Gordale Scar – North Yorkshire, England - Atlas Obscura

Gordale Scar

A long, winding trek rewards you with a gorge so captivating it inspired a painting in the Tate.  


This limestone ravine holds the type of beauty that lingers in your mind long after you’ve passed through. It’s no wonder its moody twists and turns have captivated the imagination of poets and painters alike.

Carved by glacial melt over millions of years, the Gordale Scar is at the northern end of Craven Fault, a 22-mile fault line that runs from Cumbria to the Yorkshire Dales. This gorge’s true size is only appreciated once you walk through the desolate valley and turn the corner into the Scar itself.

It’s an otherworldly landscape. The empty valley leading to the Scar is strewn with boulders and moss, all interspersed with the trickling waters of a small stream. Stunted black trees cling to the cliff sides like claws and scree slopes threaten to tumble down onto the gravel pathway.

Continue traveling through the shadows of the overhanging limestone cliffs and you’ll be rewarded with two waterfalls hidden around the bend. The water pours over large, clunky boulders in its powerful, yet also rather peaceful, cascade. During calmer weather, you can even climb the waterfalls to reach the top of the cliffs. However, after heavy rainfall, this is impossible and unsafe (though the increased precipitation makes the waterfalls look even more spectacular).

The strength and beauty of the waterfalls has been immortalized in art. William Woodsworth waxes poetic about them, writing, “Let thy feet repair to Gordale chasm, terrific as the lair where the young lions couch.” They’re also featured in James Ward’s famous painting Gordale Scar, which is currently stored in the Tate.

Know Before You Go

The Scar is on a hiking trail leading to another Atlas Obscura location: Malham Cove, which was featured in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Additional to this, Gordale Scar itself was a filming location for Jim Henson's The Dark Crystal movie, posing briefly onscreen as the entrance to the hidden Valley of the Mystics. This is definitely worth a visit.

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