Walking along the dusty track with a sea of yellow stretched out in front of us, I realised it was about time I opened my heart – and my mind. Having fallen in love with the Lake District 15 years ago, I’ve never really welcomed the idea of exploring somewhere new. And even though I like to think of myself as someone who’s open to change, the reality is I’ve been stuck slap bang in the middle of my comfort zone for quite some time. If there’s a chance of getting on a plane and heading out of the country, you’ll see me doing my happy dance and packing my bags before I even know the details. But for some reason, even though I know there’s a shit load of beautiful places here in the UK, I pull my face at exploring anywhere that isn’t my beloved Lake District.
At the beginning of June when Ian suggested we walk Malham Cove in North Yorkshire, I got slightly skittish. Even as we sped along the motorway with clear blue skies leading the way, I felt a little apprehensive about what lay ahead. But a couple of hours later as I found myself staring at a sea of buttercups, I felt a warm surge of fuzziness flow throughout my body. Beyond the sea of yellow lay vibrant rolling hills, a mass of lush green foliage and a stream that glistened in the sunlight. Why the hell had we waited so long to visit? As I crouched down and set my camera up on a rock, even the fact that I’d forgotten my tripod couldn’t dampen my spirits. I framed the shot, set the timer, and then carefully pressed the shutter. I also made a mental note to pack a tripod the next time we went walking.
Wedber Wood and Janet’s Foss
Continuing on our way, we meandered along the dusty track and soon found ourselves passing through Wedber Wood. The smell of wild garlic was intoxicating, and even though the weather was dry and gloriously sunny, the woodland smelt damp and earthy. Gordale Beck ran alongside us and prehistoric-looking tree roots crisscrossed over one another into the water. If I’d have visited here when I was little, this would have been the perfect frame for me to climb upon.
A bit further on and we reached Janet’s Foss. A popular picnic spot, people were enjoying the cool woodland shade while watching the waterfall rushing over moss covered rocks. As I precariously balanced my camera on the stone wall I stayed close by just in case it fell, only this time I cursed myself for forgetting my tripod. We stayed for a while and watched the water glistening in the sunlight, but as more people turned up we took it as our cue to move on and head over to Gordale Scar.
A notorious waterfall that involved a scramble to get to the top, I hadn’t really taken the logistics into consideration. As we entered Gordale Scar Campsite we were met with a variety of campers pitching tents, eating lunch and basking in the hot June sun. The views opened up, and we looked on in wonder at the jagged limestone cliffs against the backdrop of a brilliant bright blue sky. We turned the bend and saw walkers taking a break before tackling the waterfall – or so we thought. One by the one, the walkers re-packed their bags and turned back in the direction from which they’d just come. Another couple, having just been defeated by the waterfall, turned back because they thought it was too dangerous.
We stood and pondered how best to tackle it. On the guide we’d downloaded from the internet there was a photo of a man clearly approaching it from the right-hand-side, but after two failed attempts, one of which involved me getting stuck, we seriously debated whether or not to turn back. Another walker stepped-up, tried a different route and also got stuck – it wasn’t looking good. A few minutes later a second walker approached. An older guy with a camera, he meandered around for a while taking photographs before putting his camera away. We then watched him scale the waterfall as if taking a Sunday afternoon stroll. Having seen the older chap climb it with ease, the first walker quickly followed in his footsteps and scrambled to the top. Apparently, that was all the encouragement we needed. Ian went first – he scrambled up the rock face just to the left of the waterfall and shortly after, I followed suit.
Reaching the top, I felt exhilarated. And even though there was still a scramble to reach Gordale Scar upper waterfall – I found it easy in comparison to the lower falls. Shaking from my adrenaline depletion after getting stuck on the lower climb, we decided to stop for lunch. Admiring the upper falls, we sat on a rock, cracked open our jamwiches and took a short break.
Refuelled and replenished we scrambled upwards over the rocks until the landscape evened out, and as another couple came walking towards us, I was thankful we got to tackle the scrambles on the uphill, rather than the down. Standing at the top, we looked down on the valleys left behind by meltwater from glaciers during the last ice-age – something far too overwhelming for me to try and comprehend.
The track from here was easy. We marched along the flat grassland, occasionally stopping to take a photo (okay, I took lots of photos) until the grassland came to an end.
We climbed a style and turned right onto a flat and dusty road. We also realised we were low on water and would have to ration what was left. After already passing by fields, streams, woodland and waterfalls, I started to think of Malham Cove as a hiker’s dream, because with each turn we took and every hill that we climbed, I had no idea what to expect next. Just as I was pondering over the scenery we’d already experienced, Malham Tarn came into view.
With people walking along the shore and walkers taking a well-earned rest, we found a rock under some trees to sit on. We pulled out some protein bars and had a much-deserved snack while watching the world go by.
The Limestone Pavement
From the tarn, it was time to head to the grand finale of the walk: the limestone pavement. This part of the walk was much busier, and after leaving Malham Tarn we somehow found ourselves stuck behind a large group of walkers. Hanging back a little to avoid catching up with them, we slowed our pace so we could keep our distance.
As we finally set foot on the limestone pavement I was disappointed to find a rabble of school kids on a school geology trip. Loud and noisy, the peace and quiet of the countryside were suddenly shattered as discussions about limestone rock formations filled the air. Trying to contain the groups and gather everyone back together, the teacher did his best to keep order by using phrases like ‘ladies and gents’, ‘please’ and ‘orderly fashion’. Slowly, the multiple groups began to merge into one and the teens were contained, leaving the limestone pavement free for walkers to explore and photograph at their leisure.
Standing on the pavement I looked down at the landscape below. Vibrant green fields and groves of trees stretched out for miles in front of me and the magnificent views of Malham and Upper Airedale appeared to go on forever. As we stepped from slab to slab it was easy to see why this was of the most photographed landmarks in the UK, and even used as a shooting location for films such as Wuthering Heights and Harry Potter.
When we heard the teacher announce it was time to leave, we quickly started our departure and headed off down the hillside to avoid getting caught up behind the geology class. Step after step, we made our descent towards the infamous Malham Cove cliff face. A popular site for climbers and home to birds such as jackdaws and a pair of peregrine falcons, a local nature group were set up with binoculars, offering people the opportunity to view the wildlife that lived on the rock face.
Leaving the limestone cove, the route back to Malham was easy. It should have been a little more scenic over the undulating hillside, but by the time we realised we’d missed a turning it was a too late to correct our mistake. Following the road down into Malham, the village was a hive of activity with people going about their daily business and afternoon walkers making their way towards the limestone pavement.
And back at the car, I felt an overwhelming sense of satisfaction as I sank into the driver’s seat. I’d managed to find adventure and reach outside of my comfort zone, all without leaving the country.
Toilets and car parking are available at Malham National Park Centre. Use of the toilets is free and parking charges for cars (as of July 2016) is £2.50 for up to two hours and £4.50 for over two hours.
Parking is also available on the road outside the visitor centre. There is a suggested donation of £1 towards the upkeep of the village if you park here – just put it in the milk urn at the side of the road.
If the weather is bad and it’s been raining, avoid the scramble up Gordale Scar lower falls; take the other route along New Close Knotts. (Before Gordale Scar campsite).
The Ordnance Survey map for the walk is OL2: Yorkshire Dales, Southern & Western Areas. Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent.