When people from East Lancashire think about going from a stroll in the Yorkshire Dales, they often finish up at the Yorkshire Dales Park Information Centre — and quite right too.
They then wander off to Malham Cove and Malham Tarn, which Charles Kingsley used as locations in his wonderful book The Water Babies. Others visit the beautiful waterfall walk called Janet's Foss
—foss just meaning a waterfall.
Most people, however, miss one of the most historic walks further along the River Aire. In its early stages the Aire Valley is known as Malhamdale. The parish church of the area is at Kirkby Malham
reached along a narrow road from Malham itself.
The name Kirk indicated that it is of viking origin because Kirk was their name for a church.
The church of St Michael the Archangel is a joy both inside and out. Through the lych gate is a well preserved set of stocks. The present church dates to the 15th century but obviously its
foundation takes us back to the 10th century and perhaps even earlier. The church records, which can be seen, have two authentic signatures of Oliver Cromwell dated 1655, three years before his
death. He had attended and witnessed a wedding of a family member of General Lambert, who fought bravely with Cromwell during the Civil War and who lived nearby at Calton Hall. There is a memorial
to him inside the church.
Look out for a signpost close to the church for Otterburn, this indicating that otters where once common in the area. Cross a footbridge and ascend a flight of steps to reach a gate. Follow Kirk
Gait (gait meaning an ancient road) and ascend close to a belt of trees. Follow a marker and approach more trees before crossing a footbridge over a small stream.
At Warber Hill keep a wall on the left and reach a gateway with a sign indicating Airton. This route should not be followed, even though Airton is a fascinating place in its own right. Here are old
houses, a Quaker meeting house built in 1700 and behind is a graveyard.
Approach the road between Airton and Kirkby Malham after passing through a number of stiles. At the road turn right and in a very short distance turn left to reach the bank of the River Aire. This
route keeps the Aire on the left.
The route now follows the Pennine Way and passes through Hanlith Wood. This is the best place to stop and enjoy a long session of birdwatching. On the day a heavy shower had just ended and I was
welcomed by the sound of a rainbird. This was the old name for the green woodpecker, which is also called the Yaffle.
The last word describes its call and it is certainly true that for some reason it is more vocal in wet weather.
The bird loves mixed woodlands where there are lots of wood ants on which it feeds.
Continue along the obvious route.
Approach the road to Hanlith. During the 1939-45 John Dower lived at Kirkby Malham and he loved this walk.
He was commissioned by the Minister of Town and Country Planning to write a report on the possibility of National Parks being set up in England and Wales.
This was published in 1945 and the rest is history. What a wonderful contribution he made to the preservation of the countryside.
Turn left at the road and return to Kirkby Malham, taking in the views which so inspired John Dower .