The Yorkshire Dales National Park

The Yorkshire Dales National Park is an area of outstanding natural beauty, which covers 683 square miles across North Yorkshire. The area’s economy is made up of primarily tourism and farming. In 1954 it became one of the UK’s national parks, which attracts more than nine million visitors per year and has a resident population of around 60,000 people.

Yorkshire Dales, Photo Credit, Alison Christene, Creative Commons
Yorkshire Dales, Photo Credit, Alison Christene, Creative Commons

The Dales are made up of a series of valleys, normally with a river or stream flowing at the bottom. Most of these valleys are named after its river, plus the word “dale,” for example, Wharfedale, Nidderdale and Littondale. There are a few exceptions, such as Wensleydale, which is named after a village rather than a stream. Its tallest mountains are known collectively as “The Three Peaks,” which are named Pen-y-ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside, the latter, standing at 2415 feet, making it the highest point in Yorkshire.

The U and V shaped valleys, formed during the last glacial age, around 12,000 years ago, are made of limestone rock, which erodes when wet, especially when coming into contact with acid rain. This has led to numerous features, such as limestone pavements, caves and waterfalls being created, which form the backbone of the National Park’s scenery and tourist attractions.


Furthermore the area is littered with the ruins of abbeys and castles, which were established in Medieval Times. These include places, such as Fountains Abbey, Middleham Castle and Bolton Abbey, which are also firmly marked on the tourist’s map.

The National Park has five visitors centres, located at some of its most famous landmarks. One such is at Malham Cove, near Gargrave in the south west of the Dales. It stands 250m high and formed at the end of the last ice age. It is known for its unique Limestone pavement at the top, which is created by erosion. This is accessible to the visitor by 400 stone steps and provides spectacular views of Malham village and its surrounding dale.

Yorkshire Moors valleys, Photo Credit, Immanuel Giel, Wikipedia, Royalty Free
Yorkshire Moors valleys, Photo Credit, Immanuel Giel, Wikipedia, Royalty Free

Another visitor centre location is Aysgarth Falls, in Wensleydale, which is a triple flight of waterfalls over a series of Limestone steps in the River Ure. These are connected by a picturesque wooded walkway, and have been admired by generations of tourists.

The village of Grassington hosts the third centre, set amongst the market town’s quaint cobbled streets, gift shops and pubs. Tourists can visit the Grassington Folk museum, which tells the story of Wharfedale. There are also events that take place here, throughout the year, such as the 2-week long Grassington festival, 1940s weekend and a Dickensian themed gathering in winter.

Further north are the towns of Hawes and Reeth, which are the final two visitor centre locations. The former is a market town, at the centre of the Dales, which has become a hub for walking and the many other outdoor pursuits the landscape has to offer. Visitors can also spend time in the Dales Country Museum, which is located at the old station and has a real steam train as one of its exhibits. Moreover the town’s creamery produces the famous Wensleydale cheese, an industry which has thrived in the area since Medieval Times.

Reeth, a village to the north-east of Hawes, hosts the Swaledale Museum, which covers the history of the area. There are also two annual events held here, The Reeth Show, an agricultural event every August, which features stalls, fairground rides, animal competitions, vintage cars and the Great Fremington Edge Fell race. The Swaledale festival is a cultural event that takes place for two weeks in May and June in villages throughout the dale. It features folk, chamber and choral music, as well as poetry readings, workshops and guided walks.

There are many other small towns and villages which hold a host of attractions, scenery and history.

Leyburn is a small town in Wensleydale, which is a haven for walkers. It also hosts the annual Wensleydale agricultural show and The Dales food and drink festival over the May Day bank holiday. Nearby Castle Bolton is unique in that much of it still remains from its construction in 1399 and is still owned by the descendants of its creator, Richard le Scrope. It is also open to the public, holding daily falconry displays, archery demonstrations and wild Boar feeding. There are also gardens and a maze, amongst other attractions.

The town of Masham is also situated in Wensleydale. It is home to the Black Sheep brewery, which makes real ale bitter, such as Golden Sheep, Riggwelter, Best Bitter and its self-titled brand, all of which are common sights on bar pumps across Yorkshire and beyond. Virtually next door is the older Theakston’s brewery, who supplies brands such as XB, Lightfoot Bitter and Old Peculiar. Both breweries offer guided tours to visitors and of course the opportunity to sample their products!

Skipton, known as “the gateway to the Dales” is a market town on the southern edge of the national park. It also has a well-preserved Norman Castle, which endured a three year siege during the Civil War. The Copper Dragon brewery is also present here, as well as town square and good shopping area. The Leeds – Liverpool canal, which runs through its heart, makes it a popular place for boating and walkers. A few miles west of Skipton is Bolton Abbey, which was built in 1154 as a priory on the banks of the River Wharfe. Like many other similar abbeys it was destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539, however its neighbouring church survived, along with the abbey ruins and both are now both open as tourist attractions. Middleham Castle in Wensleydale is another impressive Yorkshire ruin. Built in 1190 it became home to Richard III before his brief reign as king in 1483-5. After his death at Bosworth Field it remained in royal hands, but fell into a state of disrepair and eventually sold. Due to its royal connections the castle had one of the largest keeps in England.

Settle is a market town located in the South west of the Dales and surrounded by some of the most bleak and spectacular scenery in the county. The centrepiece of the town is Settle folly, built in 1769 and now home to the Museum of North Craven Life. The place also has a thriving market at the Victoria Hall and its very own art gallery on the green, located in a phone box. This town is also at the start of the Settle-Carlisle railway, opened in 1875 and noted as being one of the most picturesque train journeys in England.

Another railway which runs in the Yorkshire Dales is the heritage Wensleydale line. Originally the full journey lay between Northallerton and Garsdale, which then linked to the Settle-Carlisle junction. Parts of the original Wensleydale railway were closed from 1964 to 1982, such as at Hawes, where its station is now a museum. Since 2003, after campaigning from locals, the passenger services have returned to part of the old line between Northallerton and Redmire, with some stations, such as Leyburn, being fully restored from dereliction.

The Dalesbus scheme is a public transport network which links the major towns and villages in the Yorkshire Dales, aimed at both residents and tourists. During the summer months extra services are put on to transport people in and out of the Dales from major towns and cities further afield.

Due to the difficult terrain there are very few major roads in the Yorkshire Dales. However the A684 runs horizontally across the park, linking Kendal and the M6 in the West to Northallerton and the A1/A19 junction in the East. Along the way it runs through towns at the heart of the Dales, such as Hawes, Leyburn and Bainbridge.

Dairy and sheep farming have taken place in the area for centuries and have helped to create the quintessential Yorkshire Dales landscapes of dry stone walls, barns and sheep. The fields are surrounded by approximately 5,000 miles worth of dry-stone walls, which help to mark the boundaries of individual fields and prevent any livestock from escaping. Many of the region’s cultural events and shows are based on agriculture, the largest of which is The Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate.

Like many things in the Yorkshire Dales, sport and leisure is based around its landscape. The geography of the area lends itself ideally to caving and abseiling, with many sites, such as Stump Cross Caverns, Gaping Gill, near Ingleborough and Hull Pot, near Horton in Ribblesdale offering great opportunities for these outdoor pursuits. They also double up as tourist attractions in their own right for the more casual explorers. Fell running is also a popular sport in the Yorkshire Dales and there are many organised races in the area, including the famous 24-mile Three Peaks run, held every April since 1954, which scales the three highest mountains in the Dales.

Other popular outdoor activities include horse-riding, walking and cycling around the bridleways, lanes and footpaths provided. The scenery and landmarks of the Yorkshire Dales were in full view during the Tour de France; when the area featured in stage one of the contest from Leeds to Harrogate. The route passed through villages, such as Masham, Hawes Leyburn and Reeth, the latter being the most northerly point ever to feature in the race. The crowds which gathered on Buttertubs Pass near Hawes to cheer on the riders, has become one of the iconic scenes of opening stage.

The Yorkshire Dales is not normally noted for its nightlife; however it is home to Tan Hill, the UK’s highest inn, which stands 1,732m above sea level. There are also many other traditional pubs in which to enjoy a pint and some home-cooked food.

The Yorkshire Dales has been used extensively in popular culture. For a certain generation the area is synonymous with All Creatures Great and Small, a 70s TV series based on the books by the author Alf Wright, who wrote under the pseudonym, James Herriot. It tells the true stories of his life as a vet in 1930s North Yorkshire. Malham Cove was used during the filming of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows (part 1) when the wizard and Hermione go on a camping trip. Aysgarth Falls featured in scenes for the film, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves with Kevin Costner. Castle Bolton has been used for several films and TV programmes, including Ivanhoe, Elizabeth and Heartbeat. Sales of Wensleydale cheese rose by 23% due to its association with Wallace and Gromit. The original series of Emmerdale Farm was filmed in the village of Arncliffe, near Settle until 1976, when it moved to Esholt near Bradford and then to a purpose built village at Harewood House.

The Yorkshire Dales is the most famous part of the county. Ask anybody to think of Yorkshire and it is the hills, valleys, rivers and dry stoned walls of The Dales which will readily spring to their minds.


The landscape was created during the last glacial age, 12,000 years ago and there is evidence of pre-historic activity at Malham Cove and other areas of the Dales. The area was conquered by The Romans, who built the first roads here, some of which still remain, tucked away between the hills. The Norman era saw a series of castles and monasteries built to defend the area from invasion, as well as providing religious retreats and the first cheese-making centres. The 16th century saw the burning down of these monasteries under the reign of Henry VIII, leaving the hills dotted with ruins. Sheep farming has also been present throughout the area’s history and is where the distinctive man-made dry stone walls have originated from. In the Victorian era the area was used for lead mining and the coming of the railways enabled these materials to be exported to other areas. During the construction of the Settle – Carlisle railway during the 1870s, camps for navvies were set up, some of which are visible today, such as Batty Green in Ribblesdale. In 1954 the area was given National Park status and thus opened its doors more readily to tourism, which has flourished since, alongside farming. In the future, there are plans to expand the park westwards into Lancashire and to other parts of Cumbria, meaning that it will be directly connected to the Lake District.


The world famous Yorkshire Dales National Park was created in 1954. It is one of the 15 National Parks of Britain.
The word Dale comes from the Nordic word for Valley, (dal). It’s clear to see why they are named as The Dales are a collection of river valleys and hills.
The Dales National Park covers an area of 1,761.8km2 (680.235 m2) but only 20,229 people live within its boundaries.
The Dales glorious countryside contain 1,454kms (904 miles) of footpaths and 618kms (384 miles) of bridleways.

The Dales are famous for their Drystone walls which stretch up and along the valleys. There are 8,689km (5,400 miles) of these hand built mortar less stone walls which crisscross the land.

The Yorkshire Dales are riddled with extensive cave systems because of the Carboniferous Limestone. This makes the dales a magnet for Cavers and Speleologists. Some of these caves are open for guided tours but many of the others are the domain of serious explorers.

Gaping Gill (Gaping Ghyll) is one of the most famous cave systems in The Dales. The main entrance is a 322 ft deep pothole into which flows Fell Beck to provide a spectacular waterfall. If you are ever in the area of Ingleborough it is well worth a visit.

The Yorkshire Dales are also the home to several long-distance pathways, including the Pennine Way, the Dales Way, the Coast to Coast and the Pennine Bridleway.

The Dales Countryside Museum can be found in the converted Hawes Railway Station in Wensleydale.

There are five visitor centres located in The Park. They can be found at Aysgarth Falls, Grassington, Hawes, Malham and Reeth.

The Yorkshire Dales has many other places and sights to see. These include Bolton Castle, Clapham, Cautley Spout (a waterfall), Gaping Gill, Gayle Mill, Hardraw Force, Malham Cove, Gordale Scar, The Ribble Head Viaduct and The Settle and Carlise Railway.

The Yorkshire Dales are very popular with tourists and visitors. Almost 13 million people visit The Dales every year and almost 1 and a half million people stay in the area for holidays every year.

The Yorkshire Dales has it’s own version of The Three Peaks. Whernside, Ingleborough and Pen-y-ghent form a circular route of twenty four and a half miles. Thousands of people every year take up the challenge offered by The Three Peaks.
Wildlife abounds in The Dales. There are about 100 different species of nesting birds. More than 25 species of Butterfly. A staggering 1000 species of Moth and over thirty differing species of Mammal