Gordale Scar

Gordale Scar is a notable limestone gorge near Malham in the Craven district of Yorkshire. It lies within the Staincliffe wapentake of the West Riding, and belongs to the Honour of Skipton.  
Gordale Scar waterfalls by Andy Staples


Gordale Scar is a deep gorge north of the Aire Gap in the limestone district of Craven.    The entrance to the gorge isn't immediately obvious form the southern side, which faces Airedale, nor is its scale readily apparent from the northern side, where the gorge narrows and rises to merge with the moorland plateau of Malham Lings.  
The mouth of Gordale Scar by Andy Staples
  Within the gorge cliffs rise up to 300 feet above the flat rock-strewn base. The gorge is deep enough that light doesn't reach the base for much of the day.   Gordale Beck runs through the entire length of the gorge, cascading down two waterfalls. It is possible to pass through the gorge on foot, if one is prepared to make the short climbs beside the waterfall; these climbs are easy in warm, dry conditions, but harder in cold, wet and windy weather. The gorge lies close to the Aire watershed, and rains quickly swell the Beck and embiggen the waterfall. The depth and length of the gorge channels wind through it, which can create another hazard.

Fauna & Flora

Yew trees cling to the steep slopes and lower cliffs of the southern entrance to Gordale.


The base of Gordale Scar by Andy Staples
  The poet Thomas Gray was one the earliest tourists to Gordale Scar. He recorded his visit on 13 October 1769 in a lengthy letter to his friend Dr Wharton, giving an evocative description.  
Oct. 13. To visit Gordale-scar, which lay six miles from Settle; but that way was directly over a fell, and as the weather was not to be depended on, I went round in a chaise, the only way one could get near it in a carriage, which made it full thirteen miles, half of it such a road ! but I got safe over it, so there's an end, and came to Malham (pronounced Maum) a village in the bosom of the mountains, seated in a wild and dreary valley. From thence I was to walk a mile over very rough ground, a torrent rattling along on the left hand; on the cliffs above hung a few goats; one of them danced and scratched an ear with its hind foot in a place where I would not have stood stockstill, "for all bemeath the moon".   As I advanced, the crags seemed to close in, but discovered a narrow entrance turning to the left between them: I followed my guide a few paces, and the hills opened again into no large space ; and then all farther way is barred by a stream that, at the height of about fifty feet, gushes from a hole in the rock, and spreading in large sheets over its broken front,-dashes from steep to steep, and then rattles away in a torrent down the valley : the rock on the left rises perpendicular, with stubbed yewtrees and shrubs staring from its side, to the height of at least 300 feet; but these are not the thing: it is the rock to the right, under which you stand to see the fall, that forms the principal horror of the place. From its very base it begins to slope forwards over you in one block or solid mass without any crevice in its surface, and overshadows half the area below with its dreadful canopy; when I stood at (I believe) four yards distance from its foot, the drops, which perpetually distil from its brow, fell on my head; and in one part of its top, more exposed to the weather, there are loose stones that hang in air, and threaten visibly some idle spectator with instant destruction; it is safer to shelter yourself  close to its bottom, and trust to the mercy of that enormous mass which nothing but an earthquake can stir. The gloomy uncomfortable day well suited the savage aspect of the place, and made it still more formidable: I stayed there, not without shuddering, a quarter of an hour, and thought my trouble richly paid; for the impression will last for life.    At the alehouse where I dined in Malham, Vivares, the landscape-painter, had lodged for a week or more Smith and Bellers had also been there, and two prints of Gordale have been engraved by them.   Letter IV, Mr Gray to Dr Wharton, in W. Mason, The Works of Thomas Gray (London, 1821), p459-461
  Professor JRR Tolkien visited Gordale Scar during his years as a Reader, then Professor at Leeds University from 1920 to 1925; it allegedly inspired his descriptions of Rivendell.   Part of the second season of The Witcher TV series was filmed in Gordale Scar. In episode 3 Ciri flees into the gorge pursued by a monster, which Geralt of Rivia slays in a battle in the gorge.   Gordale Scar is a popular attraction for hikers and tourists.  
The southern exit from Gordale Scar by Andy Staples
Gorge / Rift
Location under
Ruling/Owning Rank
Owning Organization


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