This week I have had the opportunity to visit the fantastic Yorkshire Dales in the north of England. I got a chance to visit a few sites. Much to our disappointment we weren’t able to get down Gaping Gill due to a technical fault with the winch, so we instead saw a few other places and I’d thought I’d share them with you. The first is epic Malham Cove.
Location & Access: Malham Cove is located in the south half of the Yorkshire Dales National Park at approximately 54*21’41” North, 2*09’28” West, about 1km from Malham village. You can park a car in the village (itself a wonderful place to see) and walk up the road to the cove. The road is good and there is a slight incline. just above the village is a clearly marked, good quality path to the cove…and to be honest you really can’t miss it from there. People with mobility issues shouldn’t have much trouble walking along the path, though the road can be a bit of a trek. Warning! The main path goes through a field of cows so beware of bovines.
Geology: The underlying rock is Carboniferous Limestone from the Garsdale and Danny Bridge Formations (331-339Ma), and represents a depositional environment of a shallow carbonate sea, full of corals and shell creatures. That was then, what about now? Like much of northern England the current landscape is largely the result of the various glaciations of the past, in particular the Devensian glaciation which ended about 10,000 years ago. Malham Cove is thought to have been formed slightly earlier (about 12,000 years ago) as the ice retreated north. The melting glaciers produced a large amount of run-off, and with the ground still being semi-frozen permafrost the water eroded the limestone instead of infiltrating into and dissolving it as happens now.
This led to the wonderful dry water seen today. The semi-circular Malham Cove is about 80m high and about 300m across. This makes it higher, but only about half as wide as the horse-shoe at Niagara Falls. This gives you an idea of what the falls would have looked like in full flow 12,000 years ago.
You can see the bedding planes in the limestone and if you look at the right of the image above you should be able to see two climbers ascending the cliff face (right of the centre tree, about half way up the picture in yellow). This gives you an idea of the scale of the place. At the base of the cliff is a small stream, exiting from one of the many underground river systems in the Dales.
Although you should always be careful approaching a cliff face I would recommend getting as near to the base as possible and looking up…it’s fantastic. I tried to take a few pictures, but none of them do it justice, so you’ll just have to go there yourself. Stand in the centre of the horse-shoe, close to the base and look up, it’s this wonderful bowl shape.
Above the falls is another wonder of the Dales; the limestone pavement.
These are a special feature, common to the Dales, but rare in the rest of the UK. The flat surface is a bedding plane in the limestone, exposed by glacial & periglacial erosion. This produces the flat ‘paving slabs’ called clints. The gaps in between are the result of rain water getting into cracks in the limestone and dissolving some of it. These gaps are called grykes. Walking along a limestone pavement is quite an experience, but be warned some of the clints are wobbly and the grykes can be wide and deep. Some of them may even be filled in with a thin layer of soil & grass so watch your step.
Other Stuff: You’ve got glacial valleys & erosion, caves, underwater rivers & springs, a dry waterfall higher than Niagara and limestone pavements…what more could you want? OK well aside from the geology it is also a great pace to catch a glimpse of one of my favourite birds; the Peregrine Falcon. These nest up on the cliff face your chances of seeing one is good.
To sum up, if you are ever in the north of England Malham Cove is worth the visit. The pictures I’ve posted really don’t do it justice, you’ll have to go see it for yourself. Stay geogeeky as I’ve got more from the Dales that I’ll post soon. Enjoy.
Reference: The Geology of Britain; An Introduction by Peter Toghill (2006), Geology (2nd Edition) by Stanley Chernicoff (1999).