The Dales, Overcrowded or Empty?

August 22, 2020

News reports would have you believe that the Dales is over crowded, fuelled by the growth in ‘staycations’. The reality is that the vast majority of the Dales are empty, Lets look to capitalise on this empty space.

Most of the Dales is empty

The ‘hotspots’ of Malham, Ingleton and Aysgarth have been heaving, resulting in often poor behaviour, littering and some bad parking. It is a problem, a problem exasperated this year by Covid and the resulting influx of visitors not familiar with the Yorkshire Dales or, in fact, UK holidays in general.

I cannot blame people for turning up at the popular places, I blame the system and relevant authorities (public and private). There is very little clear information or a physical set up that will encourage visitors to spread out and explore areas of the Dales which rarely see visitors.

Malham, too busy

What is required is a series of parking and information hubs dotted strategically around the dales. Similar in concept to Aires, so popular and successful on the continent. Overnight parking may be available in some of the larger ones.

Once these mini hubs start to become available there needs to be effective communication of their location and their purpose.

How the mini hubs fit in to the present system

Other ways to arrive, Dent Station
  • There are 4 main Visitor Centres and large car parks run by the National Park. Located at Malham, Aysgarth, Hawes and Grassington.
  • Many of the towns and larger villages on the fringes of the area have council owned or private run visitor centres although some of these are under threat due to financial conditions. The car parks nearby tend to be council run and their upkeep is essential. Information boards in these car parks would be very beneficial.
  • A few other good sized car parks dotted around the area such as those on the Bolton Abbey estate, Ingleton and Buckden.
  • Within the remainder (the majority) of the Dales there are just some random spaces and clearings. Leaving your car in these places often incurs the wrath of local landowners, unfair on them and unfair on the visitors. The reality is there is nowhere to leave your car and no information on what to do, where to walk etc:

It is this final area that needs addressing.

Introduction of Mini Hubs

Dallowgill, a basic model

The mini hubs/areas of parking should be located in convenient places near the public right of way network so that access is straightforward for walks, lower and higher levels. The proposed land can be flattened, is of sufficient area and is presently not in effective use by the landowner.

Within these mini hubs there should be the following:

  • Parking for a specified number of cars, the size dependant on space availability.
  • A litter bin/area
  • An information board(s) with the following details:
    • Local walks, graded and a local map of the area
    • Information on the dale and its distinctiveness. This would include local land use and natural features. Educational.
    • Country Code or a similar Code of Conduct. Behaviour expected and information on sustainability.
    • Local businesses, things to visit etc:

This will offer confidence to visitors that there is a set up in place.

Dentdale, an example

Arten Gill, no parking

Since lockdown I have spent a number of days in Dent (easy to socially distance!) and have taken the opportunity to look at possibilities for parking/information hubs. Bear in mind there is a large car park in Dent village, a good venue for the existing major hub.

There are a number of ‘spaces’ that could be developed in to parking and mini hubs. For those ‘in the know’ they are near Dent Viaduct, Arten Gill viaduct, Cowgate near the church, Whernside Manor/Clint, Helmside and Lanacre. Many of these have part parking already but it is untidy, lacks information, too small and limited.

Whernside 3 Tarns, stunning but empty

As an example of how these would be used. Above Whernside Manor on the way to Whernside and in access land there are 3 stunning tarns, shallow, safe and perfect for a dip. Last week I was climbing Whernside and was delighted to see two families sat next to the tarns, swimming, picnicking and enjoying the outdoors. These families were clearly in the know but the vast majority of visitors would have no idea this area exists. It is also a very satisfactory route to the summit of Whernside.


The second stage of the plan to promote awareness of these mini hubs. The following will provide information.

  • An app to check where these mini hubs are available.
  • On line and off line maps to provide the same
  • Buy in from local businesses so they promote them on their marketing.
  • Use of the major hubs to ‘push’ people elsewhere to quieter areas. In Malham for example there should be clear information to suggest alternative parking at Malham Tarn and Streetgate and what can be found there.

The Benefits of the ‘Mini Hub scheme

Happy businesses around the park

There are many benefits of the mini Hub scheme

  • Spreads visitors around the area and increasing the overall capacity
  • Helps reduce the bottleneck problems in hot spots
  • Takes much of the fear (due to lack of information) out of people travelling to the area
  • Improves access for all groups including school parties.
  • Adds knowledge and understanding to visitors of the rural economy and life.
  • Removes some of the litter and parking problems, both of which have been so much in the news recently.
  • Businesses related to tourism and beyond will benefit. New businesses will grow up.
  • Formalises parking, avoiding much of the random parking which creates problems for landowners.
  • Increases exposure to good health, mental and physical.
  • The area becomes a template for future rural tourism. Great publicity.
  • Certain larger hubs could provide overnight parking for campervans.

The challenges for Mini Hubs

Understanding Nature

Clearly there are some challenges to put together such a plan. These fall in to three main areas (as with any plan for change)

  • Financial. Clearly money needs to be found whether for the physical landscaping, the notice boards or the people required to put the mini hubs together.
  • Land owners and those administering the area buy in will be challenging. Primarily land owners will need to give up some limited land for the greater benefit and accept that growth in visitor numbers is inevitable. Maybe they can be incentivised with some parking income. Secondly the National Park/Councils/Welcome to Yorkshire need to be positive and show some strategic leadership.
  • Manpower to look after the hubs and collect the rubbish/income from difficult to get to hubs. Maybe volunteers are the answer, organized by dale. The Glover report recognized the need for extra volunteers in our National Parks.

Concluding Remarks

Wide open spaces

To be honest the introduction of mini hubs is something I have thought about for a while. It comes both from the problems of over crowding in certain hot spots over the last couple of years but also the emptiness I have experienced of so much of the outdoors. The Yorkshire Dales is 90% empty and there is very little stimulus to address this imbalance.

Visitor numbers may have grown this summer but in many ways to the detriment of the area. Not all have enjoyed the experience, mainly due to overcrowding which is daft as the majority of the Dales is empty.

The introduction and promotion of mini hubs will be a large stride to overcoming this.

Enjoy your walking


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  • Paul Purbeck says:

    Why must you encourage people to visit the area? If people want to come they will come and don’t need to be incentivised to come or cossetted when they get here. We have seen over the summer what happens with encouraging people to the area who really have no idea why they are here, and in fact really want an urban experience in the country!

    It is clear that many visitors to the area really don’t know how to behave, something that is more stark when set against a back drop of natural beauty. Whether this is leaving rubbish, drug paraphernalia, dog faeces in plastic bags or just noise pollution, the increased numbers of visitors and antisocial conduct has been very noticeable. Visitors are often ill equipped and have made no preparations for their visit. They have little understanding of the area and a total disregard for property rights, just so long as they are OK. While a few local businesses might benefit, for the vast majority of residents, extra visitor numbers are of no benefit and only goes to make life harder.

    Also remember when you are calling for ‘volunteers’ these people are taking jobs, that if they are real jobs, should and could be done by locals and paid for. There are local men who would like the opportunity and could do with the wages associated with some of the works carried out by Parks volunteers. I wonder how many of these volunteers would be keen for someone to offer to do their work for nothing, so that their employer did not need to engage them in paid employment?

    Personally, the attraction of much of the Dales is the fact that it is quiet, so spreading visitors around is going to make the whole area less attractive for some as it becomes a homogenised country theme park.

    • Jonathan says:

      We want people to visit the area because many businesses would not survive without them. Without tourism businesses the area would lose much that remains of its existing services and become an empty shell occupied by older retired folk and absent second home owners. Farming can only sustain a relatively small population/business and as important as it is to jobs and the economy it is declining and tourism is not.

      The point of the article is that much of the countryside in the Dales is empty. I could walk 10 minutes from Malham and be on my own, I can also not see a soul all day on 27 of the 30 ‘Dales 30’ mountains in the area. However visitors lack this information and are actively encouraged by the authorities to go to the hotspots or know no different so go where they have heard of. Many would much rather find the quietness you so appreciate.

      Yes some act badly when they are here but do not assume that they are the people who travel furthest, many of the littering was done by near locals, certainly near me in Stainforth. What people need is information and education and they are not getting it.
      However there is an opportunity to improve services, spread the load and help those less fortunate than me and you explore the countryside safely and considerately.

      I have no idea where the money is to pay park volunteers. Particularly if you are suggesting restricting tourism businesses, there will be less. An increase in volunteers should be welcomed, there are plenty of older/retired men and women who would happily do so.

  • Mark Rand says:

    Signage is important – especially in and to the middle-of-nowhere sorts of places. The Yorkshire Dales National Park need to encourage sensible signage, not discourage it by restrictive planning requirements.
    ‘No signs without our permission’ seems to be the starting position.

    • Paul Purbeck says:

      It is an area of outstanding natural beauty, if can not navigate yourself around the area without ugly sign posting then don’t go there.

  • Kathleen Curtiss says:

    I agree with you in part, though I can see that lack of resources and manpower will limit the amount/type of facilities that can be offered. The Lancashire Fells are my chosen walking area at present and I’ve noticed the increase of people accessing the more popular areas. Parking is a desperate problem , especially along narrow roads with soft verges, where estate workers and farmers still require access. Camping (without permission) by watercourses and with no toilet facilities is a problem in some areas.
    It’s good to see that people and families wish to explore paths and trails ….where these routes are accessed safely, but we know that difficulties can be incurred by those who forget their own capabilities and are ill prepared to face the rigours of some routes. I often gently advise some I meet and very often am met with cynicism . Perhaps if a system ,as I found in the US national parks , where rangers patrol areas and offer advice , could be adopted might be useful ?
    The situation has certainly brought to light the fact that things need to change…

  • Andy Garner says:

    Hi Jonathan

    Sensible idea for the Dales though mini buses (now supplemented with a double decker) have not solved the problems experienced in Snowdonia at peak times.


  • Elizabeth Forrest says:

    Jonathan you’ve obviously put a lot of thought into these excellent proposals.
    Hope they take flight..

  • paul cornfoot says:


    Having just been on the Bracken Way (with Phil Eames and others), I would fully agree with your comments and support your suggestions. As you say, uncontrolled parking at popular (though quieter) walking locations is problematical for both the drivers and the locals, which just results in conflict.

    I think we just have to accept that certain popular locations (and more accessible from the larger conurbations) will always be busy at peak times and it’s difficult to control or change that situation.

    Really enjoyed the walk – particularly the peak bogs heading north in to Swaledale, in low cloud with zero visibility!

    Keep up the good work.

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