Malham and Gordale Scar

Map for walk around Malham and Gordale ScarThis walk visits two of the most dramatic landmarks in the Yorkshire Dales - the giant dry waterfall of Malham Cove and the romantic ravine of Gordale Scar, as well as taking in Malham Tarn, the largest natural lake in Yorkshire, and visiting some of the quietest hills in the Dales, to the north of the tarn.

The northern part of this walk, on the hills above Malham Tarn, crosses access land on relatively unclear paths, and can be skipped by taking a shortcut east from Malham Tarn (see step 7).

Ascent: 1,900ft/
Length: 11 miles/
Map: Map: Yorkshire Dales - Southern and Western Areas (OS Explorer Map Active) (OS Explorer Map Active)
Last Walked: 9 May 2008

This walk starts from the large car park at the southern edge of Malham village.

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MalhamTurn left out of the car park and head along the road into Malham. Where the road splits in two follow the left hand branch and follow this road as it climbs up out of the village. We have now joined the Pennine Way, which we will follow for almost half of the walk, all the way to step 9.
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Malham Cove from the roadJust outside the village a very obvious footpath leaves the road to the right, heading towards the clearly visible Malham Cove. turn right and follow this footpath to the foot of the cove.
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Our path onwards is clearly visible climbing around the left hand side of the Cove. For the moment ignore it and follow the path all the way to the base of the cove, where Malham Beck emerges from a cave at the base of the dramatic dry waterfall. After visiting the foot of the cove return to the main path, and follow it as it climbs up a long flight of steps. Eventually this path brings us to the limestone pavements at the top of the cove. There are some spectacular views across the cove from here, but take care around the edges.

Malham Cove and limestone pavementsMalham Cove from close-upMalham Beck emerging at the base of Malham Cove

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Above Malham CoveAt the top of the cove turn left and follow the footpath that runs up the dry riverbed above the cove. On a hot dry day it can be hard to imagine that this valley was one the bed of the major river that created the tarn, but a look at the cliffs that line the valley give some idea of the amount of water that must have been flowing here.
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Dry waterfall above Malham CoveWe follow this valley for just over half a mile, until we reach the plunge pool formed by a smaller waterfall. Our path follows the valley above this waterfall, but first has to climb up around the rocky barrier. Follow the path as it climbs past the side valley. Just after our path reaches the wall at the top of the valley, turn sharply back to the right and follow it into the side valley, passing above the dry waterfall. We now follow the path along this dry valley for the next two thirds of a mile, until it reaches a minor road. Just before reaching that road we pass the point where the stream that flows out of Malham Tarn disappears underground.
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Turn right onto the road. Follow it as it passes through a gate, then turn left onto a footpath that heads towards Malham Tarn (part of the Pennine Way).

Tarn FootGreat Close Hill

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Malham TarnThis path brings us to the southern tip of Malham Tarn. We are going to walk around the right hand bank of the tarn, for most of the time following the route of a lane that leads past the field centre at Malham House. To reach that lane follow the path that runs close to the edge of Malham Tarn, before swinging away a little to the right to pass around some trees.

Once on the track turn left and follow it all the way around the northern side of the tarn, into the woods around Malham House, past the house and to the edge of the trees. Just before entering the trees a footpath leaves to the right, climbing up over the northern flank of Great Close Hill - if you want a shorter walk, then take this path over the top of this ridge and down to Middle House Farm (step 11 on the walk).

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Malham Tarn and Tarn MossWe follow the track through the woods past Malham House and then downhill to the edge of the trees. Just outside the trees turn right and follow the Pennine Way as it crosses a field to reach the start of a small grassy valley. We then follow the path along the left hand side of a field, with a stone wall to our left and the open hills to our right, for the next two thirds of a mile. We then cross a stile into the next field, and continue on to the north, still with the wall to our left, although at a short distance.
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Start of the path across CowsideWe are now approaching the only potentially tricky moment on the walk. Our path reaches the northern end of the stone wall. The wall, and the Pennine Way, turns to the left and heads downhill. We follow this path for a very short distance, following a gentle slope downhill. The Pennine Way then heads down a much steeper "step" in the hill. At this point, before going down that steep drop, we turn sharply to the right and follow the path that is marked on the OS maps. The first few feet of this path are not all that clear, but it very quickly becomes more obvious, running north east across the hillside, climbing very gently as it goes.
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The path up Cowside to Back PastureAfter just over a third of a mile our path turns right, and heads up the hillside towards Back Pasture. The turning point is actually more obvious that seems likely on the approach - the path reaches a clear gully that heads up the hill, turns right and follows the base of this valley.

Limestone pavements above CowsideOur only real problem comes as the path reaches the limestone pavements. Here a stone wall crosses our route, and is not crossed by any stiles. Remember, although this is access land, walkers do not have the right to take any route they want - only those routes that will not do damage. The best route past this wall is to turn left, and follow the wall until it reaches the foot of a cliff. Here there is a gap between the end of the wall and the cliff face, which can easily be scrambled over.

View from Back PastureOn the far side of the wall an obvious path continues along the base of this gully, heading to the right of the crags that line the top of Back Pasture. This path passes around the southern tip of Back Pasture (it is well worth scrambling up this slope to see the view from the top). It then passes through a gap in the next stone wall, and passes to the south of a large flat wet area, before passing to the right of Back Pasture Hill. Here our faint path joins a much clearer track

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Continue along this clearer track into the next field. We are now at the top of a steep slope overlooking Middle House Farm. Our route onwards - a farm track that heads south for the next mile and a quarter - is clearly visible at the base of the hill. To reach the base of the hill follow the track down the hill. Where the track splits take the left hand branch, and then almost immediately turn right onto a footbath that heads straight down the hill towards a stile in the opposite fence (our shortcut from step 7 rejoins the main route at this stile). Cross this stile and then continue on in the same direction along the farm track until it reaches the tip of a minor road.
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Our track eventually reached the eastern tip of a minor road. Continue on to the south, and follow the track until it merges with another minor road that joins from the right.
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Just after we join this road, a footpath leaves to the left, signposted for Gordale Scar, and distinguished by a warning that the path ahead is very rough and steep. Cross the stile and follow this path as it runs gently across a nice flat area. Only when Gordale comes into sight to the left does it become clear how true that sign will prove to be!
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Upper waterfall, Gordale ScarWe now have a choice of routes. Our path runs alongside a wall that runs along the top of Gordale for some time. We then enter a second field, where this wall is absent, and begins to drop gently. Just before the path begins to drop down steeply intoGordale Scar, another path leaves to the right, climbing gently up onto the top of Gordale ScarNew Close Knotts, the hill to the west of the scar. This is our eventual way on (unless you successfully navigate the final barrier at the base of the scar).

Entrance to Gordale ScarIf you wish to visit Gordale Scar, then follow the main path as it drops steeply down a scree slope into a giant chasm in the rocks (fortunately steps have now been built into the steepest parts of this path). This dramatic route leads us past the first waterfall in the scar, dropping down from the upper valley into this chasm.Eventually the path leads us to the top of thelower waterfall of Gordale Scar.

GordaleIn theory the path continues over this waterfall, but on my visit the beck was running too high, and there was no obvious path, at least from above, so after enjoying the dramatic view return up the same steep path back to the junction in the paths.

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CawdenWe follow the path around the top of New Close Knotts, until it reaches the top of a minor gully, with a stone wall running across our current route. Here the path swings away to the left and takes advantage of a grassy slope to drop the southern slope of New Close Knotts. This path drops all the way down to the wall at the base of the hill, where it passes through a stile and into the first relatively flat field.
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At the base of the hill we have a choice of several routes (I think I chose the wrong one). A footpath runs from east to west across the base of the hills, linking two minor roads, both of which lead back into Malham. I chose to turn right, to avoid a steep climb on Gordale Lane, but this path eventually curves away to the right, adding unnecessary height and distance to the walk. It then joins a minor road, which we follow left down into Malham.

For a more interesting route cross the first field at the base of the hill, then turn left and follow the footpath down to Gordale Lane. Turn left to visit Gordale Scar from below (adding just under a mile to the walk), or turn right to return to Malham. After a short distance on this road turn left onto the footpath that follows Gordale Beck, passing Janet's Foss and running down a pretty wooded valley. After one mile this path reaches the Pennine Way. Turn right onto this path and follow it back into Malham.

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