Where did 25 years go? In the blink of an eye!
In the blink of an eye! In ten days’ time, on December 27, this column celebrates its 25th birthday. It was on December 27, 1991, that the first Walking with Wilkinson feature appeared in the pages of the Yorkshire Evening Post.
That first walk was entitled Malham’s Big Three and took readers on a spectacular tour of Gordale Scar, Malham Tarn and Malham Cove, the cove and the scar, to my mind, being the two most impressive pieces of rock architecture in the country.
Twenty-five years down the line, this circuit – to mark the occasion - sets out to replicate that first outing. I say replicate, but that’s not quite the case as this time we have cut out the ascent of the Gordale Scar waterfall – too wet and slippery at this time of year – for a more acceptable bypass up the fields to the west of the scar.
Why, you may ask, have we ducked the Gordale challenge when we tackled it head-on 25 years ago? The answer is quite simple – I have acquired more sense! Those early years of the column were a learning experience. That learning experience began immediately on that first day out in early December, 1991, when my wife Pauline and I checked out the Gordale walk.
Pauline took one look at the climb up the left side of the waterfall - and promptly staged a sit-down protest, even though, on that occasion, the volume of water was reasonable, it being a dry December. No way was she going to tackle that climb!
Then, by good fortune (for me!), a couple with a child entered the scar and completed the ascent of the bucket steps up the waterfall with ease. That changed the mood. Pauline decided that if a small boy could make the climb, so could she, which she did - with a firm push up the backside.
The lesson learned that day was this: I, a rock climber of many years standing, could not judge difficulty whereas Pauline (who doesn’t do adventure!) could - and from that day on she has been the yardstick for difficulty for all the 1,300 walks which have since appeared in the YEP. If my wife can’t manage the walk, it doesn’t go in the paper.
So today’s circuit takes a less adventurous line, but it still contains exciting ground which will keep you interested throughout. Some of the going is rocky, so take extra care on these uneven stretches. Hope you enjoy this celebratory trip through the best limestone country in Britain.
PARKING: Park on righthand side of road in centre of Malham in the vicinity of The Smithy and The Buck Inn (£1 honesty fee in milk churn!) or park on lefthand side of road at entry to village or use the National Park car park (£4.50 all day).
MALHAM and the DRY VALLEY
5 ½ miles: Allow 2 ½ – 3 ½ hours. Map: O/S OL2 Yorkshire Dales Southern and Western areas
From wherever you park, make your way to The Smithy, near The Buck Inn, and cross the bridge at the righthand side of The Smithy over the Malham Beck and turn right. Follow this fine path – flagstones in places - for almost a mile to pass through a limestone gorge (known as Little Gordale) to arrive at Janet’s Foss, a small waterfall which packs a big punch after heavy rain.
Janet’s Foss is named after Jennet, the local fairy queen, who is reputed to live in the cave behind the falls. In bygone days, the pool below the falls was used every June by farmers to wash their sheep before clipping. The occasion was turned into a grand social affair with families and their friends all mucking in and eating and drinking throughout the day.
Continue out to the road and turn right for 100 yards to Gordale Bridge and a fingerpost on your left – STOP! If you have never visited Gordale Scar, don’t miss this chance - turn right for a short distance and then turn left on the man-made path into the scar. Return to this spot.
If you are not making the diversion, turn left at fingerpost for Malham Cove and follow the wall on your right up the hill. Go through kissing gate and on to the next one and turn left along wall.
After a couple of hundred yards, go through a walkers’ gate and immediately turn right along wall up towards a cave. We have now left the public right of way and are journeying through Access Land. Take care on the rocky ground. Go past the cave. The cave appears to be shallow but in fact has an entrance in its bottom righthand corner with, on our visit, a rope in place – do not venture too close.
Go past the cave and climb carefully and slowly up through the boulder field – use your hands if necessary for balance. At top of boulder field, continue by wall towards a wall end perched on top of a tiny limestone outcrop. Pass through the easy “nick” in the outcrop and then continue by wall counting out 100 paces – spot the two trees to your front left growing out of the limestone – and turn left up the slope before gaining the first tree.
1: At top of slope, keep on in the same line until the wall lining the Malham Tarn road opens up on your left – immediately turn left to gain this wall. You should, with luck, pick up a good sheep trod which leads straight to a stone stile in the wall. If you miss the sheep trod, the chances are you will strike the wall to the right of the stile, so turn left to find it.
Cross stile into road, turn left for 20 yards and then turn right over ladder stile and go half right for the Watersinks along a fine green track over an area known as Malham Lings. On arriving at fingerpost with no arms, take the left branch over the brow.
This terrific path – with Malham Tarn occasionally popping into view – leads to a moorland tarn and a 4-sided fingerpost (boggy!). Take the path going slightly left for Watersinks, not the path for Malham Tarn. Soon, the Watersinks appear with the parking area for Malham Tarn just beyond.
Cross a stone stile and turn left – could be surface water! – for the dry valley and Malham Cove, soon passing the Watersinks where the River Aire disappears underground.
The Aire begins its journey to Leeds from the southern outflow of Malham Tarn a couple of hundred yards north of this point. It disappears underground at the Watersinks and reappears about two miles south of Malham at a spot known as Aire Head which marks the official starting point of the river.The water flowing from the bottom of Malham Cove is often mistaken for the Aire but is, in fact, Malham Beck. Malham Beck rises farther back on Malham Moor near the prominent smelt-mill chimney visited on a recent walk in this column. It, too, disappears underground to re-emerge at the foot of the Cove and it then runs through Malham village to join the Aire.
2: The fine path soon takes on a more dramatic aspect as it winds through the gorge of Comb Scar (the crag on left of path) with the dry valley of Watlowes opening up to your left. On arriving at a wall and stile, turn sharp left over the stile and wander down the dry valley.
Thousands of years ago, the valley carried the raging melt waters of a retreating glacier which then poured over the top of 260ft-high Malham Cove. Down the centuries, the water found its way through the porous limestone bedrock to disappear underground. The waterfall, amazingly, re-appeared last December when, after unprecedented rain, the underground channels overflowed and water once more ran down the dry valley and over the Cove, thought to be the first time in 200 years. The event was seen by millions on TV news.
At end of dry valley – with the dizzy depths of Malham Cove ahead – turn right for the Pennine Way at a 3-sided fingerpost across the famed Malham clints. Note: If the clints are dry, the going is easy-peasy, but if the clints are wet they become deadly. If you arrive in wet conditions, the safest option – no kidding! - is to detour to the right round the edge of the clints.
On crossing the clints, on gaining a wall, turn left into a small enclosure which contains a hidden gate, pass through and begin the descent down the side of Malham Cove (steps throughout).
At bottom of steps, turn right and follow the man-made path back to the road on the edge of Malham. Turn left into the village to regain your vehicle.