Pennine Way Stage 7: Gargrave to Malham

Published 3 June 2015

Standing in a field, looking at a hill in mist

Gargrave was wet and soggy as we stepped off the train at Gargrave. Catherine and myself were there to do some walking. Three days of walking in fact. A long weekend which would see us walk around the three peaks of the Yorkshire Dales, but first we’d have to get there. The plan was to spend two days walking from Gargrave to Horton-in-Ribblesdale, following the Pennine Way.

It would be a holiday that would change my life. Well part of my life. Well, a little bit of my life anyway. It would be my first ever walking holiday, and a trip that would kindle my interest in long distance walking.

There were no grand plans; no lofty ambitions. It was just a chance to get out of London and spend some time in a nice part of the country. A stroll on the Pennine Way was just something to do to extend the trip.

We’d taken the first train of the day from Leeds, having visited an old university friend the night before and made use of her commodious three bedroom house to get some rest. In return she’d dumped us at Leeds railway station at 6:30am, 90 minutes before our train, as she rushed off to do her job as a member of the local law enforcement agency.

Catherine sat on a train to Gargrave

As the rain poured down, we’d used the forty five minute trip to pull on our waterproofs and dayglo rucksack covers, and mentally prepared ourselves for what was to come.

Despite having grown up on its doorstep, I knew next to nothing about the Pennine Way. It was just a squiggle on a map. And it has to be said, the section we were about to walk, wouldn’t be the most representative of the whole trail. But that didn’t matter. What mattered was that we were going out for a walk.

The first mile of so would take us up a tarmacked country lane, before heading abruptly up a minor hill. Where we promptly went back down again, due to it not being the correct way.

To call it a hill was probably an understatement. This was farmland, and relatively flat farmland at that. Still, up ahead was something more substantial; a sign of things to come. There was even a bit of snow hanging around, somehow having made it to the end of March.

A dead sheep became the abiding memory of Eshton Moor, and then it was along the River Aire; swelled massively by the heavy rain. Walking in the rain is rarely fun; there’s little on a walk that can be more down-heartening than having to put your head down to stop the stuff going in your eyes, whilst you rustle and sweat in your waterproofs.

Newfield Bridge, on the River Aire

We’d learn a lot about walking in the rain as we progressed along the Pennine Way, but thankfully whilst it was constant, it was never particularly heavy, and we managed to push on with a smile. Although the thought that we’d be able to stop at a pub for lunch no doubt helped.

Staying close to the River Aire, the trail meandered along, passing by villages and hamlets with curious names. Airton. Kirby Malham. Hanlith. In one, we sat on a bench opposite a small village green, the weather doing its best to persuade us to move on.

And then, all of a sudden, we were in Malham, standing outside the warm embrace of the Buck Inn as a large party of school children marched past in matching maroon coloured waterproofs. The pub’s hikers bar was closed – for some reason, there wasn’t enough demand for it on a soggy Thursday in March – but the main bar was open. Depositing our soggy boots inside the front door, we headed in for a reviving pint.

“I’ll light the fire to help you dry out,” said the barman, watching as we struggled out of wet nylon clothing, spreading our waterproofs over all the chairs we could find in order to dry them out.

Pint of beer in the Buck Inn, Malham

I could have hugged him. Before we knew it, we were sitting next to a roaring fire, watching as water slowly dripped out of our sodden gloves, whilst the barman told us he was contemplating getting his waterproofs on and heading out to the hills himself later in the afternoon.

Looking outside at the rain and then to my pint of ale, I had a strange compulsion to stay indoors.

The children were trooping past again as we struggled into our still wet boots in the pub’s doorway. I idly wondered if they’d actually been anywhere at all, or had just spent their whole day marching up and down Malham’s small main street. Still at least they were now doing it in dry weather; the rain having finally stopped whilst I munched on a prawn cocktail baguette in the pub.

We didn’t have far to go – Malham was where we would be spending the night, and our B&B was only a few minutes up the road – so we had plenty of time to check out Malham’s highlights.

The area is perhaps best known for the mighty Malham Cove, and the spectacular limestone pavement on top of it. However as we’d be passing that way the following morning on the Pennine Way, we headed off to the east to see some of the other attractions: Janet’s Foss and Goredale Scar.

It’s a popular walk, confirmed by the robust path that took us there alongside fields, and through the woodlands of the Malham Tarn Estate.

Janet’s Foss, near Malham

As waterfalls go, Janet’s Foss isn’t exactly huge. Indeed it’s pretty tiny. Although it is pretty; the water plunging down into a large pool, surrounded by trees and greenery. It’s like walking into some sort enchanted forest; home to mythical beings and legendary creatures. Indeed, it’s believed the waterfall’s name is a reference to Jennet, a fairy queen who folk tales tell inhabited the small cave at the back of the waterfall. Over time Jennet became Janet and the rest is history. As for the foss bit, well that’s more tangible. It’s an old Nordic word, still used to describe a waterfall in Scandinavian countries. There aren’t many fosses left in Britain; they’ve mostly changed to “Force” – some of which we’d see later on the Pennine Way. But here in Malhamdale there was one waterfall clinging onto the old ways.

We followed another rather substantial path on to another of the area’s natural wonders; Goredale Scar, a ravine with 100m tall limestone cliffs, and a series – well, two – waterfalls which allow Goredale Beck to flow down from the hill above before they eventually join the River Aire.

For those that wanted to go further, the path carried on up the beck; a good scramble taking the walker in the narrow gap alongside between the cliffs and the waterfalls. Follow the right paths and you can end up at the top of Malham Cove, before heading down to the pub for a pint. But with the afternoon getting on, it was far more sensible to head back the way we came. There’d be plenty of time for walking the next day after all.

Approaching Goredale Scar

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