“I won’t know for sure if Malhamdale is the finest place there is until I have died and seen heaven (assuming they let me at least have a glance), but until that day comes, it will certainly do.”

– Bill Bryson

Prior to racing in Salford, and shortly after my mile time trial and fastest 5K to date, I had a gap in the calendar when my wife and kids would be out shopping for the day and without any obligations, I decided rather than another training run – given I had achy calf muscles after the 5K – I wanted to go on a walk.

The plan was initially to walk a section of the Pennine Way, either from Standedge to Hebden Bridge, or Hebden Bridge to Haworth, as walking the Pennine Way in its entirety is an ambition of mine, albeit one I can’t afford to do for financial reasons, and not just that, but I obviously cannot just abandon my wife and kids for as long as three weeks, not when they’re still in school. Plus there’s a boatload of logistical planning involved there. So one stage at a time will do.

However, I thought I’d invite my father along, as he has vast swathes of walking experience and I knew he’d want to go into the Yorkshire Dales instead. I previously wrote on my blog about the walk we did from Kettlewell to Buckden and back via Starbotton village. That was a lovely walk along the River Wharfe we had, and the first time I’d been up into the Dales since I was a child. And I knew by inviting him, I’d be conceding my own ideas and going along into the Dales again. Which was absolutely fine with me!

He had proposed we do the same walk again, although this time just doing an out and back. However the day before the trip, he rang me to confirm the plan and a change in where we were going to walk. We were going to go to Malham instead.

I’ll be honest. My eyes lit up during that phone call. I’d seen the pictures of Malham Cove from when he took my brother and then my sister up there. I’ve read about it on a blog about a walker’s journey along the Pennine Way, which the walk to and up Malham Cove adheres to. I hadn’t been there yet, and suddenly it was on. I went to bed that evening super content.

We set off just after 8am that Saturday (31 August, 2019), heading out with my father and Sam, who is my sister’s fiancé.

The rain began to spit a little as we began our walk from the Malham YDNPA (Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority) – which is the village car park – and up through the village. From there we followed the road out of the village that takes the Pennine Way path. We made the steady walk down as the drizzle in the sky threatened to turn heavier, without ever materialising. It wouldn’t be long before Malham Cove showed its face and indeed, upon joining the path onto the Pennine Way, it could not be missed.

It was wonderfully still, the only other group we encountered on the way down to the cove was a group of trail runners. I briefly contemplated what it must be to live and train with somewhere like the Yorkshire Dales as your proverbial playground. As we hhreached the foot of the Cove, I saw a wagtail fly across the nearby Malham Beck. Then my Dad asked ‘have you got crampons?’. I honestly felt confused at this question, asking what they were. My Dad explained they were spikes. I answered no, so my Dad said we’ll have to take the stairs then. Feeling slightly inadequate, but not deterred, we made the climb up the stone staircase up to the top of the Cove. And upon reaching the top, we were rewarded for our early, arguably one of the very first groups that day to reach the top. It was a chance to take in the tranquil view, broken up only by the slight and steady breeze.

Words alone cannot adequately describe how wondrous it was to be in that moment. To be stood up there, looking out to beyond, with only the wind at my sails and the dampness of the Saturday morning rain. To be stood atop this rock formation, to ponder as to what it must have taken for something as naturally impressive as this. Millions of years of changes in the landscape, continental shifts, ice ages and the throes of the local climate. I’m waffling a bit I know, but the three of us were up there, on this cliff top, like mere specks of dust. To think of it in such terms is a little bit humbling, but that pales in comparison to how lucky I felt to able to have this view for a few minutes, in this tremendous part of Yorkshire.

Its big.

We began to follow the slightly tricky limestone path and through a gate at the end which meets the road, which bisects the next part of the walk, across more rocky terrain before taking a turn down a wide grassy path down into the village of Gorsdale. It should be noted that we could just about see Pen-y-Ghent, one of the Yorkshire Three Peaks, in the distance to our right, though on a day as cloudy and murky as today, it was only a very feint sight.

We carried on through the gate to our left, which leads into a private campsite. Here we followed the path beside the water, against another rocky wall, as the rain began to pick up slightly. I don’t think I was truly prepared for what was about to come next. As we turned the corner, there it was. Gorsdale Scar. I was almost open-mouthed at the sight of it. A simply magnificent sight, seeing the water fall down this ravine and into the stream below. Its such a striking feature within the Malhamdale scenery. We could see people attempting to climb the ravine. I really wanted to get closer, but I could ill afford to risk injury before my race, and my walking shoes weren’t suited to the rigours of climbing up and across a waterfall.

Gorsdale Scar – admittedly this picture can’t do it justice. So much better on the eye

We stopped for lunch at the Gorsdale Refreshments van. It sits at the foot of that path, between Gorsdale Scar and Janet’s Foss. They must make an absolute killing positioned there, with absolutely no competitors in the immediate vicinity to worry about, and with plenty of trade to garner from hungry walkers, campers and more besides. We each chowed on a butty, and had a cup of tea each. They even sold Earl Grey! I couldn’t turn down a bit of luxury for this walk, even if the weather was now doing its bit to deliver a light soaking. I had full waterproofs though, so in that sense I was prepared.

We set off again for the final stretch of our walk, which would firstly visit Janet’s Foss. The word ‘Foss’ is an old Nordic word, meaning ‘waterfall’, but is still presented in England today, sometimes as ‘force’ (see Wikipedia for the reference material). It is said according to local legend that Jennet, Queen of the Fairies, inhabits a cave behind the waterfall, and indeed, you’ll rarely find a description of it that doesn’t include the word ‘magical’. Whether the place has magical properties is another question, but it is certainly appropriate to describe this quaint, almost hidden waterfall, smaller in scale to Gorsdale Scar but no less wondrous, just to stand and watch as the water flows into the pool below, before it continues along Malham Beck. Its certainly a popular site, as there were numerous walkers about by the time we reached here, and their dogs were frolicking in the water. I’d like to think we all treasure and respect this fantastic place as we stumble by.

Initially, we saw this waterfall from the top and the side, but to get a better view, we needed to get down to near water level. My Dad described the steps down to this section as ‘treacherous’, and he wasn’t wrong. My Vibram soles were having a hell of a time finding any grip, and this wasn’t helped by the cup of Earl Grey tea I was still drinking. Thankfully Sam saw I was in a pickle and took the tea from me, so I could use my hands to carefully lower myself down.

The final part of the walk takes you along part of the River Aire, past a farm to our right, which had numbers of swift like birds flying overhead. I couldn’t identify them, but it was a lovely sight. It was fairly flat from here on out, and the walk finishes with the sight of Malham Cove in the distance, returning alongside the Beck as the walk returns to the Malham YDNPA.

Walk finished, we changed into our spare shoes and went off to The Lister Arms for a pint. It was recently named as the Best Pub for Families in the Sawdays Pub Awards, and appears in the Great British Pub Guide. Doubling as a 4-star hotel, we had a pint of Hetton Pale Ale, a true Yorkshire ale, which went down a treat. We had a quick visit to the souvenir store, and then got back in the car to begin our journey home. We pondered what our next adventure might be, as we drove through Gargrave, and passed a road sign for Kendal, in the Lake District. But truth be told, there’s still much more to explore in the Yorkshire Dales, somewhat closer to home. And indeed, so much to relive.

Indeed, I really want to come back to Malham to ascend the Cove again, but next time I’d like to proceed down towards Malham Tarn, which is a beautiful looking lake (according to images I’ve seen) that looks particularly picturesque on a sunny day. But that’s for another time.

Clearly I have much to learn before I pursue my dreams of walking long distance segments of the Pennine Way, particularly when it comes to having the right kit. But after sitting down at home, later that afternoon, I thought about Bill Bryson’s comment briefly. And then I had a thought about if I were to die tomorrow, would I consider Malhamdale as the nicest place I’d ever seen?

Aye Bill, that’ll do“.