Welcome to the Yorkshire Dales
The Yorkshire Dales is an area of great natural beauty in Northern England, a large part of which has been designated as a national park. [N.B. Please note that due to political boundary changes some areas of the "classical" Yorkshire Dales actually lie outside of the regions which now officially constitute "Yorkshire". Please click here for more information about the geographical definition and to view a map of the Yorkshire Dales area.]
Much of the landscape here is limestone country - lush green valleys (known locally as "dales") crested with white limestone cliffs ("scars") and limestone pavements cutting through wilder uplands beneath towering peaks ("fells") of dark millstone grit. Throughout the dales, fields and pastures are bounded by distinctive white drystone walls which criss-cross the hillsides in elaborate patterns; set against the limestone cliffs and escarpments these walls (which were originally built by sheep farmers in days gone by) look almost a natural part of the limestone scenery as viewed today.
The geology here gives rise to some spectacular and unusual natural features, such as the towering white cliffs and limestone gorges of Malham Cove and Gordale Scar near Malham, Kilnsey Crag at Kilnsey in Upper Wharfedale, How Stean Gorge and the naturally sculptured millstone grit outcrops of Brimham Rocks near Pateley Bridge in Nidderdale, as well as dramatic waterfalls sometimes hidden in deep wooded ravines such as those found on the famous Waterfalls Walk at Ingleton (which includes the impressive Thornton Force), Hardraw Force in Wensleydale (which is said to be Britain's highest unbroken waterfall), and also the very spectacular High Force in the northern reaches of Teesdale.
But besides the obvious attractions, a hidden world lies beneath the surface of the Yorkshire Dales, with the limestone hills being honeycombed by countless caves and potholes. A subterranean wonderland of stalactites and stalagmites, cathedral-sized chambers, underground rivers and waterfalls waits here to be explored by the intrepid, with new passages and cave systems still being discovered and surveyed.
Gentler tourist attractions include popular riverside beauty spots such as Bolton Abbey in Wharfedale, and Aysgarth Falls in Wensleydale, though it is always possible to get away from the tourists in the hundreds of square miles of unspoiled countryside that lie within the boundaries of this beautiful area.
Geographically, the classical Yorkshire Dales spread to the north from the market and spa towns of Settle, Skipton, Ilkley and Harrogate in North Yorkshire, with most of the larger southern dales (e.g. Ribblesdale, Malhamdale and Airedale, Wharfedale and Nidderdale) running roughly parallel from north to south, and the more northerly dales and valleys (e.g. Wensleydale, Swaledale, the Stainmore Gap and Teesdale) running generally from west to east. There are also many other smaller or lesser known dales (e.g. Arkengarthdale, Barbondale, Bishopdale, Clapdale, Coverdale, Crummackdale, Dentdale and Deepdale, Garsdale, Kingsdale, Littondale, Langstrothdale, Mossdale, Raydale, Sleddale, Waldendale, Widdale and the Washburn Valley - to name but a few) whose tributary streams and rivers feed in to the larger valleys.
To the east the countryside becomes gentler, sloping off to the Vale of York and the towns of Ripon, Thirsk, and the historic city of York itself. Beyond that, to the north east lies Yorkshire's other national park, The North York Moors - stretching across to the Yorkshire Coast, and the popular seaside resorts of Whitby and Scarborough.
To the south west and the south lie the wild heather moors of Bronte Country and the industrial conurbation of West Yorkshire - including the cities of Leeds and Bradford (which currently holds the UNESCO designation of City of Film).
Needless to say, there are lots of things to do in the Yorkshire Dales - including walking and rambling, cycling and mountain biking, rock climbing and caving and even paragliding. Britain's most famous long distance footpath, the Pennine Way passes through the Yorkshire Dales, as does the Dales Way and the Dales High Way footpaths, Wainwright's popular Coast to Coast Walk, and the world famous Settle - Carlisle railway line - one of Britain's most spectacular train journeys. Other railways taking in the scenery of the dales include the Embsay and Bolton Abbey Steam Railway, and the Wensleydale Railway.
Having featured in several television series and films of recent years (e.g. James Herriot's "All Creatures Great and Small", ITV's soap opera "Emmerdale", the Hollywood movie "Robin Hood - Prince of Thieves", as well as the more recent "Calendar Girls", etc), tourism plays an increasing part in the life of the Yorkshire Dales today, though even the most popular sites are usually much less busy than some of England's other areas of great scenic attraction (e.g. the Lake District). For sheer solitude and unspoiled natural beauty, the Yorkshire Dales remains one of England's "crown jewels", and no visit to the north should be complete without exploring some of the country's finest limestone scenery !