What to look for
- Malham Cove is a curved crag of carboniferous limestone formed after the last ice age. It once had a waterfall bigger than Niagara Falls. It is 80 metres high and 300 metres wide and last had water flowing over it in the 19th Century, until 2015 when extreme rain caused a waterfall to flow for the first time in living memory. For just one day Malham Cove became the highest single drop waterfall in the UK In his book ‘The Water Babies’ Charles Kingsley tells the story of Tom the chimney sweep who left the sooty dark stripes as he fell over the edge and slid down the face of the cove.
- The limestone pavement on the top of the Cove is crossed by a series of channels caused by chemical weathering due to the slightly acidic rain dissolves and widens the many joints. The limestone lumps are the clints and the cracks grykes, which are home to many rare (shade-loving) plants – harts-tongue fern, wood-sorrel, wood-garlic, geranium, anemone, rue, and enchanter’s nightshade. The last Harry Potter film was filmed here.
- Iron Age settlement. As you descend to Gordale Bridge (7-8) between the first two gates you pass through the remains of an Iron Age settlement in use about 2,500 years ago. Notice the stones in the shape of hut circles, and small enclosures. People then cultivated oats and beans in strip fields and farmed sheep, goats and cattle. They built their home with a stone base in a circle, with a roof made from wood and heather.
- Gordale Scar is a dramatic limestone ravine containing two waterfalls with overhanging limestone cliffs over 100 metres high. The gorge was formed by water from melting glaciers and the collapse of a cavern. William Wordsworth wrote a sonnet about Gordale Scar; and Turner painted a picture of it in 1816,now in Tate Britain.
- Janet’s Foss. Foss is the old Norse word for a waterfall and Janet (or Jennet) was believed to be the queen of the fairies who lived in a cave behind the waterfall. The moss-covered ‘tufa’ has grown as calcite has been deposited when the water falls over it to form the apron. Across the stream there is a cave, which was inhabited by smelters working the copper mines at Pikedaw to the west. The pool below the waterfall was once used to wash sheep before shearing in late June. The sheep were driven to the pool and the men washing them would be up to their chests in water. Sacking and strong drink kept out the cold!