Having grown up in the town of Settle, I will never be able to write anything impartial about the Yorkshire Dales. Living as I now do in Leeds and visiting only occasionally, there is always a flicker of excitement when the train turns the corner into Ribblesdale and the bright green form of High Hill, with it’s distinctive marbled limestone stripes and sugarloaf-shaped peak comes into view.
I certainly feel that I have every right to be proud of the region where I grew up – The Dales (which take their name from the Old Norse word Dalr, meaning ‘valley’) are in my opinion the finest National Park in the UK, and certainly the UK’s most unique geographical area. There is nowhere else in Europe that can boast of limestone scenery on this scale, indeed across the world only the famous islands of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam and the jagged peaks of Tsingy de Bemaraha in Madagascar can rival the Yorkshire Dales.
Lying just beyond High Hill The sleepy village of Malham is a brilliant place from which to explore the Dales’ dramatic scenery. You can walk past Janet’s Foss, the picturesque waterfall behind which, according to local legend, there is a cave which houses the queen of the fairies, up to the imposing Gordale Scar, rumoured to be the inspiration for the mountain fortress of Helm’s Deep in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings novels. If you are feeling adventurous, you can climb the rocks beside the waterfall and explore the upper reaches of this enormous valley. Eventually, this route will bring you out at Malham Tarn, Yorkshire’s only natural lake and the highest body of water in the UK at 1237 feet.
Having reached the summit, you can stroll across the iconic limestone pavement at the top of Malham Cove – an enormous limestone cliff which, several thousand years ago, was a waterfall larger than the Niagara Falls are today! This noted landmark was made even more famous in 2011 when it was featured in the film ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’. From here you can descend the 400 stairs known as Jacob’s Ladder down to Malham and enjoy a well-earned pint of locally-brewed beer at one of the village’s many pubs, and decide where you are going to explore tomorrow.
Wherever you decide to venture, you won’t run short of places to visit. Outside of Malham, there are 800 square miles of the Yorkshire Dales National Park to explore, including the Wensleydale Creamery where free samples are always available to visitors, and the mysterious Trollers Gill near Skyreholme, rumoured to be the lair of a mythological black dog known in Yorkshire as the Barghest.
Further afield, the village of Kilnsey offers spectacular views over it’s crag, and beyond Butter Tubs Pass lies the ancient hamlet of Keld, where the popular Pennine Way and Coast to Coast walks intersect. A short drive up the hills from Keld stands Tan Hill Inn, at 1732ft the highest pub in the United Kingdom. Tan Hill is a totally unique place to enjoy a lunch, and feels more like a homestead than a pub. In fact, it is so remote that it’s compliment of over 30 staff live full time in on-site sleeping quarters, and in the freezing January of 2010, staff and guests were snowed in for a week before relief was able to reach the Inn.