Yorkshire DalesAbout The Yorkshire DalesLandscapeNatureRecreation

Yorkshire Dales Visitor Guide

Introduction to the Yorkshire Dales

The Yorkshire Dales is famous for its stone walls crossing the landscape, the green of this limestone country contrasting with amazing scenic features such as Kilnsey Crag or Malham Cove.

Each Dale has its own character, with famous rivers such as the Wharfe or Swale flowing along the valley bottom, hardy sheep grazing the uplands, and stone-built farms and villages dotting the landscape. Curlews, oystercatchers and birds of prey can often be seen.

The Yorkshire Dales is prime walking country, with gentle walks throughout, and more taxing walks in the Three Peaks area of Penyghent, Whernside and Ingleborough. Underground, visit caves at White Scar and Stump Cross, or the experienced caver can explore miles of passages.

Towns such as Skipton, Leyburn, Hawes and Richmond offer fascinating shops and interesting diversions, with markets and local produce available.

Throughout the Dales there are reminders of its turbulent history - Viking place names and fortresses such as Bolton Castle and Skipton Castle. More modern attractions such as the Forbidden Corner or Wensleydale Cheese Creamery offer different experiences.

In the Yorkshire Dales there is holiday accommodation to suit all requirements - cosy cottages, welcoming bed and breakfasts and guest houses, hotels and inns in town and country. Good Yorkshire hospitality will add to the pleasure of your stay.

Other Yorkshire Dales Sections we have pages for but are not mentioned in the text of this page - Littondale, Grassington, Malhamdale, Ingleton, Settle, Clapham, Dentdale, Nidderdale and Harrogate

Sheep on the fells Limestone clints in the Yorkshire Dales

About the Yorkshire Dales

The Dales lie astride the Pennines in the north of England in the counties of North Yorkshire and Cumbria There are over 20 main dales, differing much from each other in character and atmosphere. To the south of the area lies a highly populated industrial area while to the north thinly settled uplands stretch to the Tees and beyond. About 20,000 people live in the scattered farms, villages and small market towns of the Dales.

People have lived in the area for over 10,000 years and have left their mark on the landscape in the form of ancient settlement sites, disused mineral workings and the patchwork of dry-stone walls and barns so typical of the Dales. Early farmers cleared the woodland and developed the fields.

Sheep on the fells, hay meadows in the valley bottoms: this has long been the way of life for Dales farmers, resulting in a landscape cherished by residents and visitors alike. However, both the landscape and traditional farming methods are now under threat from changing agricultural economics.

Each of the Yorkshire Dales has a different character. The Southern Dales are less remote, and attract day visitors as well as staying guests. The Northern Dales provide rugged scenery for walking and sightseeing. In the West, the villages and small towns have their own charm. Throughout the Dales there is a variety of accommodation and attractions which can keep any visitor fully engaged.

The Yorkshire Dales is worth a visit at any time of year - try a snug country pub with an open fire in the winter months, a luxury hotel for a spring break, a cottage for a summer base, or a bed and breakfast for an autumn weekend. Wherever you go or stay you will find a fascinating landscape and many things to see and do.

A typical dales landscape Halton Gill, a typical Dales village

Landscape of the Yorkshire Dales

The natural features of the Dales are the result of erosion by glacier ice. Weathering of limestone, shale, sandstone and millstone grit laid down about 300 million years ago has created the scenery that we see today. Visitors can explore this fascinating, distinctive landscape of open moorland, rounded valleys, crags and hills. The area is particularly well known for its splendid limestone formations: scars, caves, dramatic waterfalls and the expanses of fissured rock known as pavements.

Many visitors are unaware that the Yorkshire Dales are essentially a managed landscape. While the major land-forms were created millions of years ago, the distinctive character of the Dales is largely due to man’s intervention. A succession of settlers left their mark on the land - by clearing woodland, building villages and roads, cultivating crops and later building barns and walls which are such a feature of the area. Though few crops grow successfully on the uplands, the lush valley grass provides ideal grazing. Dairy and mixed-stock farming predominate in the lower dales whilst the high fells are left to the Swaledale sheep.

The Yorkshire Dales provide archaeologists with an abundance of riches. The Romans drove their ruler-straight roads across the fells. The Angles, Danes and Norsemen came in their turn and the story of their settlements can still be read today in the evocative names of places and natural features.

The Middle Ages brought the Normans, who built castles and created hunting forests. Monks from the great abbeys farmed vast estates; they were the first to make cheese in Wensleydale and bred the hardy hill sheep on the inhospitable fells. While we tend to think of the Yorkshire Dales as a farming community, lead-mining was an important industry throughout the North Pennines until late last century.

The typical Dales landscape of dry stone walls and field barns came about gradually, as land-owners enclosed the open fells for their livestock.

The Yorkshire Dales are a spectacular, beautiful and living landscape - more than 60,000 people live and work in the Yorkshire Dales area. While tourism is becoming increasingly important, the local economy is still very dependent on farming and many of the customs and festivals have their origins in agriculture.

Yew Cougar Scar in Littondale Typical upland river scenery

Nature in the Yorkshire Dales

Limestone pavements

Limestone Pavements are found around Wharfedale, to the north of Malham and around Ingleborough. They have taken shape over the 12,000 years since the end of the most recent Ice Age. Many were formed by glaciers scraping the land down to bare limestone which has since been attacked by rainwater to produce a network of blocks (clints) and crevices (grikes). The damp, sheltered grikes provide a refuge for woodland plants, including several rare ferns.

Hay meadows

Traditionally managed hay meadows form a blaze of colour along the valley bottoms during June and July. The colour comes from a wide range of wild flowers, the most obvious of which are wood cranesbill, buttercup, pignut and clover. The botanical diversity - some hay meadows contain 80 or more plant species - depends on limited use of fertiliser and late cutting. Some of the finest meadows can be seen in Swaledale, upper Wharfedale, Littondale and upper Wensleydale.

Limestone grassland

The close-cropped ‘billiard table’ turf of calcareous grassland contains a surprising variety of limeloving grasses and herbs, often grazed as much by rabbits as by sheep. Wharfedale, Ribblesdale, Littondale and Malham form the main areas for this type of pasture, which has usually received little in the way of fertiliser. Birdsfoot trefoil, rock rose, mountain pansy and the aromatic wild thyme create a distinctive flora.

Woodland

Just 1 per cent of the Dales landscape is covered by semi-natural broad-leaved woodland, much of it now confined to steep slopes or gills. Special to the Dales are the ‘hanging’ ash woods that line the sides of dales such as Wharfedale. Also important are the extensive oak woods around Bolton Abbey and the small scattered woods of Swaledale. Woods act as vital refuges for a host of animals, including badger, roe deer, nuthatch and woodpecker.

Moorland

Rough grassland, blanket bog and great swathes of heather cover nearly all the high ground of the Dales. Damp grassland and bog - often dominated by cotton grass - are home to species of upland wader such as curlew, snipe and redshank. Heather moorland, which colours large areas in the east and north purple in August, is usually managed for grouse, but is important too for bilberry, cowberry, cloudberry, merlin, golden plover and even adders.

Rivers and riverbanks

The characteristic brown peat staining of Dales rivers and the natural foaming around waterfalls belie their clean, unpolluted state. The white-breasted dipper may be seen bobbing on rocks in the water, while the goosander and the brilliantly coloured kingfisher are rewarding sights. Brown trout inhabit most rivers, while those flowing westwards - the Ribble and the Lune and its tributaries also contain salmon and sea trout.

Limestone Pavement Hay Meadow Dales Moorland

Recreation in the Yorkshire Dales

Walking

More and more people are discovering the pleasures of country walking, and this is definitely the best way to experience the Dales. Up hill, down dale, and alongside rivers and streams, the Dales provides some of the best scenic walking in the country. The finest long-distance walks also pass through the Dales, including the Pennine Way, Coast to Coast Walk, the Dales Way and the Ribble Way.

Cycling

A network of byways and bridleways and other routes allow cyclists to enjoy traffic-free pedalling. The Yorkshire Dales and Cumbria Cycleways utilise quiet roads throughout the region.

Climbing

The limestone scars and grindstone crags provide a challenge to climbers of all abilities.

Potholing

The limestone regions of the Dales are riddled with intricate systems of underground caverns and passages, which are accessible to experienced cavers. Others can safely investigate the show caves of Ingleborough, White Scar and Stump Cross.

Fishing

The Wharfe, Nidd, Swale, Ure and Ribble are just a few of the rivers that provide excellent sport for anglers. Day and week tickets are available for many stretches of water.

Wildlife

From the traditional wild-flower meadows of Swaledale to the windswept moor-tops, there is a wide variety of wildlife habitats. What the Dales have to offer in abundance is peace and quiet, so visitors can forget the bustle of the city and adapt to the less hurried pace of country life.

Museums

Throughout the region are a number of local museums which reveal, through their fascinating and extensive collections, what life in the Dales was like in by-gone days.

Paragliding

Find some of the UKs best Paragliding sites in the Yorkshire Dales, the scenic hills, ridges and dales make an ideal location to learn an exciting new sport, whilst enjoying some fabulous countryside views.

Walking the Yorkshire Dales Flying the Yorkshire Dales Cycling the Yorkshire Dales