Yorkshire Dales

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Healaugh in Swaledale

The Yorkshire Dales is the name given to an upland area in Yorkshire, consisting of the countryside on western Yorkshire tumbling down from the Pennines, characterised by the delightful dales cut by the rivers coming out of the hills. "Yorkshire Dales" is generally used to refer specifically to the dales west of the Vale of York.

The area lies within the North Riding of Yorkshire and West Riding of Yorkshire and most of the land falls within the Yorkshire Dales National Park, created in 1954; now one of the fifteen National Parks of Britain, Outside the park are other protected area, such as Nidderdale, designated, with surrounding hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The Dales is a collection of river valleys and the hills among them, rising from the Vale of York westwards to the hilltops of the main Pennine watershed. In some places the area even extends westwards across the watershed, but most of the valleys drain eastwards to the Vale of York, into the Ouse and then the Humber.

The word dale is a more common name for a valley in Yorkshire and the north. It is found in Old English and in Old Norse, and who named these dales we cannot tell, for though there are many Norse names hereabouts, Yorkshire's having formed the heart of a Norse Kingdom of York. The word is also the commonplace name for a valley though in the north outside the lands where Norse influence prevailed, from the Durham Dales of County Durham to Clydesdale in Lanarkshire.

The Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust aims to conserve the ecological condition of Nidderdale, Wensleydale, Swaledale and Wharfedale catchments from their headwaters to the Humber estuary.[1]

The Dales

Janet's Foss, near Malham
Ingleborough as seen from the peat bog below


Most of the dales in the Yorkshire Dales are named after their river or stream (as for example Arkengarthdale is named for the Arkle Beck). The best-known exception to this rule is Wensleydale, which is named after the town of Wensley rather than the River Ure, although an older name for the dale is Yoredale, which gave a name to the ruined abbey of Jervaulx (the latter name a later affectation). Almost every dale in Yorkshire is named "-dale", though it is these more northerly, rural dales which we know by the name of the "Yorkshire Dales". The southern edge of this area lies in Wharfedale and Airedale. The lower reaches of these valleys are not usually included in the area and Calderdale much further south, would not normally be referred to as part of "The Dales" even though it is a dale, is in Yorkshire, and the upper reaches are as scenic and rural as many valleys further north.

Geographically, the classical Yorkshire Dales spread to the north from the market and spa towns of Settle, Deepdale near Dent, Skipton, Ilkley and Harrogate in the North Riding. Most of the larger southern dales (as Ribblesdale, Malhamdale and Airedale, Wharfedale and Nidderdale) run south before curving eastward, roughly parallel from north to south. The more northerly dales (as Wensleydale, Swaledale and Teesdale) run generally from west to east. There are also many other smaller or lesser known dales (e.g. Arkengarthdale, Barbondale, Bishopdale, Clapdale, Coverdale, Dentdale and Deepdale, Garsdale, Kingsdale, Littondale, Langstrothdale, Raydale, Waldendale and the Washburn Valley) whose tributary streams and rivers feed into the larger valleys.

The characteristic scenery of the Dales is green upland pastures separated by dry-stone walls and grazed by sheep and cattle. The dales themselves are 'U' and 'V' shaped valleys, which were enlarged and shaped by glaciers, mainly in the most recent, Devensian ice age. The underlying rock is principally Carboniferous limestone (which results in a number of areas of limestone pavement) in places interspersed with shale and sandstone and topped with Millstone Grit. However, to the north of the Dent fault, the hills are principally older Silurian and Ordovician rocks, which make up the Howgill Fells.

Many of the upland areas consist of heather moorland, used for grouse shooting in the months following 12 August each year (the 'Glorious Twelfth').

Cave systems

Gaping Gill

Because of the limestone that runs throughout the Dales, there are extensive cave systems present across the area, making it one of the major areas for caving in the UK. Many of these are open to the public for tours and for caving.[2]

These include:

Yorkshire Dales National Park

Map of the National Park

In 1954 a vast area of 690 square miles of Yorkshire was designated the Yorkshire Dales National Park, which extends into both the North Riding and the West Riding.

As of 1 August 2016, the park has been extended and now encompasses some areas in Westmorland and Lancashire.

Over 20,000 residents live and work in the park, which attracts over eight million visitors every year.[6] The area has a large collection of activities for visitors. For example, many people come to the Dales for walking or exercise. The National Park is crossed by several long-distance routes including the Pennine Way, the Dales Way, the Coast to Coast Path and the latest national trail—the Pennine Bridleway.[7] Cycling is also popular and there are several cycleways.[8]

Stone houses in Hawes; typical Dales architecture
Limestone hills and dry-stone walls

The Park has its own museum, the Dales Countryside Museum, housed in a conversion of the Hawes railway station in Wensleydale in the north area. The park has five visitor centres located in major destinations in the park. These are at:

Other places and sights within the National Park include:


Yorkshiremen cultivate a rugged, bluff and no-nonsense image, and never is it so well demonstrated than by the hardy hillfolk of the Dales. There the men have tended the hill farms and prospered for centuries in spite of weather that would drive an ordinary man to give up at the first frost. The men of these dales bear the blood of many of the hardy races which made their luiving here; the Mediæval yeoman, the Norse, the Anglo-Saxon and the Ancient Briton, all of whom have left their traces in the names on the landscape. In the Dales was found the Kingdom of Elmet; the last Welsh kingdom so far east.

The Dales are the quintessence of Yorkshire in the public mind, both amongst Yorkshiremen and others. Here are the rough farms, the steep lanes, the fell slope and the verdant valley rushing with clearest water from an ardent beck.

The Dales today are served by its own radio station, Fresh Radio, which broadcasts programmes from studio bases in Skipton and Richmond.

The Dales are celebrated in books and broadcasts too numerous to mention. In Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights the Yoprkshire Dales are as much a character as Heathcliffe and Cathy. Gervaise Phinn's Up and Down in the Dales and its "- in the Dales" sequels are as fine a contemporary exploration of the Dales and their interesting culture as one will find. Last of the Summer Wine celebrated Yorkshire eccentricity in the more southerly parts of the West Riding outside the more familiar Dales, but the characteristic countryside is much the same and tells of the affection in which it is held.


Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Yorkshire Dales)