|The Pennine Way|
The entrance to Gordale Scar
The morning of the 27th was bright and clear with some isolated clouds. I left Thornton-in-Craven along Cam Lane into an area of gentle rolling hummocks. These are all marked as hills (Fence Hill, Hall Field Hill, etc.) on the maps but are only about 50 metres above the path. The Pennine Way follows a grassy path through green fields and over a small rise (Langber Hill) to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. The towpath leads pleasantly along the canal by some fair-sized trees. The canal is surprisingly clean - I've seen others which were full of dirty brown water.
|Earby||YH||0870 770 5802|
The commercial lifetime of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal was brief but busy. Built during the 1800's, it was a crowded highway for shortboats, narrowboats and packetboats who were towed by heavy horses. The coming of the railways made the canals less competitive and by the 1920's there was virtually no commercial canal traffic. The modern leisure industry has given many canals a second lease of life, including the Leeds and Liverpool.
If you need refreshment then a detour over the first bridge to East Marton and its inn is possible. The Pennine Way used to pass through this hamlet and miss some of the canal path - including the curious double-arched bridge (number 161) where a modern second storey supports the A59 trunk road. The shade of the beech and sycamore trees in the canal cutting is a blessing on the rare hot summer day. A short stretch of road after Williamson Bridge was soon behind me as the path lead through farmland (sometimes indistinctly) to Gargrave. There is a good viewpoint over Gargrave and north into the real limestone country from a crest just by Scaleber Hill. I arrived just in time to stop at a coffee shop for a cup of invigorating hot chocolate.
|Lavender House||B&B||01756 748600|
|The Old Swan Inn||Pub||01756 749232|
Once out of Gargrave, a quiet road through Mark Plantation took me back into the countryside and more farmland in the climb to Eshton Moor. There is not much of a path but the waymarkers and stiles kept you on the right track. The Yorkshire Dales National Park is entered as you climb a stile over a stone wall with Haw Crag to your left. From the moor top I caught my first glimpse of Malham Cove - the limestone cliff where a waterfall used to be. The Pennine Way drops down from the moor to cross Newfield Bridge to the east bank of the River Aire which is followed nearly all the way to Malham.
This is pleasant riverside walking with a couple of small villages on the other side of the river providing picture-postcard views. The first village you pass is Airton. Since it was recorded in the Domesday Book, Airton has been a Quaker village, a mill village and a farming village. On the village green there stands a 'squatters house'. In the 17th century, homeless people could apply to the Quarter Sessions for permission to build a house on common land. If they could make the framework of their house within 24 hours they were given squatters rights, but every night the locals made sure any new attempt was pulled down. History does not record how the squatters house managed to endure.
|Airton Quaker Hostel||Hostel||01729 830263|
|Lindon Guest House||B&B||01729 830418|
Gordale Beck issuing from a window in the limestone
The river is followed all the way to Aire Head except for a steepish section up the hill towards Hanlith and then down again with a nice view along the way. Across the river is the village of Kirkby Malham which contains one B&B - Yeoman's Barn, 01729 830639. Also take note of Badger House with is namesake weather vane. At Aire Head the river suddenly disappears - the source of the River Aire is Malham Tarn but the outlet from there vanishes at Water Sinks and comes up again here.
When I was in sight of Malham, I took a detour which I recommend to everyone:
After the River Aire begins at Aire Head there is a path to the right (just past Mire Barn). This joins and follows Gordale Beck upstream into woods (passing the fascinatingly named Hell Gill Syke on the way) and up to Janet's Foss waterfall. This is not a big waterfall (4 metres at the most) but is perfectly situated in a wooded glade. Climb up from the waterfall to Gordale Lane with a ruined barn on the other side of the lane and turn right to the entrance of Gordale Scar - see the photo above. The well-trodden path into the valley of the Scar is quickly squeezed into a limestone gorge. The creator of the gorge - Gordale Beck - issues forth through a hole in the rock walls at the gorge head and forms a two-storied waterfall. The easiest way to get to Malham is to return and follow Gordale Lane - this is especially quick if you have to walk through a sudden downpour like me!
If you have the time then it is possible to continue along the gorge (climbing up beside the waterfall). Beyond the waterfall a path climbs out of the gorge and onto moorland where a minor road is joined 100 metres beyond a cattle grid. Walk northwards along the road and follow its sharp right turn to where the Pennine Way crosses it (about 1 kilometre). The Pennine Way can then be taken back to Malham.
I soon found my way into Malham and the Buck Inn where I stayed the night. There is also a youth hostel in the village: Malham Youth Hostel.