Malham: a place that sums up Yorkshire scenery and countryside, and a geology lesson in a landscape.
We – the Ripon Ramblers – had come to walk from Malham to the cove which shares its name, then on to the Tarn and then make a circuit of the way back to the village. It’s a longish car trip for us to get there, but we thought it was worth it to enjoy the wild and rocky scenery with views far across dry-stone wall enclosed fields to the Dales beyond.
Malham Cove is a large curved limestone cliff at the head of a valley across which water used to tumble as a glacier melted above it. The stream that once cascaded over the cliff now disappears, like so many others in this land of porous limestone, into Water Sinks about a mile away.
The cove looks rather like an imposing and curtained castle wall or amphitheatre from which vegetation clings precariously. It’s immense, and however often you visit, it never loses its power to impress. We approached it walking along Malham Beck, a pretty stream which jostles and bubbles out of the cove, before we slogged up the 400 irregular rough-hewn stone steps alongside the cove which are part of the Pennine Way. It’s a tough climb, but rewarded every step of the way by seeing the Cove from ever-different viewpoints.
At the top, you’ll want to rest. We had our coffee-stop on the limestone pavement which carpets the area. That glacier all those years ago scraped and polished the limestone, and over the centuries, rain has niggled away at the soluble rock to divide the pavement into large irregular slabs called ‘clints’ and ‘grykes’. It sounds grey and sombre. But in fact there’s a rich diversity of tiny lime-loving plants such as wild thyme, limestone bedstraw, common rock-rose and bloody crane’s-bill – don’t you love those traditional names for these colourful flowers? . Above us, skylarks trilled, and the landscape before us rewarded our efforts.
After our pause, we continued along narrow rough and rocky pathways before hitting more open ground on our path to Malham Tarn. This is the highest lake in England, a shallow lake which, though surrounded by limestone, is itself on a bed of slate. It’s rather boggy round here. Pick your picnic spot, which you’ll be sharing with quite a lot of cows, with care or you’ll stand up after you’ve eaten, as I did, feeling distinctly damp.
Much more open landscape after that. We continued to climb… and descend, climb… and descend, always with those open views, and sheep or sturdy Belted Galloway cattle for company. Suddenly, the climbing was over. Before us was a landscape of ancient stone barns, of sheep enclosed in equally ancient narrow and irregular fields bounded by dry stone walls, and an unremittingly steep grassy path leading down to the valley and Malham, with its welcome tea shops. There’s so much more to explore here. But that will be for another day