Avoiding Malham

April 4, 2024

Half decent weather over the Easter weekend enticed people outdoors in their droves. Many headed for Malham in the Yorkshire Dales. The result was chaos, people queuing on the approach roads, dodging fellow walkers on the walk to Malham Cove, unable to get in to the pubs and cafe and returning home thoroughly fed up. It is all so unnecessary.

Sadly many will not come again, their day out spoilt by the crowds. In this day and age when fresh air, exercise and a knowledge of our environment is so key to our physical and mental well being this is a crying shame. It is a shame for all ages but in particular youngsters. Experiencing the countryside is vital when young, a few enjoyable trips and many will return in the future, both enjoying and protecting our precious countryside.

Near Malham Tarn
Near Malham Tarn

However the Yorkshire Dales were not full over Easter. Many places were quiet; pubs and cafes had room and the wide empty spaces often devoid of people. Its crazy really. I have written about 15 great walks with pubs or cafes, parking that avoid the crowds even in the most busy of weekends/holidays. Some may involve a little extra mileage but probably less travelling time.

(I pick Malham for this blog simply because I know it best and its the most actively promoted and easiest to visit for many. Other places in the Dales are Ingleton, Bolton Abbey, Aysgarth and Upper Swaledale whilst the honeypots in the Lake and Peak District may even be worse. Malham is lovely off season!!).

15 Walks in the Dales which Avoid the Crowds

Each of the 15 walks has links which include photos of the walk, descriptions and GPXs of the route, where they are, parking and the nearest pub/cafe. Visit them anytime, they will not be over busy.

Arkengarthdale near Fremington
Arkengarthdale near Fremington

1. Settle Walk with a View.

Short/Mid length Walk. Head away from the River Ribble and enjoy the limestone scenery & pretty villages near Settle.

Walk Details Here

2. Hidden Treasures of Malham Tarn

Mid length Walk. Park in the quiet (and free) car park (only 2 miles from the chaos of Malham village and discover the quiet area of limestone and scenery of the tarn and north of it.

Walk Details Here

3. Austwick & Crummackdale

Mid length Walk. Some of the best scenery in the country with views across the 3 Peaks, all from a pretty village with an excellent pub.

Walk Details Here

4. Grimwith Reservoir

Short/Mid length Walk. A very easy stroll alongside the reservoir with nature and history combining. Plenty of parking and the sailing club may be offering hot drinks.

Walk Details Here

5. Langstrothdale & Littondale

Mid/Long length Walk. Nothing typifies the Yorkshire Dales more than this walk; two quiet dales, lovely villages and all in beautifully peaceful Dales scenery.

Walk Details Here

Pateley Bridge viewing the mines
Pateley Bridge viewing the mines

6. Countryside of Pateley Bridge

Shot/Mid length Walk. Again head away from the river and enter an area of ancient mine works and great views.

Walk Details Here

7. Great Knoutberry Fell in Upper Dentdale

A Mountain Climb. Very few find their way to Upper Dentdale but it is worth it. Park near the Sportsman’s Inn and head up Great Knoutberry Hill and towards the highest station in England.

Walk Details Here

8. Remotest Spot in England

Long Walk. Start at the pub at Kilnsey near Grassington and follow (mainly) good tracks all the way to a small cairn on the distant moors.

Walk Details Here

9. Yarlside & Randygill Top

Mountain Climb. Two of the lesser visited of the ‘Dales 30’ mountains are situated near Sedbergh and can be climbed from the Cross Keys inn.

Walk Details Here

10. Coverdale & Colsterdale

Mid to Long length Walk. Wensleydale can become very busy so head for the side dales. A walk between Coverdale and Colsterdale is full of interest.

Walk Details Here

Langcliffe and Pen-y-Ghent
Langcliffe and Pen-y-Ghent

11. Moors between Reeth & Redmire

Mid length Walk. Estate roads lead in to a remote area between Swaledale and Wensleydale. A fine walk where you are unlikely to see a soul.

Walk Details Here

12. Fremington Edge from Reeth

Mid length Walk. From Reeth where there is usually sufficient parking even at the busiest times head on to Fremington Edge, returning alongside the River Arkle.

Walk Details Here

13. Old Gang & Great Pinseat

Short/Mid length Walk. Good parking, historical interest throughout, a local hill summit and excellent views of Swaledale. What more would you want?

Walk Details Here

14. Barbondale & Calf Top

Hill Climb or Short Walk. A pretty dale with plenty of short walks alongside the embryonic river. High above is Calf Top for those wanting more.

Walk Details Here

15. Ancient Castles of Mallerstang

Mid/Long length Walk. Mallerstang is an undiscovered gem. Take the train or visit Kirby Stephen and explore the valley which is full of mystery, history and geographical significance.

Walk Details Here

Halton Gill approaches
Halton Gill approaches

In simple terms avoid the larger villages, ignore the most popular walks you have seen on TV programmes or on a brief Google search and avoid the Yorkshire 3 Peaks access points at Horton and Ribblehead.

However if you do still want to visit the most popular places have a look at a blog I did a little while ago. Quiet Walks from the Busiest Places but do bear in mind the pubs and car parks will still be full even if the walks are not.

What Must Be Done to Spread the Load

The only real and long term way to utilize the many empty lands and settlements of the Yorkshire Dales and encourage more people to visit the area without detriment to the landscape (and improve the local economy) is to follow this 3 point plan. They are all linked.

1. Create Secondary Hubs

Physically in the Yorkshire Dales the entire set up is pushing visitors to the best known areas. Car parking , toilets and visitor centres drive the traffic. What needs to be built are a number of secondary hubs. These should include parking (essential), walks from the door (essential) and toilets (definitely preferable).

At present in the Dales there are 5 main visitor hubs (Malham, Aysgarth, Grassington, Hawes and Bolton Abbey), the rest is all ad hoc. I would like to see at least 10 secondary hubs controlled by the National Park/Trust or private individuals/landowners.

Great Knoutberry Hill, one of the Dales 30
Great Knoutberry Hill, one of the ‘Dales 30

2. Improve Planning & Navigation Skills

On my Navigation Courses I am often told that the reason people have signed up is due to the desire to explore the area further but do not have the skills/confidence to do it. My course participants are the tip of the ice berg. Most potential visitors actively avoid somewhere different, become bored with a local walk and therefore simply avoid walking. The simple advise of course is to sign up for a Navigation Course to give you the confidence to branch out and plan your own walks.

I have written before about the need for basic skills to be taught by schools. Accessing the countryside is a life skill. The Duke of Edinburgh Award is great but is increasingly accessible to only better off families. School trips are being cut back and as a result less children are visiting the countryside. This has to change or we are brewing up a nightmare.

Promote Less Popular Areas

There needs to be more publicity on the less popular walks (such as the 15 above). The introduction of the ‘Dales 30‘ Mountains is a great example of what can be done with a bit of thought. Instead of promoting the over walked and hyped 3 Peaks Challenge why not promote all the mountains of the area, many in much less popular areas. This encourages visitors to visit alternative areas; in this case the visit has a purpose/tick. The result is a spreading of the load of visitors.

Navigation Course in Long Preston
Navigation Course in Long Preston

Unfortunately most companies, authorities end up promoting the same places because popularity breeds popularity. Mentioning Malham on a blog is great, it receives more clicks, coverage, eye balls than saying say Long Preston or Halton Gill has great walks. Companies and even public bodies increasingly go for the easiest and most commercially viable option. However there is no excuse for any of the local authorities, including each National Park, to do so.

By the way I love Malham really, but only when it is quiet!

Enjoy your walking


  • Steven KIRKBRIDE says:

    For the sake of preserving the natural environment, peace & tranquility of the Dales it would preferable not to publish articles such as this, a classic case of “Secret places wherever, how to find them & spoil them” !
    Many of the places mentioned do not have the infrastructure to support the influx of hoards & would only end up “other Malhams “, they are not Blackpool or Whitby !
    It would be far better for genuine lovers of the countryside to discover these places for themselves !

    • Jonathan says:

      I think it is much more important people spread out in the outdoor areas than congregate in the same place as stated in the piece because:
      1. The ruin of certain places is becoming obvious, Malham a case in point. It is crazy people are encouraged to ruin these places.
      2. Visitors are more likely to return to the outdoors (health, mental and physical, well being, savings to the NHS etc) if they enjoy it.
      3. Visitors who enjoy the outdoors and visit say Coverdale will understand it more, understand
      environmental issues, understand farming communities etc: and are more likely to become the future champions of the area.
      4. The infrastructure of the area will only improve the more people visit. Pubs, cafes going out of business, bus and train services being cut are just a couple of examples of this happening.

      I strongly believe visitors should be encouraged (as I do in the piece) to visit and discover the full area and not get the bank holiday Malham experience. Yes they must behave sensibly but the advantages are many.
      Coverdale is not going to become ‘Blackpool’ but is a great base for visitors to understand and champion our outdoors.
      Doing nothing (the context I guess of your argument, will

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