Malham Cove and Tarn Circular Walk

A walk to Malham Cove from the local car park is a treat for many but if you combine Malham Cove with Malham Tarn you get to see natural wonders beyond these two Yorkshire Dale landmarks.

Starting at The National Park Centre in Malham this 7 mile walk takes in not just the famous cove but also beautiful waterfalls (one of which you climb), gorges, woodland, Britain’s largest tarn, the limestone paving plus of course some amazing Yorkshire Dales scenery.

Janet’s Foss

Janet's Foss malham

From the car park head left toward Malham and just before you get to The Buck Inn you will see a little stone bridge over the beck on your right. Cross over this and follow the gravel path, through a couple of kissing gates and follow the signs for Janet’s Foss, the gorgeous waterfall in the woods seen above is what you are heading to. A perfect spot for a first little rest, or paddle.

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Foss is old Nordic for waterfall (in many cases in UK that formed over time to make Force, as many falls are named also). Who is Janet? Well she is believed to be a fairy queen that lives behind the waterfall.

After this carry on along the path, out of the woods and along the lane. You will soon be greeted by the spectacle that is Gordale Scar.

Gordale Scar

Gordale Scar and Waterfall Scramble

Upon entering Gordale Scar, through the campsite the valley seems wide but soon gets narrower and narrower. With the high rocky sides towering up the cathedral setting feeling comes in and the obstacle that is the waterfall comes into view.

waterfall Gordale Scar

If it is a busier day you will see a line of people making their way up the waterfall ahead. Not a huge scramble but please be careful when going up it as all hands and feet will be used. Even more care if it is wet. You can see on my day it was quite dry compared to some days.

climbers on the waterfall
scrambling up the Gordale Scar waterfall

From the top you are in the belly of the ravine with a rocky path out to the tops. One thing about this walk and route, surely is the variety. It is immense.

Keep going up and suddenly you are on the tops, on the dales. The green contrasted against the grey and whites of the abundant limestone makes this a true Yorkshire Dales walk in many senses.

limestone scenery

Follow the path straight on until you reach a stile over the wall and on the other side is a crossroad of lanes. Follow the lane most straight ahead for a few hundred metres and turn right into the land around Malham Tarn.

Malham Tarn

Often known as the highest ‘lake‘ in England, Malham Tarn. It is called a tarn (glacial lake) so as it is at 377 metres (1,237 feet) above sea level I myself would say Red Tarn on Helvellyn is the highest at 718 metres (2,356 feet), if we start including tarns.

However, that is not at all to take anything away from Malham Tarn. A beautiful spot or walk in itself no matter the weather. I am a fan of seeing things differently in each season.

Malham tarn

Since Mesolithic times there have been humans settled around here. Throughout history it has been an area for hunting and then cattle grazing. Once water has entered the tarn it takes 11 weeks to then pass through. The water from here goes underground and appears again beyond malham Cove as the start of the river Aire.

malham tarn waters edge

For the walk, return back out of the Malham Tarn grounds and turn right after passing through the gate. Over the bridge that crosses the stream and the sign ahead will point the way. Malham Cove, 1½  miles.

The route takes you down into a dry valley. A great view and walk in itself!

dry valley above malham cove

As the valley gets wider and wider you start to realise that the limestsone paving that is the top of Malham Cove is right around the corner.

Malham Cove

If you didn’t take this route round then the walk up to the top of Malham Cove from the bottom is well worth the climb and steps. It is a wonderful and gigantic scene.

limestone paving on top of malham cove
full view from malham cove

This huge curbed wall of rock was formed over 12,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age. As the glaciers melted the water had to go somewhere so here became a river that forged a way downwards at this point. Limestone erodes easily and where the lip of the cove is was more unstable hence the big curved U shape.

The drop down is 80m so you can only imagine the sight when it was full of water? I leaned out over the edge to grasp a size of the drop (be careful up here).

big drop down malham

The limestone paving at the top of Malham cove is also extremely striking. When the glaciers departed the limestone would have been flat. Over the centuries the time and weather would have eaten away at the soluble rock and caused the fissures that today look like paving. I have shown you this before at Orton Scar but here at Malham it is much larger in scale.

huge limestone paving Yorkshire dales

At the other end of the top of the cove you will see the path heading downwards. Pass all the people huffing puffing the other way heading a direct route up.

Once down you can turn to face Malham Cove from the bottom. Another spectacular way to view this geological landmark.

front view from bottom of malham cove

The more touristic path from here takes you out and back towards the car park you started from through the village. There are plenty of places here to grab food, ice cream or a beer.

malham cove from the distance

II have been wanting to show this walk for a while now. I never seem to have had my camera on past trips but glad I did this day.

One of the best walks in the Yorkshire Dales for variety, natural wonders and interest, but be aware that certain parts of it will be busy due to tourist traffic and accessibility.

If you have been to the dales, seen Malham Cove but never walked beyond it, then you do not know what you are missing.

Route Details

Distance: 7 miles

Time Taken: 3 hours

Download the GPX – Malham Cove and Gordale Scar Circular Walk

Parking: Yorkshire Dales National Park Car Park Malham, Postcode: BD23 4DG

malham cove walk map
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  1. Jonny Embo says:

    Hi Paul, we weren’t aware of this walk until it was covered by yourself on TAH. We visited during December, and the weather wasn’t kind. However, the walk was still immense, and I’d recommend it to everyone. We’ll definitely be back during warmer weather to scale the waterfall. Cheers mate

  2. jim pickthall says:

    Hi Paul we are due in Malham in 3 weeks time so we will be doing the walk then. It is a walk I did when on a school trip over 40 years ago

  3. Deloraine says:

    Thanks for a great post Paul. Unfortunately time did not allow me to visit this location during my visit to the Dales last year. Next time I visit the U.K. it will definitely be on my list of must-see places.

    1. Paul Steele says:

      Hi there, yes you must visit this area it is beautiful

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