The Malham loop walk in the Yorkshire Dales which takes in the stunning limestone amphitheatre of Malham Cove, the glacial meltwater formed gorge of Gordale Scar and the pretty waterfall Janet’s Foss – was once voted No.3 on ITV’s Britain’s Favourite Walks programme.
The route is nowadays very busy unless you go early in the morning or late evening during summer, but it is still worth a visit.
But rather than blog about the walk, I thought it was worth concentrating on the little waterfall known as Janet’s Foss.
Firstly, where does the name come from and who was Janet?
Well folklore has it that ‘Janet or Jennet’ was the Queen of the Fairies and supposedly lived
in a little cave just behind the waterfall. The setting in a woodland glen is magical in itself, so it didn’t surprise me it was associated with fairies!!
The word Foss is Nordic and means waterfall. Over the years in some areas Foss has evolved into the word Force.
The water which flows down Gordale Scar, becomes Gordale Beck. This water flows over a hard limestone outcrop and falls into a pool before flowing onwards. Over the years the water which flowed over limestone dissolves some of the calcium
carbonate in the rock and this has then been deposited as calcite on the rocks behind the waterfall. It is also known as tufa and it’s similar to the material which makes stalagmites and stalagtites in caves.
There is a deep plunge pool which has eroded where the water cascades over the lip into the pool. For many years the local farmers used to use this as a natural sheep dip. It seems that the washing of the sheep’s fleeces was an annual event which the whole village used to attend with a carnival feel to the proceedings.
If you visit Janet’s Foss between March and June you will smell the pungent odour of wild garlic which grows wild along the banks of the beck. I remember guiding a couple from London who were shocked to find it grew wild when they had just paid £5 for 10 leaves of it in an organic food box!!
TV and movie locations
The location has been captured on film a number of times. In 2006, Janet’s Foss featured as Molkham Falls in the independent British film Waterfall. It also featured in Clio Barnard’s Dark River in 2017 with Sean Bean and Ruth Wilson. I actually stumbled on them filming that day!
But perhaps the most memorable recent appearance was in the 2nd ever episode of the remake of All Creatures Great & Small. In the scene James (Nicholas Ralph) has arrived in Darrowby and has gone for a swim in the plunge pool. Whilst having his evening dip, he is surprised and embarrassed to see Helen (played by Rachel Shenton) walking past and greeting him with a loud “Morning James”.
It’s not just James Herriot who likes to swim at Janet’s Foss, it has now become very popular with wild swimmers but it’s a bit too cold for me to partake! But my black lab Bronte always likes a dip. You can see her now with my daughter on a walk we did a year ago.
If you are planning a visit to Janet’s Foss – directions can be found here https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/yorkshire/yorkshire-dales/malham-village-to-janets-foss
A longer walk taking in Malham Cove and Gordale Scar too is called the Malham Landscape Trail. – directions can be found here