Walks in the Yorkshire Dales: Malham Cove, Gordale Scar and Janet’s Foss - a true Yorkshire gem.

It’s highly unlikely that you’ve never heard of Malham Cove and its neighbours of Gordale Scar, Janet’s Foss and Malham Tarn but this is a place of sheer wonder and so it’s no surprise that people, understandably, revisit over and over again especially as it’s an area amongst the top ten geological wonders of Britain. But why is it such a popular outdoor destination, you ask?

Malham is a special location in the Yorkshire Dales for so many reasons; for the wonderful and varied hiking of different distances, for its stunning limestone scenery and natural formations, for its movie filming locations and quaint little village and for its dark sky reserve.

The area around Malham offers huge opportunities for hiking and this route takes in the most popular spots and the ones I’m sure you’ve seen countless photos of before; you’ll start by visiting the huge cliffs of Malham Cove, head up onto the limestone pavement atop the cliff, wander over to Malham Tarn and then descend back down to Gordale Scar before heading to the beautiful waterfall known as Janet’s Foss. So, wrap up warm, pack your lunch and swim suit (you don’t want to miss a freezing dip in Janet’s Foss afterall) and enjoy a day of exploring the best of Malham.

Gordale Scar at Malham Cove hikes  and walks in the Yorkshire Dales

At a Glance

Difficulty: Moderate - some elevation gain and uneven, rough ground although many of the paths are also on flat surfaces and are well-maintained. 

Distance: 14km loop

Total ascent: 360m

Est Time: 4 hours depending on pace and rest stops

Starting location: There’s a few parking places in Malham but I always try to nab a free roadside parking space on the road into Malham. If you’re not so lucky, there’s a car park next to the visitor centre in Malham with public toilets and during peak season, there is often an overflow field opened up where you can park for the day. 

Parking Cost: 

Free if on roadside

Malham visitor centre car park; £5.50 for the day

Overflow field; £5 when open

*All prices correct at time of writing (Jan ‘24)

Dog friendly: Yes but keep them out of Malham Tarn

Key features: Malham Cove the amphitheatre shaped cliff formation, Malham Tarn, Gordale Scar and Janet’s Foss.  

Route info

Depending on where you choose to park to start the hike, the towering limestone cliffs of Malham Cove will be your first stop. After heading along the main road through and out the village, you can’t really go wrong here; there’s a few different paths to Malham Cove but I prefer to take the Pennine Way path that cuts in front of the YHA; even on a busy day this route always seems to be quieter and I enjoy being higher up than the main path which runs along Malham Beck. This part of the Pennine Way is a short section making up part of the 268 mile route which runs from the Scottish border all the way down to the Derbyshire hills and as you get closer to Malham Cove, the huge curved limestone cliff dominates the view.

Malham Cove cliffs

Malham Cove

The limestone cliffs that make up “The Cove” as it’s affectionately known in the Yorkshire Dales, tower 80m into the air and span a whopping 300m wide. It’s no wonder that Malham Cove appears in the top ten geological wonders of Britain and this route will take you right to the bottom of it. Look up (but not for too long because that neck strain will start to kick in) and keep an eye out for climbers here too. This spectacular limestone cliff is well loved and a popular spot with hikers so don’t be shocked if you have to share the view with a rather large crowd but even with others around you, it’s impossible not to stop and appreciate the sheer size and beauty of The Cove. 

From the bottom, it’s not obvious the treat which awaits you at the top of the cliffs. Once you’re ready, follow the path that leads around to the left to a set of around 400 stone steps heading uphill. I know, I know - 400 steps! They’ll get your heart racing for sure but take your time and I promise you that what’s at the top is worth every single step. 

walks and hikes in The Yorkshire Dales the view from the top of Malham Cove

The limestone pavement of Malham Cove formed after the last ice age by meltwater mostly from Malham Tarn. A large waterfall would have once flowed over the edge of the cove but today, any water disappears into the hidden cave systems and the stream from Malham Tarn disappears around a mile from here. The limestone blocks make up this pavement which has been characterised by erosion and weathering from the elements and you might recognise it if you’re a Harry Potter fan as it appeared in The Deathly Hallows film. 

limestone pavement at Malham Cove

It can get a bit chilly up here on a cold and windy day so be prepared by wrapping up warm in your Explore puffer jacket and keep those tootsies warm with some cosy hiking socks too!

Heading to Malham Tarn

The view down the valley back towards Malham from here is spectacular on a nice day and as you hop, skip (or simply walk) along the limestone blocks, you’ll see that the path of The Pennine Way heads away from the top of the cove.

Pennine Way at Malham Cove

Following this will lead you through a rocky area known as Dry Valley and between Ing Scar, the site of a settlement which dates from the Iron-Age onwards. Once further along, the path cuts to the right and around the side of Comb Hill and brings you out onto more open ground with Malham Tarn not too far ahead of you.

Malham Cove walks and hikes Yorkshire Dales

Malham Tarn

Malham Tarn, a glacial lake and officially classed as a nature reserve, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and home to an abundance of wildlife and plants, is rarely busy. A road runs right near the tarn with a large parking area so you might see a few fellow walkers but on the whole, this is a peaceful area perfect for a lunch stop. If you do stop here on a nice day, please don’t be tempted to enter the water for a swim; this is a protected site and wild swimming is prohibited. 

Malham Tarn

Malham Tarn is an incredibly important historical site with fascinating history behind it particularly during the Stone Age. As open water is rare in the area, it naturally attracted wildlife so hunters of the Stone Age descended on here to hunt. Along the shoreline, the remains of campsites and stone tools have even been found! 

Take some time to enjoy the peaceful surroundings here before retracing your steps and following the footpath (it can get boggy here so be careful) along the grass opposite the car park for Malham Tarn. 

Descending back to Gordale Scar

The path back down towards the other side of the top of Malham Cove won’t take you long however this is an area of water sinks so it can get extremely boggy in places. The path heads gently downhill alongside another rocky scar before bringing you out at the top of Malham Cove once again. It’s worth stopping here as the view over the whole of Malham Cove is breathtaking and you can really get a sense of the size of this natural wonder from here. Just don’t get too close to the edge as it’s quite the drop! 

Malham Cove view from the top of the cliffs limestone pavement Yorkshire Dales walks and hikes

Heading away from Malham Cove, you’ll cross a road and traverse along the edge of a hill before reaching a road. There’s often a snack hut here so you can easily grab a little snack or a drink if it’s open before heading left and following the well maintained footpath just off the road which follows Gordale Beck. After roughly ten minutes you’ll reach the gorge known as Gordale Scar.

Gordale Scar at Malham Cove

Gordale Scar

Formed during the ice age when glacial meltwater cut down through faults in the rock which carved it deeper and deeper over time. The gorge is incredibly deep and a waterfall rushes over the end finishing off the dramatic look. 

The gorge dominates your viewpoint as you get closer and closer to the entrance and it’s easy to see why this is a place much loved and has been the source of inspiration for many pieces of literature and artwork. 

Gordale Scar Malham Cove walks and hikes in the Yorkshire Dales

The waterfall here provides a fun, and slippery, grade 1 scramble if you fancied it but for this route you’ll need to retrace your steps back out of the gorge towards the main road once again. It’s just a short walk to the beautiful waterfall of Janet’s Foss.

Waterfall at Gordale Scar Malham Cove Yorkshire Dales walks and hikes

Janet’s Foss

If you love a legend, then Janet’s Foss will be right up your street. If not, it’s a beautiful waterfall nestled in the woodland worth stopping at and is an excellent place for a wild swim so there really is something for everyone. 

The waterfall, maybe unsurprisingly, gets its name from a local folk tale that claims the small waterfall is home to Janet; also known as Queen of the Fairies. Although the waterfall may seem at first peaceful and magical, dark secrets of witch craft and black magic lurk in the water. Some visitors claimed to have encountered an evil force which appears as a green mist on the water and and feeds off the aura of anyone in its path. 

Janet's Foss at Malham Yorkshire Dales waterfalls

Fortunately, we didn’t encounter any evil forces on our trip here but I can confirm that the water was breathtakingly cold! 

Your visit to Janet’s Foss marks the end of this circular route around the gems of Malham and all that’s left is to head away from the waterfall through the woodland and following the path which eventually leads you out to the bottom end of the village of Malham. 

Malham Beck leading to Janet's Foss Malham

Map and key locations 

Access the route on the OS Map App here.

Circular route for Malham Cove with places of interest marked

Locations

1: Parking in Malham

2: Base of Malham Cove with steps to left side leading up to the limestone pavement at the top

3: Malham Tarn

4. Gordale Scar

5. Janet’s Foss waterfall

 

Komoot App

Have you ever tried Komoot? Komoot allows you to access routes planned by others or plan your own which you can then download to your phone to follow while you are out. Komoot is free to join and access and you can find the route for his walk here.

Top Tips

  • This is a very popular destination for hiking so the car park fills up quickly; get there super early or go during the off season. 
  • There’s some lovely little cafes and pubs in Malham which are worth visiting after your hike
  • Take care on the limestone pavement at the top of Malham Cove; they can be very slippery in the wet and require sure footedness to cross
  • Malham Tarn is home to a unique variety of plants and wildlife. It’s a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is home to internationally rare species so wild swimming is not permitted. 
  • Scrambling over the waterfall is Gordale Scar is an excellent route but it can be slippery and dangerous in the wrong conditions.

For additional UK outdoor adventures, wild swimming, hiking routes and more, check my other blog posts here on MY URBAN TRAIL and follow me @Wild_0utdoors on Instagram.

Happy adventuring! 

Izzy

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