Everything You Need to Know About Malhamdale and Airedale
The inspiration for Charles Kingsley’s classic novel, The Water Babies, and frequently captured on canvas by JMW Turner
High above Malham, Malham Tarn is a glacial lake (the setting for The Water Babies) overlooked by the Great Close Scar. It’s a wild and rugged place, now a nature reserve, and there are plenty of walks along its shoreline. Just a few hundred yards south of the tarn, where the slate bed runs out and turns back to limestone, the water mysteriously vanishes through deep fissures called water sinks, only to emerge much further downstream on the River Aire. Its path through the cave system below is still unknown.
Many visitors to Malhamdale come for the waterfalls. Gordale Beck cascades down the spectacular cliff face of Gordale Scar in three separate channels (painted by Turner in 1816). A more gentle fall is found at Janet’s Voss, where the beck cascades into a deep pool behind which is a large cave where Janet, Queen of the Fairies, was said to have lived.
South of Malham, Malham Beck meets the River Aire where the land flattens out into a wide gap in the Pennine Hills. This corridor through the hills made it strategically important historically. Granted a charter for a market in 1204, the area soon became known for its sheep and wool trade and, as one of the lowest points of the Pennines, it was the obvious choice of route for the Leeds to Liverpool canal, which was completed in 1816. Airedale’s main market town is Skipton, often referred to as the ‘gateway to the Dales’ and home to a bustling market, many independent shops, and of course, Skipton Castle.
More than 900 years old, Skipton Castle was constructed soon after William I’s harrying of the North and is one of the best-preserved medieval castles in England. Built on a steep escarpment, it had strong natural defences, and famously withstood a three-year siege during the civil war. You can visit the original banqueting hall, the kitchens, bedchamber and privy, and explore the ‘new’ Tudor wing built in 1536 by Henry VIII’s neice Eleanor Brandon. The town is known for its many independent shops and eateries, including Alexander’s, an award-winning café and bar, Bizzie Lizzie’s, famous for its award-winning fish and chips, and Keelham Farm Shop, a showcase for the region’s fabulous local produce with more than 400 suppliers from the surrounding countryside.
Stay A While
In Malham village we love the Lister Arms, a dog-friendly pub at the foot of the Gorge. There’s a great bar and restaurant here and lots of log fires when the weather turns cold. Over the road is Beck Hall where you’ll find 21 rooms, a streamside restaurant and bar and a cosy snug. In Skipton, head to the Coach House. A boutique bed and breakfast with just seven rooms, it has superb views over the oldest part of the town and is just a hop and skip away from Skipton’s bustling High Street. Alternatively, take to the water when you book Blue Otter, a canal boat moored in the centre of town and close to the castle. Neat and sweet, the contemporary narrowboat is perfect for couples. For something a little special, head to the Michelin-starred Angel at Hetton. Between Skipton and Malham, this 15th century inn is a warm and welcoming place, with 15 stylish rooms and a fantastic restaurant under the guidance of chef patron Michael Wignall.
It is very popular but it’s obvious why when you take the circular walk from Malham, which takes in Malham Cove, Gordale Scar and Janet’s Foss. Starting from the village car park, the walk takes about three hours, following part of the Pennine Way. Only the fittest will want to add in a detour to the Tarn, but we suggest a stay overnight in Malham, and save that walk for day two which will take you to the highest lake in England and one of only eight upland alkaline lakes in Europe, surrounded by its own nature reserve, which is well worth exploring properly.