Malham Cove & Gordale Scar – Classic Dales Walk

This circular route is one of the finest walks in the Yorkshire Dales. It takes in a stunning dry valley, a stretch of limestone pavement, and the magnificent Malham Cove. After visiting the waterfall at Janet’s Foss the walk takes a short diversion to visit another waterfall at Gordale Scar. The route is just over 10km in length and has about 350 metres of ascent.

OS Explorer OL2 Map. Explorer OL2 Ordnance Survey map covers this area of the Yorkshire Dales. The map displays the southern and western areas of the Dales which includes, Whernside, Ingleborough & Pen-y-Ghent (The Yorkshire Three Peaks). With this map, you also get a code for use on your iOS or Android smartphone or tablet. The OS Explorer map of Yorkshire Dales, Southern & Western area is available in both the standard paper version and weatherproof ‘Active’ version.


The walk starts at the Watersinks car park close to Malham Tarn, postcode: BD23 4DJ. From the car park turn right onto the road. Walk along the road crossing the stream that flows out from Malham Tarn. A short distance after you’ll see a sign pointing to Malham Cove, follow this left through the kissing gate.

Keep left at the next sign and follow the footpath (Pennine Way) along the dry valley. The stream you followed from the road shortly disappears underground, the exact point depending on how much rain has fallen recently.

Water Sinks. This area is called ‘Water Sinks’. It was originally thought that the stream was the same one that appears at the foot of Malham Cove. However, an experiment with some dyes discovered that this stream reappears at Aire Head Springs which is two miles away to the south. At this point, it becomes part of River Aire. The water’s exact course is unknown but it no doubt follows twisting caves and tunnels underground. As this area is limestone it is riddled with many underground features.

Continue down the valley until the path bends sharp right, with stunning views of another dry valley. Turn left here, cross a stile, and walk down the steep path into the lower valley.

Watlowes Dry Valley

Watlowes Dry Valley. This deep limestone canyon was probably carved out by the overspill from Malham Tarn during the recent Ice Age. This would have flowed down the valley towards Malham Cove which was once Britain’s highest waterfall. There is no watercourse now but there are plenty of limestone features along the valley as it is full of weathered rock.

I wish I had been here in 2015. Storm Desmond brought heavy rain and flooding to the Yorkshire Dales. For about a day, water again flowed down Watlowes valley, bringing the waterfall at Malham Cove back to life. The waterfall had a height of 260m. BBC News. Storm Desmond: Malham Cove waterfall flows again amid heavy rain.

Running along the bottom of the valley is a drystone wall. This used to be the boundary between the medieval estates of Fountains Abbey to the west and Bolton Abbey to the East.

Limestone Pavement

Continue along the valley until you reach a stile. Just beyond this is an extensive area of limestone pavement on top of Malham Cove. Turn right here and walk along the pavement. Take care as there is a sheer drop to your left and the limestone pavement is full of gaps (grykes). Alfred Wainwright noted that “these have unique propensities for breaking legs”.

Take time to find a spot where you can enjoy the amazing view for a while. The view down Malhamdale and Airedale from here is superb. If this looks familiar, you might remember it is one of the locations in the film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part:1. Malham Cove is one place where the wizard’s Harry Potter and Hermione set up camp.

Malham Cove to Malham

When you’ve had enough of the view carry on along the pavement towards a drystone wall. Pick up the path here which heads down the hillside with the wall on your right-hand side. There are about 400 steps down to the foot of the cove.

Once you reach the bottom, fork left to the base of the cove. It’s quite something to stand at the bottom of the cove and look upwards at the towering cliffs. The cove is 70m high and about 300m wide. The cliff here is thought to have inspired J.R.R. Tolkien’s unforgettable fort of Helm’s Deep in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

Head away from the cove now along an obvious track beside the river. When you reach the road turn left and follow it into the centre of Malham village. Turn left to cross the bridge over the river.

Malham Cove – Picture Gallery

Malham to Janet’s Foss

Over the bridge turn right onto a track past some houses and then continue along a gravelled path. Follow the path around to the left where there is a sign pointing towards Janet’s Foss. The path eventually enters some woodland and then climbs beside a waterfall. This is Janet’s Foss.

Janet’s Foss. The twin cascades of the waterfall at Janet’s Foss is very impressive sat in its own mini-amphitheater in the woodland. Local legend says that the cave behind the Foss was the home of Jennet the queen of the fairies. Foss is the old Norse name for a waterfall. Family groups often picnic here and on a hot day, the pool in front of the waterfall provides a welcome drink for your dog if you have one.

Gordale Scar

Continue past Janet’s Foss to reach a kissing gate. Turn right here along the road towards Gordale Bridge. After the bridge, go through a gate to the left. Continue on a path running alongside Gordale Beck, past the campsite to enter the gorge. The cliffs of New Close Knotts on the left and Cross Field Knotts on the right flank the entrance to the gorge. As you walk further up into the gorge the cliffs close in around you. This place has a Gothic atmosphere and great overhanging walls of limestone. At its heart, the lowest of two waterfalls blocks your way. At this point, the only way forward is a scramble up the rocks. Save that for others, turn around and retrace your steps back towards Gordale Bridge.

Gordale Bridge to Watersinks Car Park

From the layby on the road, follow the signed public footpath uphill, passing through three gates. Walk alongside a lane until you emerge onto it. Turn right onto the lane follow it uphill for about 500 metres to a ladder stile on the left. Over the stile and follow the track to a footpath fingerpost.

Bear left and walk over open moorland before descending towards some small pools. Turn right at the sign for Malham Tarn and climb over another ladder stile (I wish my dog could get over these!!). Take the left-hand path back to the car park.


Whilst I take every care to ensure the accuracy of the route description, I cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions. The route described may be pleasant for walking in fine weather but can become slippery, boggy and dangerous in wintry or wet weather. On days when visibility is impaired by fog, rain, cloud or mist, some landmarks used as direction aids in the route descriptions may not be visible.

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