Written by Bradt Travel Guides
The Yorkshire Dales is of course a prime destination for avid walkers, but there’s plenty to do and see besides in the national park. From gently rolling hills to unique limestone pavements to fascinating underground caverns, there’s something here to suit everyone.
Caves and caverns
The descent into Gaping Gill is not for the fainthearted © Craven Pothole Club
If you want a truly adrenaline-charged underground experience, try the descent into Gaping Gill, the largest and deepest single vertical drop cave chamber in Britain. This experience is open during only two weeks of the year, the week of the Whitsun Bank Holiday and the week leading up to August Bank Holiday, during which local caving clubs lower willing members of the public down to the bottom of the cave and back for a nominal fee. For a slightly tamer caving experience, take a tour of Inglebrough Cave, just a mile downhill from Gaping Gill, or the Stump Cross cavern system, located on the packhorse route between Grassington and Pateley Bridge.
The rolling hills of the Dales are prime walking, horse trekking or fell running country © Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority
Besides walking, there are several alternative ways of exploring the rolling hills of the Dales, and taking in the stunning scenery as you go. Why not let someone else’s horse do your walking for you? Masham Riding and Trekking Centre and Wensleydale Equestrian both offer trekking and lessons for all ages and abilities, so even if want to try something new, the Dales is the place to come. Alternatively, if you’re feeling fit and looking for a challenge, try your hand at the strenuous sport of fell running. You can complete an afternoon’s walk in half the time and take in even more of the spectacular landscape in the process.
The cliffs at Malham Cove are topped by a fantastic example of a limestone pavement © Welcome to Yorkshire
Limestone is the overwhelmingly dominant rock of the the Dales, laid down millions of years ago as a multi-layered coral reef in a shallow tropical sea. Fast forward to the present day and left behind are the fascinating limestone pavements that decorate every corner of the Dales. Some of the best examples are the Westmorland Scars, the cliff at Malham Cove or on Ingleborough hill. If you are only able to visit the Dales once in a year, make that visit in June to witness the riot of colour provided by the iconic flowers that love the lime-rich soil.
Cliffs and crags
From the bottom of Malham Cove you can watch extreme climbers attempt to scale the crag © Andrew Locking/www.andrewswalks.co.uk
Being in limestone country means there are plenty of cliffs and crags in the Dales, and inevitably these are a magnet for extreme climbers. At 170 feet high, Kilnsey Crag is not huge, but the glacier that scraped away its bottom section thousands of years ago has left a bizarrely suspended lump of rock that doesn’t look as if it should stay up. There are numerous described routes up the crag, and the first person to complete a new route has the honour of naming it. Climbers also flock to Malham Cove to scale the crag there. If you’d rather keep your feet on solid ground, however, the cove is still well worth a visit, as it is an excellent place to go to see nesting peregrine falcons at the RSPB base.
Thornton Force is the highest of the falls dotted along the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail © Andrew Locking/www.andrewswalks.co.uk
Every dale has its own river running through it, so it’s no surprise there’s a wealth of spectacular waterfalls in the region. Ramble along the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail, keep an eye open for leaping salmon in late autumn at Stainforth Force, watch the River Ure tumble over a series of limestone terraced steps at Aysgarth Falls or visit Hardraw Force, the highest single-drop waterfall above ground in England.
The Leeds and Liverpool Canal boasts some beautiful views along its banks © Canal & River Trust
A trip down the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Skipton epitomises the beauty of Slow travel. You can join half-hour or one-hour trips in and around town, or hire a boat for a day, weekend or entire week. Sail westwards from Skipton to enjoy stunning vistas of the rural and unspoilt landscape. Ripon also boasts a short stretch of canal, a tiny 2½-mile spur off the River Ure that provides an alternative method for travelling into the heart of this medieval city.
Want to find out even more about unique ways to explore the Yorkshire Dales? Check out our comprehensive guide: