.

Returning to the car park through Malham
Returning to the car park through Malham

Background Notes:
This route is a longer and more adventurous walk of 12km, about 8 miles from Malham in the Yorkshire Dales. We start from the large car park at the visitor centre on the southern edge of Malham. From there we follow Malham Beck and then Gordale Beck across the fields. This is a popular walk and there's a good gravel path. After about 1.5 km we reach Janet's Foss. This is a very attractive waterfall on Gordale Beck. Over thousands of years a thick layer of 'Tufa' has covered the rock behind the falls. Tufa is a calcite deposit from the calcium rich water. The water falls into a deep pool where in the past sheep were washed prior to shearing. It was a very cold job for the shepherds standing over waist deep in the water and it became a festive occasion for the whole community with plenty of strong drink to keep out the cold. The falls are named after Jennet, the queen of the local fairies who was believed to live in a cave behind the falls. Just beyond the falls we reach a road and from this road we follow a path across a camp site field still beside Gordale Beck. The path leads into Gordale Scar. This is a deep limestone gorge with walls that seem the crowd in above, and in fact that's just what they do because this was a huge cavern eroded over tens of thousands of years by melt water from successive ice ages until the cavern grew so large that the roof collapsed leaving the open gorge that we see today. Deep inside the gorge Gordale Beck flows over a waterfall and the way ahead through the gorge seems to be blocked. Here we cross the stream where it flows over the rock debris at the foot of the falls. The fall is over another mass of Tufa deposited from the water by the same process as the tufa screen at Janet's Foss. The waterfall is about 6m, 20ft, high and on a closer inspection there are good foot and hand hold ledges in the tufa up to the top of the falls on the left hand side of the fall. It's a straight forward scramble to a platform at the top of the falls and from there it's a long very steep climb up the path to the top of the gorge. Part of the way is loose scree and part is up a long series of stone steps. At the top we follow a path out to cross Mastiles Lane. This is an ancient trackway that dates from pre-Roman times. We cross Mastiles Lane at a place called Street Gate and about a kilometer, half a mile east of here is a square embankment across the track at the site of a Roman marching camp. We continue along the track round the foot of a limestone cliff called Great Close Scar and reach the edge of Malham Tarn. This is a natural lake although the level has been raised by about 1.5m by a dam at the outlet. At the tarn we join the Pennine Way route which we follow to the south following the outlet stream from the tarn. After about 400m from the tarn the stream disappears underground down fissures in the limestone. We continue following the Pennine way down the now dry limestone valley. We pass a large step in the valley where once there would have been a great waterfall of glacial melt water and the valley here is called Watlowes. There is an ancient wall running along the bottom of Watlowes that marked the boundary between the lands of Fountains Abbey and the lands of Bolton Abbey, both made vast fortunes from sheep farming in this wild country. At the end of Watlowes we come to the limestone pavement on top of Malham Cove. There's an amazing view from here to Malham village and down the valley. There's a steep descent down steps at the side of the cove to the foot of the cliff. Malham Beck emerged from the foot of the cliff but this is not the beck that flows out from Malham tarn and then sinks into the limesstone fissures. That water flows at a deeper level and emerges at Aire Head springs about 500m south of Malham village to become the River Aire and just below these springs the river is joined by both Malham Beck and Gordale Beck. During the nesting season volunteers from the RSPB have their telescopes set up on the grass below Malham Cove to allow the public to see the peregrine falcons nesting on the cove cliff face. From the cove we follow the path out to the road and back into Malham and the end of this week's walk.

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