Malham lies at the very heart of the Yorkshire Dales; a land of great waterfalls and limestone pavements, attracting flocks of humans and sheep in equal measure.
As ever, we came for the great waterfalls; and to reminisce on an exciting swimming adventure I had here last summer.
Sparrows chattered in a bitter wind, as we crossed the clapper bridge by the forge; the beck accelerating between the ancient stone pillars below. A sign warned against throwing stones in the river. We managed to resist the temptation.
Picking our way through brown puddles on the path beside Gordale Beck, swollen slightly by crepuscular rain, we spied the first fall; Janet’s Foss, in full winter tumult, a foaming dash through the trees.
Legend has it that Janet, Queen of the Fairies, resided here in a cave concealed behind the falls.
I was particularly happy to see the Foss, as since my last visit, I dreamt it had been destroyed to make way for some ghastly development. I was glad my oneiric prophesy hadn’t come true. Also happy was my long-suffering girlfriend, who was relieved to find that I wasn’t about to throw myself in with the joy of it all.
We ascended a path of smooth rock towards Gordale, a ravine that was once a titanic subterranean cavern; until eventually the roof caved in, forming a spectacular canyon. This is Yorkshire at its most magnificent, and has inspired some of our greatest artists and writers; including J.M.W. Turner, James Ward, and the swimming enthusiast, Roger Deakin.
The khaki slopes, imbrued with grey scree, revealed often the skeletal form of the rock beneath; while firs, green as mini Christmas trees, clung to the face. The beck, as it percolated through and over rocks, looked like the steaming exhaust from an Icelandic geyser. The place feels so exotic, it’s easy to imagine that you are not in Yorkshire, but in the high mountains of Kashmir.
This is the ‘mass of tufa’ that Deakin climbed on his visit to Malham in 1996. The rock face is actually a public footpath, and although quite an intimidating sight, it is a very straightforward scramble up into limestone country, the haunt of Harry Potter in ‘The Deathly Hallows’.
One very hot day last July, I came to Malham; following the splash of Deakin through the waterfall pools of the dale.
On waking early, I slipped into Janet’s Foss at 9 o’clock in the morning; scattering trout on all sides as I swam several lengths before the day-trippers and campers arrived. The green waters of the Foss felt cool on my skin; the day was not yet hot, the surrounding copse of trees keeping the sun at bay while allowing fragments of light to dapple the surface in an ethereal glow.
Walking higher into Malhamdale; I hopped gingerly into a spitting, watery basin below Gordale Scar. I was surprised to find the water startlingly tepid.
At midday, after drying off by the car, I moved on to one of my favourite places in the Dales; indeed, in the entire country.
A tiny hidden pool, almost too perfect to be real, which featured in the book, Waterlog. Finding the pool was one of Roger’s most intrepid adventures, and it also took me two or three attempts to find it for myself. So lucid is Deakin’s prose, that when I finally stumbled across this little gem, I knew it. This was the place:
“It was very nearly circular, and rimmed with moss…natural steps led into its perfectly clear depths…a small spinney of ash by the banks…”
The next few hours I spent, in no great hurry, lolling listlessly on the bank and swimming in the beck; so that I almost failed to notice the twenty-eight degree heat I’d left behind in the city.