A Lesser-Known Malham Circular Walk (How To Avoid The Yorkshire Dales Crowds)
Do you want to spend a few hours in the Yorkshire Dales seeing natural beauty sights but without the crowds? Then this blog post is for you! This is a 6- to 7-mile walk, visiting three of the best sights – Malham Cove, Janet’s Foss, and Gordale Scar. In this post, there is step-by-step advice, maps, and pictures and I’ll let you in on the secrets to avoiding the crowds with this Malham circular walk! It’s honestly one of my favourite walks around Malham,and is perfect on a sunny day.
There are also some FAQs at the bottom to hopefully answer any questions, but if I’ve missed anything then just drop me a comment!
Malham Circular Walk Starting Point: Watersinks Car Park
A key part of avoiding the crowds in Malham is to not park with the crowds in Malham! Pretty much all walks start in the village of Malham so everyone tries to park there. The car parks are full by 10am. The roads are flanked by cars parked on both sides causing even more traffic. And overflow fields are set up to accommodate the cars still arriving well into the afternoon, charging £5 for the day.
This Malham circular walk route starts (and ends) at the free Watersinks Car Park, located in between Malham and Malham Tarn. It’s just a ten-minute, 2.8-mile drive out of Malham, although most of that is uphill. But it does mean that the first half of the walk is downhill!
Watch out for the cows that roam around near the car park!
Leg 1: Watersinks to Malham Cove
From Watersinks Car Park, walk along towards the dry stone wall, and join the trodden path on the other side behind the wooden gate. Here, there is a signpost indicating the way to Malham Cove, so head in that direction! This is the start of the Malham circular walk taking in Malham Cove, Janet’s Foss and Gordale Scar.
The path quickly forks in two (see image below), take the path on the left towards Malham Cove.
The path along towards Malham Cove is super scenic! And when I was there mid-morning in late July I only saw a couple of other people on the path.
The path runs parallel to a drystone wall for a while, and it’s easy to follow with a rocky path.
The path then continues between the hills. There is plenty of exposed and broken down limestone rock around. Plus a lot of sheep roaming the hills, so do keep an eye out!
As the path emerges out of the little valley in the photo above, it then cuts to the right. Here you’ll be looking out over the hills!
Next, the path snakes around and you’ll see the path heads downhill quite steeply (pictured below). At this point, you’ll be glad you are walking down and not up!
The path down is formed of some uneven steps and a path created from the rocks underfoot. There weren’t any loose rocks underfoot, but it could become more slippery in wet weather.
At the bottom of the hill, the path flattens out and continues through another small valley (pictured above). Keep following the path and at the end of it you’ll come out on the top of Malham Cove (pictured below)!
Malham Circular Walk, Stop 1: Malham Cove
This is the first of three stunning sights of nature on this Malham circular walk. The top of Malham Cove is instantly recognisable from its limestone blocks that spread 300 metres across! Walking across the tops requires some concentration as gaps, called grykes, have formed between the blocks.
The limestone rocks were formed around 360 million years ago! However, the cove itself was created more recently – just 12,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. The rain continues to erode the limestone rocks at Malham Cove leading the to the gaps slowly widening over time!
The water flowing out of Malham Tarn created the cove that we see today. The water would have rushed over the side as a waterfall creating the 80 metre-high cliff face. Today, the water from Malham Tarn goes underground at Watersinks (just across from the car park) and emerges from the bottom of the cove.
Eagle-eyed Harry Potter nerds out there may recognise Malham Cove from the Deathly Hallows part 1 film. It’s here that Harry and Hermione set up a tent after separating from Ron and try to figure out the horcruxes!
The quietest part of the tops is the far left section (when looking out), where the path you took emerges. The busiest part is the far right (when looking out) as this is where the path up/down is.
If you want to, you can take the 400 steps down to see the cove from the bottom! But, to rejoin this route, you’ll have to climb back up again! I did it, got overtaken by a 5-year-old child whilst I huffing and puffing and being slow, but it was worth it!
It can be quite busy, as many people take a flatter walking route here from the village of Malham, and there are often large groups. However, it is as impressive from the bottom as the top!
Leg 2: Malham Cove to Janet’s Foss
Once you’ve finished admiring the view at Malham Cove you need to join the path to head to Janet’s Foss. Head back to where the path came out on the tops of Malham Cove, and head left. There is a gap in the dry stone wall you can cross and then head uphill.
The path continues to the side of Malham Cove and offers fabulous views of the sheer cliff face (pictured above). At first, the path isn’t particularly clear as it is grassy, but it soon becomes well-trodden and easy to follow. This is definitely the most scenic Malham Cove-Janet’s Foss walk, so enjoy the view!
Keep following the path until you come to the road (pictured below). You’ll need to climb a few steps to get over the wall, but then cross over the road and rejoin the path.
The path is very easy to follow and continues parallel to a dry stone wall to keep you on track. The path then turns to the right slightly as you head through a metal gate and down a few steps. Continue across the field and head towards the dry stone wall on the other side.
The final section again runs parallel with a wall, and you’ll see the road at the bottom as you head downhill.
At the road, turn right and walk along the road for approximately 100 metres. On the left, you’ll see a National Trust sign welcoming you to Janet’s Foss – head through the wooden fence and explore the waterfalls!
Malham Circular Walk, Stop 2: Janet’s Foss
As the legend goes, Janet’s Foss is named after a fairy believed to live in a cave behind the waterfall. The word ‘foss’ is from Norse meaning waterfall, and along with ‘force’ is a common name for waterfalls in northern England.
It’s a popular spot on any Malham walks due to its close location to the village as well as Malham Cove and Gordale Scar. A flat path from Janet’s Foss links all of these natural sights.
In the summertime, it’s common to find children (and adults) splashing and swimming in the pool under Janet’s Foss. The area is mostly under tree cover, which gives it a more magical feel.
Leg 3: Janet’s Foss to Gordale Scar
It is just a short walk to Gordale Scar from Janet’s Foss. Head back to the road, turn right and keep going along the road until you reach Gordale Scar Campsite.
Enter through the metal fence and continue along the path that heads into the valley between the hills. The grassy areas also make a great place to stop for a drink or snack and offer a wonderful view of the cove!
Keep following the path as it snakes round the bend and up towards Gordale Scar. To get near to the waterfall you’ll have to cross a lot of wet and mossy rocks, so be careful!
Malham Circular Walk, Stop 3: Gordale Scar
Made of limestone rock, Gordale Scar is made up of two waterfalls within a huge gorge up to 100 metres high! Similar to Malham Cove, the creation of large gorge dates back to the Ice Ages.
You can only truly appreciate the size and scale of Gordale Scar when stood inside the gorge. And this is accompanied by the deafening sound of thousands of litres of water pouring over the waterfall
Leg 4: Gordale Scar to Watersinks
There are two options for the final leg of this Malham circular walking route back to Watersinks Car Park. I’m going to go through my preferred option first, as that’s the one I’d recommend. But the second option is also detailed below.
Malham Circular Walk, Final Leg: Option A (recommended)
The final leg is quite long, but it’s peaceful and very much off the beaten path. The map above only shows some of this leg, as you’ll need to take a footpath that is not recognised by Google Maps. But I’ll explain it all as clearly as possible.
The first step is to walk back on yourself out of Gordale Scar, and all the way back to the road. Turn right onto the road and then right again back on the footpath you took on the way from Malham Cove.
Follow the path back up alongside the drystone wall and across the field. Back up the stone steps and through the metal gate, turning left back along the path. Keep going as far as the road.
At this point, rather than crossing the road and rejoining the path, turn right onto the road and walk along it uphill. The road is very quiet with plenty of space for cars to pass safely. The road is also quite bendy so most cars are going very slowly as well.
Continue along the road until you reach a signpost on the left-hand side next to a ladder stile (pictured below). This is also the point at which the map above ends. When using the satellite images on Google Maps, you’ll be able to see on the image the trodden pathway from here back to the car park. You might need to zoom in, but it’s the trodden path across the field.
Climb the ladder to access the footpath and join this route. The path passes behind some more limestone rock formations that offer views far out into the Yorkshire Dales!
Keep following the path, it may become less trodden at times but it always picks back up! After about 600 metres, the path forks in two (map below). You can take either route, as they join back together later on.
Keep going along the footpath until you reach the signpost below! It will feel like you are walking for quite a long time, and you’ll wonder whether you’re lost. But keep going!
At the signpost, follow the signs for Watersinks Car Park. The sign will say it’s 350 yards away – this will be welcome news – but it’s definitely a bit further than that!
Following the signs (and the most trodden path) will bring you back out almost where you first started. From the signpost above, keep to the pathway, climb the drystone wall when you reach it, and turn right back towards the road.
When you reach the large wooden fence and road, turn right, walk a little down the road and you’ll be back at the car park!
Malham Circular Walk, Final leg: Option B (not recommended)
So let’s set the scene again. You’re stood inside Gordale Scar, the waterfall crashes next to you, the gorge rises high towards the sky. Where do you go next?
From the bottom of Gordale Scar, the path technically continues up the side of the waterfall. It’s roughly a 15-foot climb, but it’s pretty vertical. And definitely more of a climb than a scramble. You may have noticed the sign that warns of the dangers of climbing the waterfall…
The path continues up the waterfall on the left-hand side as you look at it. However, the safety and feasibility of this route is dependent on a few factors.
Firstly, the amount of water. If there has been a lot of rain then there may be no dry or safe route. Secondly, experience. This isn’t a scramble, you’ll need to find ledges on the rocks for your fingers and toes, and there is not a clearly defined route. You should only attempt this climb if you think you can do it safely. Thirdly, how you’re dressed. I’d avoid climbing the waterfall if you don’t have sensible shoes (walking boots) on. You might also consider waterproofs depending on how quickly the water is flowing and spraying. And finally, ballsy-ness. This climb isn’t suitable for young children, those without a certain level of physical fitness, as well as those who aren’t confident in doing so.
If you choose to climb the waterfall, you will first reach the second level where there is an additional waterfall. From here, keep walking and head out of the gorge. The path heads in a mostly straight direction until you reach the road.
At the road, it will be a bit like a t-junction. Take the road heading straight in front of you, and then the next left. From here, it will just be about a 500-metre walk back to Watersinks Car Park.
Enjoy a well-deserved sit down! Or if you really wanted to treat yourself, consider driving to The Buck Inn in Malham for some food and drink.
Looking for some other UK travel inspiration? Check out all of my UK-related posts.
Malham Circular Walk FAQs
Is this walk suitable for children?
The walk itself is not too difficult (unless you take the path up Gordale Scar waterfall), but it is quite long. As it’s a circular walk there is much of an option to make the walk any shorter and still see all the sights. If you’re after a shorter walk, I’d recommend taking a route that starts in the village of Malham.
Is Malham Cove / Janet’s Foss / Gordale Scar open?
Yes! These places have been open all through the pandemic, and are great for visiting and maintaining social distancing.
Is Malham Cove / Janet’s Foss / Gordale Scar free to visit?
Yes. Malham Cove (and Tarn) and Janet’s Foss are both maintained by the National Trust but are entirely free to visit. The Yorkshire Dales National Park also maintain the area.
Is Malham Cove suitable for dogs?
For most dogs yes, very small dogs may need to be carried in some parts where the gaps between the rocks are larger. In some places, these gaps can be bigger than 12 inches/1 foot. The rest of the walk is entirely suitable for dogs other than if you opt to take the path up the waterfall at Gordale Scar.
Where is Malham / Malham Cove?
Malham is a small village located on the southern rim of the Yorkshire Dales National Park in northern England. It’s approximately 10 miles from the nearby town of Skipton. Malham Cove is located roughly half a mile north of Malham village.
So there it is in its entirety, one of my favourite walks around Malham if not the whole Yorkshire Dales! I love that you can take your time at each of the beauty spots, and still enjoy outstanding views on the walks. The route has a total elevation gain of around 500 foot, so you’ll definitely have earned a drink and lay down at the end. Did you try this Malham Circular Walk? Let me know in the comments below!
If you have any questions or want any more information drop a comment below and I’ll get back to you!
Directions and descriptions mentioned are correct as of July 2020 but are subject to change in future. You are responsible for your own safety and should assess your preparedness and physical fitness before attempting any extended walk in challenging terrains.
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