“Two of the smaller dales displaying great character and stunning geography.”
I have included Malhamdale and Dentdale in the same section as, despite being geographically separated, they share many similar characteristics to each other. They are not tributary dales and have sufficient character and familiarity in their own right not to be classed as an afterthought in a different section. However their most important similarity is that the village that the dale is named after (whichever comes first) is superb in both cases, full of character with almost endless walking possibilities – simply great places to stay. Malham is the more popular of the two with its dramatic geography possibly producing the most iconic features in the Yorkshire Dales but Dent is undervalued sitting more enclosed by the surrounding hills with excellent riverside walks and an historical perspective based around the viaducts of the Settle & Carlisle railway.
Malham is the most popular village in the Yorkshire Dales and on summer days and weekends it can get almost claustrophobic. However once you have left the tea shops and avoided the main track to Malham Cove the crowds are soon left behind and the fantastic limestone scenery can be enjoyed to the full. The village of Malham is very pretty; traditional stone buildings set alongside a pretty stream and enveloped by some great scenery. The facilities in the village are also good and it has so far avoided the problems that commercialisation has wrought on its neighbours in the Lake District. The problem Malham has is simply its close access to Skipton and even Leeds and Manchester and of course the natural attraction of one of the great wonders in England, Malham Cove.
The village of Malham has two pubs both offering similar fayre. The Listers is older with the sign above the door proclaiming a 1723 build and is probably the more presentable but both offer a good mix of traditional pub food, a beer garden, good beer and a separate restaurant. The Buck Inn is Grade 2 listed, has 2 large bars and is welcoming for all. There are a number of tea shops with home baking and selling local produce which complement the 2 pubs and on a good summer’s day walkers are strewn all over the village with beer or tea in hand, not a problem! As nice as the village is it is the surrounding area which makes Malham a stand out village. The village is situated on the Craven fault line along which the limestone scars are at their best and the superb rock formations are closest to the surface.
Malham Cove: this splendid amphitheatre of rock can be seen many miles to the south on the road from Skipton and is roughly 250′ high or 80 metres in new money. The stream that appears from the cave at its foot has found its way from the surface near Malham Tarn and travelled through the rock for about a mile. The best of the Cove is the splendid limestone pavement at the summit where Clints and Grykes offer a geological lesson of erosion over the years which should be seen rather than taught. Legend has it that Malham Cove is the inspiration for Charles Kingsley’s book the Water Babies where the black streaks are only visible as the sweep fell from the top.
Gordale Scar: approached by a well-built track and an attractive picnic spot by the stream Gordale Scar suddenly jumps out at you. Originally the scar was an enormous cavern but the roof caved in leaving a narrow stone shoot which requires a challenging scramble to climb. Peregrine falcons have made the limestone gorge their home and are sometimes spotted circling the skies as you break out on to the Malham plateau – an amazing contrast to the rough gorge you have just passed through.
Janet’s Foss: a lovely setting just off the road near Gordale Scar this double waterfall makes a lovely picnic spot. Apparently the Queen of the Fairies – Jennet – is rumoured to live behind the waterfall (although can only be seen by children).
Malham Tarn: the highest freshwater lake in England Malham Tarn has an average depth of only 2.4 metres and a maximum of 4. The banks of the tarn are a Nature Reserve and no fishing is allowed from here although 4 boats are available for hire from the Centre – fishermen know it therefore as the ‘forgotten tarn’. However Malham Tarn House offers a variety of courses, many residential on the banks of the Tarn and I would recommend taking one to learn about and discover this great area.
Dent probably stands today how Malham stood before the crowds descended. Although it is still popular on summer weekends (and during the excellent festival in June) there is still a timeless peace about the village and its cobbled streets. Charles Dickens comes to mind when I think about Dent; the church is lovely (almost perfect when covered with a coating of snow) the buildings full of character and the people friendly and welcoming in the pubs and tea shops. The Dent fault line separates the carboniferous limestone to the south and the older Silurian stone further north and the different character can be clearly seen and encountered on the numerous walks which lead from the village. If Dent was more accessible it would be so much more popular, good for the local businesses but less good for those of us who have discovered this delightful dale.
Further up the valley Gawthorp boasts an interesting old cornmill whilst Cowgill has a lovely old church and a 300 year old listed pub called the Sportsman.
Historically Malham and Dent are very traditional and unexceptional. Mentioned in the Domeday Book under the name of Maglan, the name meaning ‘Settlement by the gravelly places’ Malham was on a track called Mastiles Lane where Monks once trod. Lead mining and farming later dominated the landscape until tourism took over. However there is much more to Malham than just a tourist centre and it is a very important conservation area. Designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest the geology has created an educational centre for the area. The Yorkshire Dales National Park has created its main tourist and educational centre in Malham whilst on the north end of Malham Tarn the Field Studies Centre has a vast array of courses for both the public and as a focus for local educational establishments who come from as far as Bradford and Leeds.
Dent meanwhile has two significant claims to historical fame. ‘The terrible knitters of Dent’ were the most productive knitters in the Yorkshire Dales; their dexterity an art form in which even the men joined in. Their talent was such that they could knit one handed whilst utilising their other hand to churn the butter or wrap the cheese – proper multi-tasking. The full story is at the museum in Dent. Do not be fooled in thinking Dent Station is near the village – it is not (4 miles distance) but is the highest mainline station in England. The building of the Settle to Carlisle railway was a major feat with the superb viaducts at Dent Head and Arten Gill seeing up to 90 trains a day passing through each day.
My favourite walks in Malhamdale and Dentdale are outlined below. For further details just click on the link.
Gordale Scar from Malham. The classic walk visiting Janet’s Foss, Malham Cove and Gordale Scar from Malham. A must.
Circuit of Malham Tarn A shortish walk through woods, a nature reserve and limestone scenery.
Airton & Kirkby Malham. A short walk visiting two quieter villages of great character in lower Malhamdale.
Malham Tarn to Littondale. A long walk over limestone pavements with views acoss the southern Dales
Malham Cove. Anyone can take this simple stroll to the magnificent limestone amphitheatre at Malham.
Fountain’s Fell & Darnbrook. Two of the Dales 30 fells tucked between Malham & Littondale
A walk through Dentdale. A riverside stroll from the pretty village of Dent for as long as you want.
Whernside from Dent. My favourite approach to the highest fell in the Yorkshire Dales
Upper Dentdale. Dent station, Arten Gill viaduct and the summit of Great Knoutberry are all visited on this 7 mile walk.
Aye Gill Pike from Dent. A comfortable climb to an excellent viewing point.
Other Things to do in Malhamdale & Dentdale
Malham Smithy. A visit to Annabel Bradley’s smithy where there is a gallery and a full range of steel jewellery.
Hand Made Crafts Dent. Hand made crafts can be found in this pretty studio in Dent.
Dent Brewery. Visit the Dent Brewery based in the George and Dragon in the centre of Dent.
Heritage Centre in Dent Telling the story of Dentdale through the ages the centre is open most days in the summer.
Meditation Centre. Something different to walking on a bad day, the centre will relax you and comfort aches and strains.
Updated Weather Forecast
Click here to go to the Met Office website for the 5 day weather forecast for the Yorkshire Dales.
Places to Stay
Prior Hall Cottages, Malham. Superb 5* cottages near the centre of Malham sleeping up to 15
George & Dragon, Dent. 4* coaching inn in the centre of Dent