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Rugged and raw camping in iconic English landscape

Wordsworth penned sonnets about it, James Ward painted an enormous canvas of it (now in Tate Britain). And now you can camp in it. Gordale Scar, that massive gaping wound on the skin of Yorkshire’s landscape, was hewn 100 metres deep through the limestone rock by successive torrents of glacial meltwater. It now stands as testament to the landscaping force of ice.

Sitting humbly at its mouth is Gordale Scar campsite. Out here it feels like you’re at the last outpost. The road ends a mile past the campsite and is little more than the farm’s driveway. Once you’ve pitched your tent, you’ll feel miniaturised in the face of the scar’s sheer cliffs. With the scar less than a quarter of a mile away and the pathway leading to its stone face, mere metres from your tent, it’s an ideal spot to rest weary bones after scrabbling up and down the rock, or simply to enjoy much vertical neck craning.

Though the rumble of the scar’s waterfalls are shielded from your ears by the headland, its waters run past the site in the form of Gordale Beck, which splits the site in two. A small flock of the farm’s sheep roam freely around the campsite, so watch underfoot for the slippery sheep poo. If you want to escape the daily dodgems, then cross the beck via the stepping stones: the sheep rarely venture over the stream and the water’s sounds have a soothing effect come night-time.

You’d be wise to pack your best guide ropes and industrial-strength tent pegs or at least some spares. The breeze can pick up and the narrows of the scar direct the full force of the wind this way, so unless you want your tent to resemble the gnarled and twisted trees on the scar’s cliffs, head for the shelter of some hedging or the walls.

The area’s a hotbed for climbers looking to conquer the scar and tackle nearby Malham Cove.You can find some satisfaction and a degree of awe by hunkering down and watching others tackling the strenuous verticals from the safety of your fold-out chair. If you do fancy a low-key scrabble of your own then you can clamber up past the tufa-covered rocks beside the falls.

You’re not limited to the scar for your entertainment. The Pennine Way, Malham Cove and the thin wispy waterfall of Janet’s Foss are a few miles away from the site, so it’s ideally placed to pick off some of Yorkshire’s icons. A sanctuary from the popularity of the scar can be found in nearby Malham Tarn, which offers a watery retreat and on a calm day mirrors the surrounding woodland and heath in its still waters.

The facilities at Gordale Scar are rudimentary and divide campers. You’ll find them in a charming, converted stone barn drenched in ivy; inside it all feels like it was built and last renovated in the Ice Age. It’s basic but adequate. However, campers don’t come here for the facilities, they come here for the uniquely beautiful Gordale Scar. Being able to camp so close to an English icon should be draw enough for you to stop by. Who knows, it might even inspire you to write your own sonnet.


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