A Walking Guide to Malham Cove

Malham Cove walk.

Malham Cove walk.

Malham Cove is a well-known beauty spot within the Yorkshire Dales National Park.  

On warm summer days, it attracts a host of walkers and day trippers keen to explore this picturesque area of the Yorkshire Dales.

The village boasts two welcoming village pubs and a number of teashops, which make for a perfect end to a day’s exploring.  This lovely circular walk can be enjoyed from the village of Malham and takes in the interesting geological features of Malham Cove and the beautiful waterfall at Janet’s Foss.

The geology of Malham Cove

Malham’s renown stems from the fascinating geological features of Malham Cove.  The cove is a large natural wall of curved limestone.  It was shaped by a waterfall carrying glacier meltwaters at the end of the last Ice Age more than 12,000 years ago. 

The vertical face of the cliff is nearly 80 metres high.  At the top is a large area of deeply eroded limestone pavement, one of just a few examples of limestone pavement in the UK.  From its heights, you are treated to wonderful vistas across the valley below.

These majestic vistas and interesting geology have been attracting visitors to Malham for centuries.  In the Domesday Book, the village is listed as Malgun, a name that is translated to mean ‘the settlement by the gravelly places’.

Malham Cove Parking

Malham is a small village, so the National Park Authorities like to encourage visitors to make their way by public transport where possible.  

There are buses to Malham from the nearby towns of Skipton and Gargrave, Mondays through Saturdays throughout the year.  On summer Sundays and bank holidays additional buses run from Dewsbury, Bradford, Ilkley and Skipton and from Lancaster, Slaidburn, Settle and Malham Tarn.  

The nearest train station is Gargrave, which is about seven miles away, although there are more frequent services to Skipton, around 11 miles away, which run from Leeds and Bradford.   Alternatively, the Settle station on the scenic Leeds – Settle – Carlisle steam line is seven miles away.

If you must travel by car, use the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority car park or the limited roadside parking available in the village or at the village pubs.

Hiking at Malham Cove

Many visitors to Malham will walk the short path up to Malham Cove and spend the day beside the waters at its base, paddling and picnicking and enjoying the view.

However, the proximity of Malham Cove to two of the Yorkshire Dales other magnificent beauty spots makes this circular walk too tempting to miss!  With a circular route just over eight miles long, you can take in Malham Cove, Malham Tarn, Gorsdale Scar – another interesting geological feature of the landscape – and the Janet’s Foss waterfall.

This fantastic route is amongst the best in Britain.  Indeed, it featured as number three in Britain's Top 100 Walks on ITV in January 2018.

Harry Potter at Malham Cove

Head north on Cove Road out of the village and after around 300 metres, Malham Cove will come into view.  You may see climbers on its face, and peregrine falcons swooping above.

If the shape of the cove looks familiar to you, you might be recognising it from a Hollywood movie!  It’s featured in several. It was used as a location in the 1992 version of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, starring Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes.

More recently, Malham Cove also featured in the film Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One.  It was one of the remote locations where Harry and Hermione set up camp while trying to escape the death eaters.

How to Follow the Malham Cove Walk

While you’re at the cove, take the steep steps that wind their way up the cove’s left flank and you will eventually arrive at the spectacular limestone pavement at the summit.  

The route tracks north over rough country for several miles before reaching Malham Tarn, one of only eight upland alkaline lakes in Europe.  At an altitude of 377 metres above sea level, this is England’s highest freshwater lake. This scenic spot is perfect for a mid-route picnic or tea break!  

You might be able to spot the Malham Tarn Field Studies Centre on the tarn’s northern shore.  This old Georgian House inspired Charles Kingsley to write ‘The Water Babies’ when he stayed here in 1858.

After tracking the shore of Malham Tarn, the route follows in the lea of Great Close Hill, following the base of the incline south east to eventually run alongside Gorsdale Beck.  Continue the route south to the impressive ravine of Gordale Scar, with its steep walls and stunning water cascades. Take care when scrambling down into the gorge. From here you can pick up the enchanting riverside path that leads through woodlands to Janet’s Foss.  This beautiful waterfall is said to be named after a Fairie Queen that lived behind the tumbling torrent.

After another lazy stop admiring the view you can then cut back across fields to the village of Malham.

What Do I Need to Walk Malham Cove?

This circular route covers uneven and difficult ground at times, so you will need to ensure you have good quality walking boots and hiking socks.  If you need assistance choosing the right footwear, you can gain some insights from our buyer's guide to footwear.

To plot the route in full you’ll need the Ordnance Survey Map (OS Map: 98, Malham Cove gr 897642).  

Given the proliferation of beauty spots along the way, we heartily recommend packing a flask of tea and a scrumptious picnic in your rucksack so you can revel in your pick of the wonderful views over lunch.  Plus, of course, this is Yorkshire: so remember to bring along one of our ladies raincoats or men's waterproof jackets!

About the Malham Cove Walk

This is a popular walk, especially the stretch between the village and Malham Cove.  On warm summer weekends this section of the walk can get particularly busy.

If you prefer a slightly shorter walk, you can omit the section up to Malham Tarn and focus on the southern part of the route.  This way, you can enjoy Malham Cove, Gorsdale Scar and the Janet’s Foss waterfall with around five miles of walking.

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