Malham: 260 foot cliffs, hidden waterfalls, and picturesque woodland

Just beyond Skipton, in the world-famous Yorkshire Dales, we join acclaimed music video director KC Locke to discover landscapes forged in the last Ice Age, rare flora and fauna and some of northern England’s most spectacular views.

By Manchester's Finest | Last updated 1 December 2022

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Walk: Malham
Time: 2h 39m
Distance: 8km
Elevation: 330m

For the second instalment in our new Weekend Walks series, we leave the bright lights and mayhem of Manchester behind and debunk to the Yorkshire Dales to hike one of northern England’s most iconic and unique beauty spots.

On the day, we were blessed to have critically acclaimed and internationally renowned music video maker KC Locke in tow but less lucky with the weather. Still, the scenery was spectacular and conversation fascinating — with the director discussing a career in which he’s worked with the likes of Aitch, Skepta, Ed Sheeran, Ella Eyre, Mahalia, and Ella Mai, to name but a few.

KC Locke and Hanna Outdoors

This time the destination was Malham Cove, a huge, curved amphitheatre-shaped rock formation outside the picturesque village of Malham. Some might remember this neck of the woods from ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, others will have seen pictures in countless guide books, postcards and photography exhibitions. First, though, it’s a case of getting to our starting point — around 90 minutes drive from the city we call home, close to the charming town of Skipton.

Malham Cove

Once you’ve arrived and parked the car the walk starts right there at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Car Park. Now, it’s through the wooden gate and onto the Woodland Walkway, leading you out of the village itself, past the Riverside Campsite, just off Cove Road. You’ll quickly start to realise what makes this part of the world so appealing to walkers, with gently rolling but nonetheless rugged landscapes as far as the eye can see. After a few minutes, you’ll reach Town Head Barn and want to spend a little time here before moving on. An unmanned information point run by the National Trust, it’s packed with facts about the local area, from farming practices to historical details of how the village came to be, and the lowdown on interesting flora and fauna you’re likely to encounter.

Next, take the off-road path running alongside Malham Beck, a small waterway that runs directly from the Cove itself. En-route you’ll pass Bombey’s Barn, a former-stone built structure that now lies in ruins at the entrance to the Malham Tarn nature reserve, which, in midsummer, is teeming with flowers and famed for dragonflies. Birdwatchers will find a hide for scoping out some of the regular winged visitors. Some species of animals you can find around here have lineage traceable back to the last Ice Age. Meanwhile, the landscape packs an enviable limestone pavement, with hilltop agricultural land dominating the scene.

Sticking to the path, next we meet our most dramatic waypoint — Malham Cove, where the cliff face stretches up an impressive 260 feet. The very top is badly eroded, and geology fans will be interested to know the limestone pavement is of a particularly rare pattern for this part of England. Spend some time taking in the raw majesty from the foot of the rock, which was carved out over centuries as the glacier that once stood here melted. A great place for echoes and acoustics, follow our team’s lead and project your voice across the wilderness.

Now make your way — carefully — to the ridge for some of the most breathtaking views you’re likely to find this close to Manchester. Or indeed anywhere on the planet. Hanna and KC opted for the hard route, but there is an easier way to summit via stone steps for those who don’t fancy the scramble.

As per the video, this is probably the best place in Yorkshire for a picnic, not least if you manage to miss the crowds that can be sizeable during peak times and the busy season. Whether or not you’ll also learn about shooting action sequences involving helicopters is another question.

Heading from the ascent and summit you’ll soon find yourself in the middle of more fields that look seemingly untouched, save for the traditional dry-stone walls. Reaching the signpost, follow the route to Sheriff Hill, and then onto Shorkley Hill where you’ll momentarily join Malham Rakes Road.

Leaving asphalt behind, Cowden Flats should come into view as you begin to approach the next major site — Gordale Scar campsite.

Taking its name from what many dub a crown jewel of the Yorkshire Dales, as the tents disappear behind you the gorge — or scar — will become visible, a site that has been a source of inspiration for countless writers, artists and thinkers over the years. Formed on Middle Craven Fault, the first thing that is likely to strike you is just how deep this gigantic collapsed cave system is.

“It’s pretty mad,” KC declares as the pair follow the river through what he describes as akin to somewhere from ‘Lord of the Rings’. The path leading here is easy terrain, too, making this a case of maximum payoff for comparatively little effort — certainly in comparison with making it to the top of the Cove. Tired or not, we certainly don’t advise rushing this part of the adventure as you really don’t see places like this every day.

Back to the path and it’s time to head for the last standout spot of the journey. Along the way you may well pass a catering van selling coffees, teas and snacks, just in case that packed lunch wasn’t enough.

Gordale Lane

Arriving at a style gate, pass through and enter thick woodlands where you’ll be in earshot of Janet’s Foss — sounds guiding you to the final destination: a hidden waterfall and plunge pool hemmed in by trees that feels a million miles from the stress and strains of modern life.

All done? Retreat into Stone Bank Wood, following the trail to Gordal Beck Canal. A word of advice — this isn’t like the canals back in Manchester, and is more comparable with a marshland, the path taking you straight into Malham village, where we started and finish this gorgeous circular hike. Not bad for just under five miles of walking, once in town you can choose from a number of great pubs for hearty food, or jump back in the car and set off on the return home to Manchester (or wherever you originally came from).

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