I won’t know for sure if Malhamdale is the finest place there is until I have died and seen heaven (assuming they let me at least have a glance), but until that day comes, it will certainly do. – Bill Bryson
Malham almost deserves a whole blog post to itself. We ate a porridge breakfast and packed up the tent in record time, and climbed up the hill to be on the top of Malham Cove by 8am, a good idea judging by the motorway of people climbing Pen-y-Ghent by the time we got over to Horton-in-Ribblesdale.
We had Malham entirely to ourselves, apart from two birdwatchers who were up there early to see the peregrines. They showed us their fabulous photographs of the female peregrine perching on a branch near her nest.
Malham Cove, for those of you who are unfamiliar with this part of the country, is a curved limestone amphitheater of a cliff topped by a spectacular limestone pavement.
In 2015, after exceptionally heavy rain, a waterfall which had not been seen in living memory flowed again from the top as it must once have done to form the bowl of the cliff after the glaciers retreated. Malham Tarn lies above the Cove,
and a little stream which flows out from it disappears into the ground at a place called Water Sinks. No one is actually sure whether it is the same stream that comes out at the bottom of Malham Cove.
The bottom of the Tarn itself is formed of impermeable Silurian slate, which explains the odd presence of a lake in a highly permeable limestone area.
The views from the top of the Cove were simply breathtaking,
out across the Dales back the way we had come, to the moors we had left a couple of days ago.
The rock pavement underfoot looked like the ancient bones of abandoned skeletons spat out by the last glaciers.
As with the steps on the way up and the stile on the way out at the top of the Cove, the rock had worn very smooth in places, and it was a good thing we were not walking in the rain. The clints and grikes, the deep fissures between the rocks, create their own special habitat for ferns in particular, and are always fascinating.
A kind of limestone corridor connects the Cove with the Tarn, and last year when we were here in August it had been full of butterflies.
Further up the hill, Malham Tarn was edged with marsh marigolds and ladies’ smock, and there were oystercatchers flying about the margins too.
We walked around the back of the National Trust property at the top end of the Tarn down a lane bordered thickly with wild raspberries, dog’s mercury, wild lady’s mantle and pendular sedge.
It led out into a driveway quarried deeply on both sides out of the limestone, where we caught sight of a minuscule goldcrest fluttering around the rocks. We froze, and watched it for some time as it flitted from rock to rock in search, we thought, of nesting material. It was pretty impressive at hovering, and even flying backwards. It was a great spot, and a real thrill to have seen it.
The Pennine Way climbs and climbs out of Malham village, past the Cove, up to the Tarn and then out onto Fountains Fell. We stopped before the top to catch our breath and admire the incredible views. It has got to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. I love these limestone fells, the old quarries, the sinkholes, the cottongrass. The larks rose and fell and sang over all, and today that felt particularly right, on what would have been my father‘s birthday.
We met a couple of runners training for the Pennine 50. “Hello, lads!” they called cheerily as they went past. We saw them again later on as they had taken a more circular route and we had got in front of them, and again on the approach to Pen-y-Ghent when they were on the way back down.
There seem to be many local people out using the fells for their regular exercise, as opposed to holidaymakers, or people like us doing the long-distance paths. There are also an awful lot of scarily unfit people attempting the Yorkshire Three Peaks. Rain had been forecast today, and was the reason we left at 7:45am and pushed as fast as we could, so as to get the tent up in the campsite in the dry at Horton-in-Ribblesdale before the rain came in. But as we came down from the bottom of the peak of Pen-y-Ghent (which we were not intending to do, even though the Pennine Way goes over the top… Our aim is to walk a long way, not over every hill!) streams of people were coming up: mostly worryingly underdressed (shorts and no top) and many had very small children.
By the time we got down to Horton, it had just started to rain and clouds were covering the tops.
In the campsite there was a lot of stuff left out in the rain: furniture, rugs, equipment. The day had started so well but ended as a classic British bank holiday. I hope everyone made it down safely.