Yorkshire Dales, England
On August 11, 2016; I spent the day in the Yorkshire Dales, England.
The Yorkshire Dales are a series of glaciated valleys carved into the upland area of the central Pennines, the central mountain ridge of England that extends from the north Midlands up to Scotland.
The peaks are more rounded with no sharp ridges, and the valleys or dales are more open. The region is one of the major karst areas in Britain, and there are many spectacular limestone features including reef knolls, (conically shaped and fossil-rich hills which formed as coral atolls in the shallow water of an ancient prehistoric sea). These can be found on Scosthrop moor above Settle.
The carboniferous limestone in the area is porous, and the hills of the Yorkshire Dales are riddled with limestone cave and potholes. Pictured above is Malham Cove. Malham Cove is a spectacular natural limestone formation which comprises a curved limestone cliff at the head of a valley. The limestone pavement at the top is a superb example of later karst weathering. The limestone was formed during the early Carboniferous (359-331 Million years ago), when sea levels rose and northern England was flooded by warm, tropical seas. At this time the area was about 10⁰ south of the equator.
In the Malham area this limestone is known as the ‘Great Scar Limestone’ and can be seen at Malham Cove, Gordale Scar and on the plateau to the north. The distinct horizontal lines between the beds of limestone (bedding planes) indicate pauses in deposition.
The features seen today are a legacy of the action of ice and melting of this. It was the last of four ice advances within the last sixty thousand years, which had most significant effects. A large waterfall flowed over the edge of the cove as the glacier melted and eroded the lip to form a curve seen at Malham Cove.
Eroding ice also scoured the limestone plateau north of Malham to create the bare limestone exposing it to water action. Since then the rain has been quietly dissolving the limestone and widening the fissures and also forming many of the caves in the area. The rain continues to slowly dissolve the limestone today. Above Malham Cove, the Great Scar Limestone forms a spectacular limestone pavement with grykes (fissures) formed by the solvent action of rainwater on joints in the limestone.
Just a few miles north of Malham Cove is the Gaping Gill. The Gaping Gill is the deepest shaft of England’s largest underground cave systems. The walk up from Clapham to the cave entrance, is amid the beautiful scenery of the Yorkshire Dales, and passes through a steep limestone gorge, (pictured below).
The only way to get inside the Gaping Gill was to attend a “winch-meet,” when local cavers lower visitors down in a metal cage on the end of a cable.
Since I was alone, the cave entrance watchman did the pleasure.
The huge chamber has been carved out over many centuries by the waters of Fell Beck, which have eaten away at the limestone rock, creating a subterranean waterfall twice the height of Niagara Falls.
Nearby there were other interesting caves, (such as White Scar Cave), that were easier to visit, along with other unique limestone landscapes, such as the strange, lunar “limestone pavement,” which is home to many rare coral fossil’s.