The classic Malham Round

Posted on
A springtime walk through stunning limestone scenery from Malham in the Yorkshire Dales taking in Janet's Foss, Gordale Scar and Malham Cove

Sleepy Malham village

Malham village is normally anything but sleepy, thanks mainly due to its proximity to some of the most stunning limestone scenery in the Yorkshire Dales. As such it is pretty much guaranteed to be busy, especially at weekends.

As I don’t get to Malham very often I wanted to make the most of a single trip. Therefore it made sense to do the seven mile long Classic Malham Round and see all the best bits: Gordale Scar, Watlowes and Malham Cove.

Getting people-free photos in Malhamdale requires either patience, being there at an antisocial hour or when the weather is awful. The latter does limit the photographer’s options though! The photos in this article were taken over a number of visits, using combinations of the aforementioned factors. Most of them were taken on a recent trip in spring though when the weather was gorgeous.

On the May day in question I was hoping to be there by dawn but as sunrise was about 5am there was no chance of that! It is a bit of a drive to get to Malham so by arriving at 7am I thought I had done quite well. My car was the first one there and the sky was blue so all was looking promising.

Walking from Malham to Janets Foss

Wary that the coaches wouldn’t be too far behind me I didn’t want to hang around. So kit quickly sorted, I set out southwards out of the village along the Pennine Way. Looking over my shoulder, back towards the village I saw a rare view: a very empty and quiet Malham village.

Malham Beck flowing through Malham village
Malham Beck flowing through Malham village

It is so rare to see Pennine Way path out of Malham with no people on it. I therefore had to stop and take a photo. Normally there is a steady stream of walkers down this path and on the road on the other side of Malham Beck.

Taking the left hand fork at Mires Barn the path is soon accompanied by Gordale Beck. Navigation for the next couple of miles was going to be easy: all I had to do was follow the little beck on its eventful journey.

After crossing a few farm fields the track leads to the National Trust site of Janet’s Foss. The woodland surrounding the waterfall is carpeted with wild garlic and I was hoping that they would be in flower. After all this was the main reason for this particular day out. Thankfully they were so it was time for another break and time to get the camera out again. The following two photos were my favourites of the many I took.

Close to the above limestone outcrop there is something marked as ‘Janet’s Cave’ on the OS Map. I took the quick scramble up the steep slope to investigate but it was pretty unimpressive in all honesty. Just a small cave at the top of a very steep slope – hardly worth the climb. I would have taken a photo but I had already spent about an hour in the woods. It was time to move on.

At the end of the woods I arrived at the waterfall after which the woods are named – Janet’s Foss. Sadly the falls were little more than a trickle and didn’t warrant me getting my camera out. It had been dry for the days prior to my visit and this had obviously had an effect. Hopefully I’ll return here after a rainy spell and do the picturesque waterfall justice. This blog entry will then get updated.

Climbing Gordale Scar

On crossing over Gordale Lane and taking the path opposite the limestone scenery just gets better and better. At this point Gordale Beck crosses the limestone escarpment to the north of Malham at Gordale Scar: an impressive gorge created by glacial melt water.

The twin falls in Gordale were a stunning sight but, as with Janet’s Foss, not as dramatic as they are after rain. Fortunately I have a couple of photos from a previous walk here that are much more impressive so I’ll use them instead. Firstly, there is the impressive Gordale ravine further down from the falls.

In general I much prefer landscape photographs with no one in them. However in this case it possibly would benefit from having someone in the shot to give it a sense of scale. For once I wish someone else had been passing by. Never mind. Suffice it to say the ravine is about 100 metres deep!

The main waterfall in Gordale Scar can be seen in the background and at the time the water level was high. Wandering closer I took the following photo.

On arriving at the foot of the rock between the two falls, which is where the climb up the falls starts, I realised I wasn’t going to get any further up the scar on this day. The soft layer of wet tufa on the rocks made them slippery. Getting myself up with all my photography kit simply wasn’t worth the risk.

The above photos were taken in winter. When I returned in May the rocks were dry and the waterfall was much smaller. As a result climbing up the falls was pretty straightforward. It was only after doing so that I read the article on Gordale Scar on the National Park’s website where they ask people not to climb the scar. Apparently it damages the tufa. Apologies to the National Park. In my defence other people were following me up so obviously people still do do the climb.

From Watlowes to Malham Cove on the Pennine Way

On climbing out of the top of Gordale Scar the ground levels off and the walk becomes a pleasant wander through upland limestone scenery. Soon I was walking along the small lane from Malham towards Malham Tarn, and the last leg of my walk: to Malham Cove.

From the car park at Malham Tarn I headed south, along the Pennine Way path towards Malham. A few yards after this turn are Water Sinks which are named pretty unimaginatively. It is what it says it is: the point at which Malham Beck disappears underground through gaps in the underlying limestone to emerge at the base of Malham Cove. Although important from a geological point of view they are visually unimpressive. So I walked on by.

Fairly soon, at a sharp right turn in the path, the dry valley of Watlowes comes into view.

Many years ago Malham Beck used to flow along this valley, before erosion opened up Water Sinks and the beck was diverted. River or no river, Watlowes is an impressive sight.

I also broke one of my rules and didn’t wait for the two people in the distance to walk out of shot. I could have erased them in post-processing but that would have been mean. Going back to what I said earlier about my photo of Gordale Scar, they give a sense of scale.

At the other end of Watlowes, just out of shot, is the final impressive geological feature of the day: Malham Cove.

Malham Cove limestone pavement

The curved cliff face of Malham Cove is one of the most recognisable features in the Yorkshire Dales. The cove was created during the last ice age as a torrent of water flowed over the geological fault, which explains its curved face. With the melting of the ice cap and subsequent opening of the Water Sinks water no longer flows over the top of the cove now. Actually, thats not completely true. Back in December 2015 exceptionally heavy rain caused a waterfall at the cove for the first time in living memory. But it is very rare.

Anyway, this was a photography trip so enough about the geology, more photos!

The limestone pavement on top of the cove is an irregular pattern of limestone blocks (termed clints) separated by deep fissures (called grykes). As such it can be a challenge to take a picture of the limestone with any sort of pattern in it, but I tried. While hopping from clint to clint I managed to take some photos anyway. Later on, while processing the photos from the day, I found this one: it has a particularly pleasing pattern to my eye.

To get the best sunsets from Malham Cove I’ve always found it best to be there in winter. When the days are longer in the summer the setting sun disappears behind the hills to the west of the cove well before it disappears below the horizon. However in winter the setting sun is visible much lower before it sets.

Fortunately I was at Malham Cove a few years ago in December and caught a great sunset. Ok, so it wasn’t clear but the setting winter sun did create a very nice pastel-coloured scene.

On my May day out I was at the top of the cove by midday. After my early start I was quite tempted to have a nap but sleeping for 8 hours on the cove until sunset wasn’t an option. Instead I had my dinner, then made my way back down. The day-trippers and school trips had turned up by now and the area was getting quite crowded. This wasn’t at all surprising as it had turned out to be a gorgeous day. For me though it was time to take the short walk back to Malham village and head home.

The result of this day out was a few new additions to my photos of the Yorkshire Dales but I feel there are endless opportunities for more in this area. Any reason to do the Classic Malham Round again!

The classic Malham Round was last modified: March 21st, 2021 by Gavin Dronfield

Further reading:

  • A dawn walk round the Hole of Horcum
    September 2017 : The tale of a wonderful misty dawn photography trip to The Hole of Horcum in the North York Moors National Park when the heather was still in flower

  • A walk from Stainforth to Winskill Stones
    April 2017 : Watching sunset from the limestone pavement of Winskill Stones near Stainforth in Ribblesdale, in the Yorkshire Dales National Park

  • Bluebells and ramsons in Robin Hoods Howl
    May 2016 : Visiting Robin Hoods Howl, a coppiced beech woodland on the edge of the North York Moors National Park that is carpeted with ramsons in springtime

  • Subscribe to my newsletter

    To receive an email whenever a new blog entry is published please enter your email address below and it will be added to my list:

    Your email address will not be shared.

    Please leave a comment:

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *