Guide to the Yorkshire Dales
Updated: May 16, 2022
Winding roads, dry stone walls, rolling hills and wandering sheep. Does England get any better than the Yorkshire Dales? Covid-19 kind of put a stop to travel in 2020 and although lots of people did fly-fly away come the summer holidays, for many, going abroad wasn't on the cards. I opted for a staycation 🙌 and, as part of my UK explorations, spent a few days in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales National Park. See below for a guide to the Yorkshire Dales - by car.
Take your Time
Before we get down to the actual guide to the Yorkshire Dales, here's a tip: every turn in the road offers another spectacular view, so take your time to enjoy your surroundings. I spent the first day just driving through the Dales, stopping frequently to stretch my legs and explore a bit. You'd be surprised what you find when you're not following Google Maps! Narrow walking paths, countless sheep, lone houses perched on the edges of hills. There are countless villages to stop at along the way with little rivers running through them and picturesque bridges to cross over. And can we talk about how the grass really is greener in the Dales! It's as if you've set your camera to some kind of ultimate vibrancy setting - it's so lush!
This place deserves a spot on any guide to the Yorkshire Dales. I'd wanted to see Malham Cove for the longest time! So what is this Cove exactly? It's about 80 metres high, 300 wide, and the top of it is made up of eroded limestone rocks - quite rare in England! Anyone who's been raves about it and can't believe its scale - and it also features for a short scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 2). So it was a no-brainer; I headed over to have a look for myself. Most visitors are wise and park in Malham Village and walk up to the cove, approaching it from the bottom - where you get to properly see its scale. It's a 20 minute walk from the village and another 10 minutes or so to climb the stairs to the top of the Cove. I didn't really think it through and naively just typed "Malham Cove" into Google Maps. Of course it took me to a completely random point on a road somewhat near to the top of the Cove 🤦🏻♀️
So I ended up stopping my car in a small lay-by and walking 30 minutes through a field with lots of sheep, no path and veryyy long grass to reach the top of the Cove. To be fair, there was an opening in the fence and it was marked with a National Trust post, so I didn't do anything illegal and it was actually really cool to approach the Cove from behind, seeing it from a different angle - but I wouldn't recommend following my route as it can be difficult retracing your steps on the return journey! Whichever way you choose to approach it though, Malham Cove is very beautiful and, on a clear day, the view from the top is truly magnificent. Definitely earning a top spot in my guide to the Yorkshire Dales.
So many waterfalls
Yorkshire has no shortage of waterfalls! You'll be quite spoiled for choice when it comes to flowing water - so check out Aysgarth, Cauldron Falls ,Catrigg Force, Scaleber Foss, Thornton Force, and many more!
Get Behind the Wheel
The rain was pouring down that morning, so instead of exploring by foot, I stayed in my car (mostly) and drove along the winding roads. Driving or cycling through the Dales is a blissful experience. Of course you need to be cautious as the roads can be steep and winding - but the views really are picture-perfect, even in the rain! The road from Hawes to Keld is especially pretty, as well as Hawes to Aysgarth; Kettlewell to Horsehouse; and Swale Dale to Thwaite.
Towns and Villages
The Dales are home to some very pretty villages and towns - be sure to check out Hawes, Thwaite, Grassington, Thornton-le-Dale, Malham, Appletreewick... to name a few.
This charming railway bridge is always featured on any list of top places to visit in the Yorkshire Dales - and therefore earns a spot in my guide to the Yorkshire Dales! With its 24 arches, this impressive structure stretches 400 metres and is part of the Settle-Carlisle line. There is free roadside parking and from here it's a brief walk up to the viaduct - and there are lots of other walking routes available nearby. The line is still in use today, so in the summer months you might be lucky enough to see a steam train chugging along this architectural gem!
Janet's Foss, Malham Cove, Gordale Scar Circular Walk
As far as hikes go, this is one of the most popular and really deserves a blog post of its own - but for now, it's included in my general guide to the Yorkshire Dales. This walk takes in three famous spots in the Dales, as well as beautiful scenery on the way. It's a relatively easy 2-hour hike and only gets strenuous with an uphill climb on the path from Gordale Scar up to Malham Cove.
1) Janet's Foss
The walk starts in Malham Village near the National Park Centre and from there first takes you to Janet's Foss - an almost fairytale-like waterfall within a woodland area (legend has it that Janet, queen of the fairies, lived in a cave behind the falls). Continue along the path and you'll soon pass a food truck where you can stock up on refreshments - and then it's onwards to Gordale Scar.
2) Gordale Scar
The next stop along the walk is this beauty! Truly like something out of Middle Earth, Gordale Scar is rumoured to have been Tolkien's inspiration for Helm's Deep - and it's easy to see why this could be true! This limestone ravine near Malham is breathtaking, with cliffs over 330 feet high. The scale of it is unbelievable and grows in magnificence the nearer you get. Initially hidden from view, as you approach around the bend you'll see a double falls. People attempt a scramble up these waterfalls but I wouldn't advise it unless you're an experienced climber - as it's steep and slippery. After a quick stop here, you have to retrace your steps back along the path, over the bridge at Gordale Beck and through a couple of uphill fields towards Malham Cove.
3) Malham Cove
As mentioned above, Malham Cove is worth a visit - so much so that I saw it twice. This time as part of the circular walk, which meant I approached it from the other side, admired the view, and then walked down the 400 or so steps on the other side. Once at the bottom, look back at what you've just climbed - it really is huge and photos don't do it justice! Then continue on the path which will take you back into Malham Village and the visitor centre.
Starry Starry Night
Grimwith has some of the darkest skies in the country and is perfect for stargazing.
These are just a few sights to see as part of my guide to the Yorkshire Dales - but there is so much more, including the famed three peaks! I'll report back after my next visit 😉
Happy travels x