About the Yorkshire Dales

Yorkshire Dales map

For more details on the individual Dales please click on the appropriate link below:

Yorkshire Dales

View the Yorkshire Dales Walks on a map (opens in a new window)

Dales and Villages of the Yorkshire Dales

Geology of the Dales

History of the Dales

Other Information

Dales and Villages of the Yorkshire Dales

Game Cock Austwick

Game Cock Austwick

One of the best known and loved features of the Dales is the Villages and Market Towns. They will be the centrepiece  of any visit to the Dales: whether you are staying there, eating or drinking in one of the pubs or cafes or simply you want to explore and enjoy them during a walk. Each has its own character but they all share the beautiful stone buildings and walls, interesting shops and tea rooms, pubs with the best beer in the country and hardy locals who are direct, forthright but friendly to their core.

A while ago I wrote a blog on my favourite 10 Dales villages, see my choice here

Geology of the Dales

Attermire Scar Settle

Attermire Scar Settle

The Yorkshire Dales is a lovely soft landscape mainly characterised by the outcrops of limestone that create rocky scars and pavements (and used on dry stone walls), particularly to the south and west of the area. The limestone rock lies on top of an ancient Granite base, known as the Askrigg Block, which is hard and resistant to any erosion which occurred through the centuries. However the granite only comes to the surface in a few places (usually high) because it has been overlaid by two different forms of limestone,each roughly 400 feet deep; Carboniferous Limestone dominates the south and west and a darker, less obvious rock, mixed with shale and sandstone to the north.

The Carboniferous limestone is softer than that further north and is therefore subject to the erosion that produces the many spectacular limestone scars such as the one above Austwick and Settle, and the pavements that sit, amongst others, on Malham Cove. These spectacular sites are the clearest evidence of limestone for the walker and casual visitor but probably not the most dramatic. These can be found underground where a great caving network has formed where limestone has eroded and formed the most spectacular caving in the country. The less intrepid amongst us can view caves in safety at Stump Cross near Pateley Bridge and Ingleborough and White Scar Caves near Ingleton. On the surface the limestone is very light in colour, in low light producing the most dramatic effects colours beloved of both the professional and amateur photographer. The soil on top of this is generally very thin, calcareous, forming soft green pastures which make the area such a pleasure to walk in.

Vast Moorlands Coverdale

Vast Moorlands Coverdale

Wensleydale, Swaledale and the Howgills do not have the obvious attractions of this ‘white’ limestone, but the darker more secretive type. The shale, sandstone and limestone have produced a ‘stepped’ hillside, particularly familiar in Swaledale although man’s influence through his mining activity has made this less obvious than it would be. The scars that are formed from this layering leave a landscape of dramatic waterfalls, often clothed in ash and oak, most clearly seen at Hardraw Falls and in the Upper Swale at Kisdon. A layer of thin coal lies in places above the rock layers and resulted in some frenzied mining at the turn of the 18th century. The shales and sandstones are much harder/less porous than the southern limestone so any water that falls tends to sit on top creating the peat moors of the upland areas in the north of the Dales. Throughout the Dales the highest hills have a coarse millstone grit cap on them.

Glaciation had the next big impact on the scenery with immense glaciers scouring the valleys along existing water courses and leaving the familiar u shaped dales of today. Kilnsey Crag was formed by the retreating glacier and upper Wharfedale generally is a great example of morraines, terminal and otherwise that are left behind when the ice retreats. In more recent times water erosion adds to the landscape, not just in the obvious deep river valleys, but also with the erosion (through acid) of the limestone rock creating pavements and shake holes where the limestone has worn down the weak spots.

This is where man comes in!

History of the Dales

Gunnerside Gill lead mining

Gunnerside Gill lead mining

Man has shaped the landscape of the Yorkshire Dales in a highly significant way, if we had not touched anything the majority of the land would still be forested with only the upland moors and grasses still spared from a thick forest an woodland. However we did and people who have lived here over the last 1,000 or so years have worked the land in 3 significant ways; mining, agriculture and more recently tourism .

The impact of tourism has only recently become significant, the Yorkshire Dales National Park was established in 1954 and the area now attracts in excess of nine million visitors each year to the region. The visual side to this is obvious in the towns, walkers, cyclists and other outdoor activities but it is the economy which is the real beneficiary. Most people who work in, or own property in the area are involved in the tourist industry either directly or like the shops and farmers indirectly. Without tourism the area would be in severe difficulties.

The Romans were probably the first to mine effectively and there is evidence of the lead mines of the age as early as the 2nd and 3rd centuries. However it was much later in the 17th and 18th century that lead mining became big business and the mines and large mining communities grew up in Wharfedale, Wensleydale and particularly Swaledale. During the 19th century thousands of miners were employed and the dales had their highest population in history. Further south the realisation that grassland can be improved by the application of burnt limestone on sheep grazing land led to the growth of lime kilns and even today there is a thriving industry in Wharfedale and near Horton in Ribblesdale.

Sheep near Long Preston

Sheep near Long Preston

Agriculture has been practiced through the centuries; initially tenant farmers scraped a living paying taxes to the local land owner whether he be a local lord or the church such as the Augustine monks of Bolton Abbey or the Cistercian monks at Fountains Abbey. However changes happened which seriously affected the landscape and left us, largely, with what we see today. This was due to the introduction of sheep in to the area. Between 1780 and 1820 the Enclosure Acts led to a re-distribution of land and the resulting construction of the miles and miles of drystone walls which still dominate the valleys and hills. Many of the lovely buildings of Yorkshire stone that make up the villages and towns of this period were built at this time, as were the drover roads and tracks which litter the area and are now used as paths.

 

See Also

About the Lake District

About the North York Moors