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Malham Cove

Step away from the Yorkshire Three Peaks...

For many walkers, the Yorkshire Dales are made famous by the Yorkshire Three Peaks, and the challenge to walk the circuit of all three of them in 12 hours. However, the National Park is far more than just the three peaks, and at the opposite end of the park, the northern half offers a huge number of walking possibilities.

The geography of the north is of a huge blanket of high moorland cut through with two valleys that run the full width of the Park west to east, and which define the history and culture of this part of Yorkshire. They are of course Swaledale and Wensleydale, named after the River Swale and the village of Wensley respectively. In fact, Wensleydale is unusual in not being named after its river, the River Ure, and Wensley itself is rather small compared to the other villages and towns along its length.

In between these dales are the moors and blanket bogs, where the old mine workings, tracks and limestone outcrops seem tiny against the grand expanse of the land, which continues uninterrupted in all directions. As a walker, this can make for a bleak but beautiful setting, and after the initial steep ascent from the valley, you can wander the tops for hours without ever dropping below 500 metres. Once up, the valleys disappear, their ice- and water-gouged hollows seeping below your vision as the moor goes on into the distance. This is the moor that makes up the Pennines, the upland spine that runs hundreds of miles up the centre of England and into Scotland.

Through this landscape run two of Britain’s most popular long distance paths. The Pennine Way runs south to north and connects the two great dales via Great Shunner Fell in the west of the Park. It skirts the far western end of Swaledale, merely flirting with the valley before heading up and over the uncompromising upland of Stonesdale Moor. Wainwright’s Coast to Coast walk also passes through, entering the National Park from Nine Standards Rigg before running the entire length of Swaledale to the historical town of Richmond at the eastern edge of the Park.

There are dozens of high points on the moors to aim for if you want a summit, but alongside the fells there are some fantastic sights to explore. The long limestone scarp of Fremington Edge is easy to spot above Reeth market square, allowing you views down into the other northern valley of Arkengarthdale. You could even continue along the tops to the inspiringly named Booze Moor, and then take the advice in a local pub. There are public footpaths running up the dales for those wanting to explore lower down, and you’ll be spoilt for choice for drama in Wensleydale, with the beautiful stepped waterfalls of Aysgarth Falls sitting not far from the 14th century Bolton Castle.

Whatever you choose to do in the northern Yorkshire Dales, get on up to the moor somehow and experience that feeling where all human impact seems tiny against the grand backdrop of the uplands. It is a world where the land sweeps away and feels more like a sea lapping at your feet. When walking here, the moor plays tricks with you, always receding into the distance. It is with a changed perspective that you’ll retreat to the dales for the night.

Author: Alex Kendall

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