A ‘Dale’ is the local word for a valley; the ‘Dales’ are therefore a series of valleys carrying the local rivers (the Swale, Nidd, Wharfe and Ure, being the largest).
It should be no surprise that these areas are called Swaledale, Nidderdale, Wharfedale and (just to make it confusing) Wensleydale.
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You might think of London as the centre of England. Its status as a major cultural, financial, and political hub would certainly seem to confirm that. But the true centre of England is the Yorkshire Dales National Park. This scenic area has rolling hills dotted with charming villages and tiny hamlets. Cattle and sheep graze quietly in green pastures separated by traditional dry-stone walls.
The Dales attract visitors who want to explore the area’s natural beauty, see the historic landmarks, or grab a pint at a local pub.
Here are seven of the most well-known dales in and around the national park:
The Dales Of The Yorkshire Dales
As with many of the dales, Swaledale is named for the river running through it. The River Swale follows a path carved out centuries ago by glaciers. It winds past flower-filled meadows, well-preserved stone barns set in fields of hay, and inviting villages where local farmers and craftspeople sell their wares.
Swaledale is located in the northern part of Yorkshire Dales National Park and is known for the curly-horned sheep that inspired the park’s logo. The sheep are used for producing many of the hand-crafted items that can be found in local shops including woollen socks and sweaters. You can try artisan cheese and Swaledale lamb at area restaurants or pick some up at farmers markets in Richmond and Reeth.
Annual events such as the Swaledale Festival celebrating arts and music and the historic Scott Trial motorcycle competition draw an international crowd. If your particular brand of tourism is tracking down the biggest and the best, head to Tan Hill Inn for a pint.
While there are many other excellent pubs in the dales, Tan Hill is the highest in Britain at 528 metres above sea level.
Natural beauty isn’t the only thing Nidderdale is known for. Knarseborough on the Nidd is the perfect market town worth a visit in itself (we have a photo of the famous viaduct in our gallery this month).
The romance of Wharfedale is undeniable.
Located on the southern end of the national park, this picturesque dale is perfect for strolling hand-in-hand along the banks of the River Wharfe. From Buckden to Burnsall, the National Trust maintains walking trails that take you past some of the most stunning scenery in North Yorkshire County.
(We have more info on Upper Wharfedale below)
Buckden is a lovely place to book a bed and breakfast to begin your romantic weekend. Get to know each other better over a glass of wine or a hearty meal of British favourites at the Buck Inn.
In the morning, linger over breakfast or set out for Kettlewell, a peaceful village whose streets are lined with boutique shops. Stop by Zarina’s for afternoon tea and try a piece of their award-winning cake. Less than 10 miles south of Kettlewell is Linton Falls.
The falls were formed by a geological fault millions of years ago. The roar of the water cascading over the fault line can be quite impressive and Little Emily’s Bridge offers an Instagram-worthy vantage point. For the perfect end to a perfect day, make Burnsall your final stop.
This beautiful village tucked into the river bend is home to the Red Lion, a centuries-old inn where you can enjoy locally sourced pub fare and an extensive drinks menu. You’ll sleep well in the inn’s cosy rooms with panoramic views of the surrounding hills and dales.
Start your day off in Nidderdale with a cup of coffee in the charming market town of Pateley Bridge (which claims to house the ‘oldest sweet shop in England’ – pictured) before heading out to enjoy this scenic area and all the opportunities it offers for outdoor adventure.
Recognized as an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty,” Nidderdale is the perfect spot for nature lovers and adventure seekers.
One of the few dales not named for a river, Wensleydale takes its name from Wensley, an idyllic rural village in North Yorkshire. Many of the villages in Wensleydale can be described this way and are known for their historic stone buildings, natural attractions, and weekly markets.
Leyburn’s market is the most well-known of them all. Vendors sell everything from cheese to chocolate in the cobblestoned village square every Friday.
At the Wensleydale Creamery in Hawes you can taste the cheese named for the dale and learn how it’s made in the award-winning Yorkshire Wensleydale Cheese Experience.
Hawes is also home to the Dales Countryside Museum where you can get a taste of what life was like in the dales from the time that Celtic tribes inhabited the area to the present day.
In addition to cheese, Wensleydale is recognised for being the setting of the BBC television series “All Creatures Great and Small.” The village of Askrigg filled in for Darrowby where James Herriot’s veterinary surgery practice was located. If you’re a fan of the series, you can stay at Cringley Cottage, the stand-in for Skeldale House. Ironically, this holiday rental does not allow pets.
Dentdale is on the western edge of Yorkshire Dales National Park (but technically in Cumbria but we’re still including it here).
Like Wensleydale, it is named after a village rather than the river that runs through it. The village of Dent lies in the valley surrounded by the slopes of the Pennines.
One-way and circular walks through the countryside of Dentdale are considered to be some of the finest in the Yorkshire Dales. Mop of South West EnglandThe Pennine fells are especially notable for their challenging ascents. Indeed one of the best ways to climb Yorkshire’s highest peak,
For a tour of one of the country’s most remote microbreweries, stop by Dent Brewery along the River Dee. Their porters, ales, and stouts are tributes to the Dales with names like Ramsbottom, Fellranger, and Dales Way, an IPA created to celebrate this long-distance walking route that passes through the village.
If you’re able to travel to or from Dent on the famous Settle–Carlisle line, you’ll have an amazing view of the valley through the windows of the train. Dent station is the highest in Britain at more than 350 metres above sea level.
One of the most visited dales in the park, Malhamdale has served as a muse for artists and authors for generations. William Wordsworth penned a sonnet about Gordale Scar, Turner painted the local countyside and Warner Brothers used Malham Cove as a filming location for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.
Majestic limestone cliffs tower over the landscape and offer sweeping views of the valley from above. Malhamdale is particularly popular with climbers who come to scale the soaring rock faces but there are a number of well-maintained hiking paths that snake their way to the top as well.
If you believe in magic, you might catch a glimpse of the fairy queen that is said to live in a cave at Janet’s Foss. When the weather is warm, you can swim in the plunge pool created by the waterfall.
The car park at the Malham National Park Centre is designated as a Dark Sky Discovery Site. When you return to the car park at the end of the day, spread out a blanket and do some stargazing.
Without the curtain of light pollution that comes from the big cities, you’ll be amazed at how clearly you can see the stars twinkling in the night sky.
With a wide range of natural and manmade attractions, indoor and outdoor activities, historic landmarks and railways — Ribblesdale has it all.The area of Ribblesdale north of Settle is part of the national park. Yorkshire’s Three Peaks, Ingleborough, Pen-y-ghent, and Whernside, are recognized by outdoor adventurers for their challenging treks and magnificent vistas.
The section of the River Ribble that lies within the park boundaries is a hotspot for fly fishing. Grayling, salmon, and trout are plentiful in this area. Railway buffs shouldn’t miss a stop at the Ribblehead station.
The station hosts an exhibit about the Settle-Carlisle Railway and the former stationmaster’s house is available for holiday rentals. Even a short journey by train on this historic railway is a unique experience.
Just northwest of the station, the train crosses over the Ribblehead Viaduct, a landmark structure that has been used in many television programmes and films.
Whichever dale you decide to visit on your trip to Yorkshire, you’ll find yourself surrounded by natural beauty, historical architecture, and the warmth of community.
There’s nowhere else in Britain quite like the Yorkshire Dales.
Best 11 Places To Visit In The Yorkshire Dales
Here are our picks for the best places to go in the lovely part of England:
The Best Places In The Yorkshire Dales
1. Upper Wharfedale
Upper Wharfedale – the upstream end of the River Wharfe – is the classic Dales landscape.
A V-shaped valley with pretty villages nestling at the bottom and ancient stone barns dotted around the surrounding fields.
Check out the villages of Kettlewell, Buckden and Starbotton.
2. Malham Cove
Formed by water action on limestone – a soft soluble stone – this is a spectacular place.
Situated in the picturesque Malhamdale, it’s a very pleasant walk up from Malham village (former home of the author Bill Bryson).
Check out one of the world’s best examples of limestone ‘paving’ – a geographical feature also caused by water – above the cove.
3. Aysgarth Falls
This part of the world that is wet, with many rivers, and hilly and so it is not a surprise that there are several excellent waterfalls.
Our pick for the best is Aysgarth Falls on the River Ure.
A spectacular sight during wet weather, it is a pleasant place to sit listening to the water during dryer times.
4. Bolton Abbey
Bolton Abbey is one of the hundreds of monetries dissolved during the reign of Henry VIII.
Nevertheless what was once surely an imposing site on the banks of the River Wharfe, is still a grand view froma distance.
Unlike many of the ruined monasteries it is still a working church – a much smaller chapel based in the non-ruined wing of the building.
5. Three Peaks
The ‘three peaks’ of Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-ghent form an imposing 23 mile walk, traditionally attempted over one day.
If you’re not up for such a strenuous hike, they can of course be climbed separatelky, or viewed from afar.
This is Yorkshire at its rawest.
Formed by the river Swale, this is the northern most ‘Dale’.
Of particular interest is Richmond, with its castle and pretty market square, just outside the Yprkshire Dales National Park.
7. Fountains Abbey
Another ruined monastery – this time a Cistercian Abbey – this is perhaps even more spectacular than Bolton Abbey.
Check out the Georgian Studley water gardens too.
Wensleydale will be familiar to those of you who like cheese: the eponymous cheese made here is famous the world over.
However that’s not the only thing this pretty Dale has to offer.
Nestled in the valley, by the River Ure, are several quintessential Dales villages such as Askrigg and Hawes to explore.
9. Pateley Bridge
Pateley Bridge is a largish village in Nidderdale that’s a great base to explore the surrounding area.
The Editor is a little biased on this (he spent many happy childhood hours there) but it is one of the best of the potential Dales bases.
10. Stump-Cross Caverns
Stump Cross Caverns, near Pateley Bridge are another result of limestone in the area.
As we have seen it is more easily eroded – often by water.
This water runs into the groundwater systems, leaving Calcium deposits were drips started and ended. The resultant stalactites and stalagmites form beautiful formations such as these at Stump Cross.
11. Ribblehead Viaduct
The Ribble Head viaduct is a work of Engineering genius.
Part of the Settle to Carlisle railway it crosses some of the wildest areas in England.
It’s stunning to either be a train passenger or to see it from afar.