About Janet’s Foss and the Gordale Scar
The Janet’s Foss Waterfall as well as the waterfalls within the gorge known as the Gordale Scar were my waterfalling excuses to see this geological oddity in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The Gordale Scar was a giant limestone gorge closing in on the Gordale Beck where there were a pair of small waterfalls tumbling over tufa-like formations (a characteristic of the jagged limestone formations here). The cliffs, which seemingly enclosed upon the waterfalls themselves were said to be over 100m high, and it was speculated that this scar was the result of either a cavern collapse or melting glaciers. When I inspected the upper waterfall in the scar, I thought there was a pothole or natural arch that the beck fell through. But upon closer examination, it turned out to be nothing more than a bright rock that gave me the illusion that there was a natural arch up there.
Meanwhile, the Janet’s Foss waterfall was a small and tranquil falls (maybe 15-20ft high) spilling into a peaceful cove. It was only a short distance downstream on the Gordale Beck from the alternate car park on the narrow single-track road (Gordale Lane) leading to the Gordale Scar campground roughly 4 miles northeast of Malham. It only took me about 10-15 minutes to walk to and check out this waterfall before returning back to where I parked the car. Then, I continued for a few minutes into and past the Gordale Scar campground, where a path continued further into the imposing depths of the limestone cliffs. And after rounding a bend, that was when I saw the waterfall hidden in this cove dwarfed by the towering and overhanging cliffs. I really felt like the cliffs or the rocks could give at any minute and fall into this gloomy gorge.
I saw some kids from the nearby campsite who managed to climb up the waterfalls as they were undoubtedly going to do the much longer 7-mile loop walk taking in this Gordale Scar, the Malham Tarn, and the Malham Cove. I decided not to do the dicey scrambling though they definitely demonstrated to me that it was quite doable with a great deal of caution, especially given how low the Gordale Beck was flowing. When I had my fill of this waterfall, I then headed back to the car, where I could have called it an end to the excursion, but I actually spent a bit more time walking towards the Malham Cove, which was another mile away to the northwest.
The hike to the Malham Cove (going in the opposite direction of the longer 7-mile loop hike) passed through extensive sheep pastures as it hugged sheep walls while providing views in the direction of the village of Malham and its surrounding farmlands. After crossing over the Malham Rakes Road (another single-lane road leaving from Malham), I then entered another area of sheep pastures full of grass and sheep dung before finally getting to the wrinkly cliffs atop the Malham Cove. It took me about 35 minutes to get from the car to this point. I had to be careful given the uneven nature of the wrinkly limestone surface atop the cliffs, especially when some of the gaps between the limestone had some non-trivial drop offs that could be hazardous if I wasn’t careful and fell in. I also had to be careful not to get too close to the cliff edges as I peered over and down towards the base of the Malham Cove, where the Malham Beck is said to continue its journey towards the town of Malham further to the south and eventually joining with the Gordale Beck to form the River Aire.
After having my fill of this side excursion (which I’m not counting towards the overall difficulty of this hike since it wasn’t necessary to see the waterfalls), I then headed back down the hill towards my parked car. Overall, the entire excursion took about 2 hours and 15 minutes, but the last hour or so was for the Malham Cove (which would have made the difficulty more like a 3 had I included that side excursion in the difficulty rating as well). I didn’t have time to continue another mile or so towards the Malham Tarn to complete the longer hike that has been said to be perhaps the best Yorkshire Dales day hike given the quantity of sights and their variety.
Note that the excursion would have taken even much longer still had I began from the official pay and display car park just to the south of the town of Malham (see directions below). I got the feeling that the place I parked at only had room for a couple of cars, and the more spacious section across the narrow road was reserved for a refreshment truck. Had I done it the way they want you to do it, this excursion would’ve added another hour or two to the overall time it took me to do the excursion. Again, the difficulty rating I provided only reflected my own experience at the time, and not what the local authorities wanted me to do.
I think the fastest way to get to Malham (the nearest town to the Gordale Scar) from Kendal would be to take the A6 motorway south just past the M6 interchange to the A65 (6 miles), then continue on the A65 for another 32 miles towards the hamlet of Coniston Cold (becoming the A59 road along the way), where I’d then turn left onto the narrow Carseylands Hill Road. Continuing north for about 5.2 miles on this road, it will pass through a couple of towns (Airton and Kirkby Malham) before eventually reaching the public car park at the south end of the town of Malham. This drive would take about 90 minutes.
It turned out that the GPS led me in a more direct route but it involved driving more single-lane roads than what I described above so it wasn’t any faster. It had me go the familiar A6 then A65 roads before turning left onto the B6480 road at Giggleswick before taking the single-lane B6479 road east towards Malham.
Once I was at Malham, I continued driving on the single-lane Finkle Street due east, which eventually became the single-lane Gordale Lane. I parked the car just under 4 miles east of Cove Road (the main road through Malham) alongside the Gordale Lane just a few minutes walk from the Janet’s Foss Waterfall. Again, I’m not sure if parking there was legal, but it certainly saved me a lot of time and money, and I’d imagine given the limited parking available, under busier times, this parking spot might be hard to get without a very early start.
As for some geographical context, Kendal was 87 miles (over 2 hours drive) west of York, 73 miles (90 minutes drive) north of Manchester, 236 miles (4.5 hours drive) north of Bath, and 271 miles (over 5 hours drive or 3-4 hours by train) northwest of London.
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