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Gentle Pastures and Dry Stone Walls..
The southern half of the Yorkshire Dales National Park is, for me, the area between Wensleydale and the southern border of the Park near Skipton. It is a wide landscape of rolling moor, where the dales tend to run from the north into the south, unlike the west-east direction further north. The longest of these dales is Wharfedale, which begins right in the heart, then runs out into the south east of the Park; along its length runs the Dales Way, an 80 mile long-distance trail that leads you right through the Dales and ends in the Lake District.
This part of the National Park is most famous among walkers for being the location for the Yorkshire Three Peaks, the challenge to summit Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-ghent in under 12 hours in one continuous circuit. This challenge aside, the individual hills make great day walks, and can be climbed from a number of different routes. A fuller appreciation of Pen-y-ghent for example is a day walk starting with the steep southern scramble, but also including an exploration of Plover Hill and the wild Foxup Moor in the north. You’ll also have time to appreciate the great hole in the earth that is Hull Pot, which is totally missed by Three Peaks groups.
To gain height in this part of the Park, and to miss the crowds you’ll get on a summers day on the highest point at Whernside or on the Pennine Way, head further east. The hills around Wharfedale are just as big but much quieter. Starting from the village of Kettlewell, the peaks of Great Whernside, Buckden Pike, and Old Cote Moor Top are all within reach, and if your journey to the moor doesn’t have to include peaks, there are miles of lower paths to take you into the more remote hills.
The southern Yorkshire Dales are one of the best places to see what makes this part of the world geologically famous. Adorning the slopes of many hills are sheets of what is known as limestone pavement, a sedimentary rock that was laid down when Yorkshire was at the bottom of a shallow sea. Nowadays, as limestone dissolves in water, you’ll see the surface disintegrating into the clints and grykes that are characteristic of the action of water over thousands of years, since the ice age exposed the rock. Unique plant communities live in these habitats, and the underground is networked by endless cave systems, some of which you can look around.
Further south, where the Park gets lower, the action of the water can be seen in spectacular form at Gordale Scar, a great chasm in the earth that can be travelled up or down by walkers with guts and good footing. If you just want to look, there is an easy walk in from the south, where you can admire the stream coming out of the ravine and gaze up at the 100 metre high limestone cliffs above.
The wild moors of the southern Yorkshire Dales, cut through by the dales themselves with their tiny roads, dry-stone walls and fields of sheep, give you a real sense of the scale of Yorkshire. This, in a sense, is what most of northern England is like, a land of open spaces with thousands of miles of paths. Whether you want to reach the peaks or travel the miles of valleys, walkers will always find a home here.
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