Malham Cove, viewed as we walked back towards Malham village
A man near the edge of the limestone pavement at the top of Malham Cove
Petra walking down towards the top of Malham Cove, towards the limestone pavement
The stunning Malham Cove is a huge curving amphitheatre-shaped cliff formation of carboniferous limestone rock with a vertical face about 80 metres (260 feet) high, with a large area of deeply eroded limestone pavement at the top. On 21 June, on Day Five of an 11 day driving trip in the UK, Petra and I visited Malham Cove while on a four hour walk in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. We started at the National Park Centre in the village of Malham, picking up a leaflet on the Malham Landscape Trail. Embarking on this seven kilometres walk, we followed a path through fields and woods, past stone walls and barns, to a waterfall called Janet’s Foss, to a dramatic canyon called Gordale Scar, and then on to Malham Cove.
Malham Cove was formed by a waterfall carrying meltwater from glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age, more than 12,000 years ago. An extraordinary amount of water was involved, scouring out this large rock ledge and face. This erosion took place more actively at the lip of the fall, hence the curved shape. Today, a small stream named Malham Beck seeps out from the bottom of the massive steep face of the cove.
Approaching the top of Malham Cove
The limestone pavement at the top of Malham Cove
Looking up at people on the skyline, walking on the limestone pavement at the top of Malham Cove
Where the Malham Beck seeps out from the bottom of the Malham Cove cliff face
Petra and Malham Beck
The route we walked took us first to a small hill leading down to the top of the Cove. It was here that we came across the “limestone pavement”, a rock platform that had been exposed by the scouring action of glaciers. Due to the mildly corrosive effects of slightly acidic rain water on the limestone, a process which also leads to the formation of caves and potholes, deep crevasses slowly developed in the rock so that the limestone pavement is actually a “mosaic” of interlocking “clints” and “grykes”. The clints are the flat blocks of limestone separated by the grykes which are deep crevices. As you walk across them, some of the clints move, proving they are sitting loosely. The grykes can be quite deep, maybe as much as a metre to a metre-and-a-half deep. The microclimate of the grykes is more humid and slightly warmer than on the pavement itself, resulting in a different range of vegetation growing in them, such as ferns, wood sorrel, dog’s mercury, and anemones.
Clints and grykes
Petra standing on a clint
Petra looking out towards Malham Village from the top of the Cove
A pigeon looking at Petra taking its picture
Vegetation in the grykes, the result of their micro-climate
Information panel at the top of Malham Cove
The limestone pavement at the top of Malham Cove – spot Petra top centre
Youtube clip of Malham Cove from a drone camera:
Malham’s limestone pavement was used as a location for the 1992 film version of Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights”. It was also featured in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part 1)” as one of the places Hermione and Harry visit.
When Petra and I arrived at the top of Malham Cove, a number of people were intently gazing at a small tree along the face of the side of the Cove. It turned out they were looking at peregrine falcons. Some of these impressive birds of prey have nested at Malham Cove since 1993. At the bottom of the Cove, we came across a viewpoint run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority. They had set up telescopes for people to look at the peregrines. This year’s chicks had recently fledged.
Peregrine falcon on the side of Malham Cove.
Peregrine falcon viewpoint point at Malham Cove.
Also at the bottom of the Cove, when we walked up to the source of the the stream that runs from its base, we spotted a couple of climbers practicing their moves. Malham Cove is a popular climbing spot and offers significant challenges.
This is an amazing landscape feature, carved out of limestone by ice and water. It is difficult to do it justice.
Youtube clip of the peregrine watch at Malham Cove:
For more information about peregrine falcons at Malham Cove.
About peregrine falcons in the UK.
See here for a simplified version of the Malham Landscape Trail map.