Malham: History & Geology

5 miles, 7 with optional side quests, (8 or 11 kilometres) round trip, quieter than the usual Malham hike for crowd avoiders. August, sun and cloud. With family.

TL;DR ticking off all the sites without the crowds: fossils, butterflies and butties.

The walk starts at one of Malham’s clapper bridges. I love a good clapper and the web will have you believe Malham has three. I’ll let you into a secret, it has several and the best one is hidden away down a green snickleway a couple of hundred metres behind The Secret Garden. Go explore.

But this walk starts at the one by the Smithy, and just like that, with a minimum of effort, you’re on the Pennine Way. Very briefly, but you can tell people you’ve ‘done a bit of it’. As an antisocial walker I wasn’t sure if August was a great time to hike Malham. We’d put ourselves right in the vipers’ nest by staying in a gorgeous cottage in the village but with things turned out rather well.

This is a popular short stretch to Janet’s Foss (another excellent old Norse word), much quieter if you walk it in the evening which we did a couple of times and had it to ourselves as the ridge and furrow fields turned to orange.

Shovell had a most excellent time at the foss jumping in and out of the water, and soon there was something of a dog party. I’m sorry if you came for a swim that day, or a quiet picnic, he really does enjoy a dip.

After clambering up from the waterfall most people follow the signage to Gordale Scar (hello again old Norse) with its photo ops and ice cream van. Here’s the first detour if you want to take a look, but come back here because I know a good way up, the lovely Dales High Way….

…As you huff your way up there are some lovely old ancient field systems and views for miles. It’s at times like this I wish I had my own personal geologist. The limestone scenery here is karst, an ice age river once flowed here and glacial scrape exposed the limestone.

As you come over the hill you start to see a glimpse of the spectacular limestone pavement, where the soluble limestone slabs took on the distinctive clints and grikes (slabs and fissures, for non Yorkshire speakers) from the relentless action of the rain and left this awesome surface. You need to get up close, but don’t let your kids fall off the edge. Shovell was on a short lead, needless to say, for he is a very silly billy.

And here’s a remarkable thing, you’re standing directly over the subterranean River Aire. Its source is at Malham Tarn but a mile before the cove it disappears again underground, only to rise again a little way down from our cottage at Aire Head, and then on to power the industrial revolution in the northern towns of Bingley, Saltaire (Titus Salt’s model village, where my dad went to school), Shipley and Leeds. Aire is one of those earliest of our words, Brittonic words which are now only found in the names of our almost immutable hills and rivers.

We continue up rather than following others down to the cove and the path is rocky and suddenly hot, we’re sheltered between two escarpments. It’s an absolute delight, a very special stairway.

We have these scars to ourselves. We have an idea to find the hut circle at the top but we fail. Instead we find a rock with what looks like a mollusc fossil, and i’m more than happy with this evidence of the once great river from 300 million years ago.

When we have finished exploring we cross the stile and come back over the beautiful moorland scar, chased by meadow and small heath butterflies, past the cove before settling down into the soft hills with more lovely views of the drystone walls and what’s left of ancient ridge and furrow.

Here you can come back down Cove Road and see Malham Cove close up, but we save that for later when the crowds have gone, besides we have an excellent view of the peregrine falcons and house martins circling from up here. Peregrines have been nesting here for thirty years and they are distinctive and easy to spot.

Eventually we come down Long Lane, part of it beautifully sandwiched between warm stone walls and full of even more butterflies, before finally reaching Malham village again, oh so conveniently close to the takeaway butty shop. Fancy that.

The detour to Malham Cove (and another clapper bridge)

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More walks in this area

Walk info

You can follow our route (designed by lovely son on OS maps) here and add the detours in if you only have one day to explore and want to do it all. The popular sights are all signposted. You can also buy the Ordnance Survey map for Malham which is OL2.

2 responses to “Malham: History & Geology”

  1. Having been introduced today to your blog by Bren, I’m looking forward to many more virtual walks with you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so happy you stopped by


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