The Yorkshire Dales is an area of harmonious beauty, with pretty villages in pastoral dales, some overlooked by graceful hills, others by craggy moors or by the rare limestone pavements. The valleys penetrate deep into the hills, so there are thriving settlements in the very heart of the hills, most notably the town of Hawes at the head of Wensleydale.
The two best known areas in the Dales are the Three Peaks of Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough in the south-west of the park and the two main eastern dales - Swaledale and Wensleydale.
The classic Dales view is to be found in the upper reaches of Swaledale, where isolated barns sit in fields lined by stone walls, and the valley is dotting with tiny villages. Lower down the valley is the tiny market town of Reeth (look out for the lovely Ginger drink), while just outside the National Park is the beautiful town of Richmond.
The upper reaches of Wensleydale are different, dominated by the market town of Hawes, most famous for Wensleydale cheese (the Wensleydale Creamer is well worth a visit). The town centre is also worth a visit, with an interesting variety of small shops.
The north-western corner of the Dales is rather different. Here we have the Yorkshire Three Peaks, the site of a famous long distance walking challenge. This involves climbing all three peaks in twelve hours or less. The normal route is to start at Horton-in-Ribblesdale, head north-east to Pen-y-Ghent, then across the top of Ribblesdale to Whernside before returning over Ingleborough, a twenty-four mile route with three major climbs. The challenge is so popular that most walls on the way have double stiles to cope with the traffic!
The Dales includes Dentdale, which runs west to Sedbergh and the foot of the Howgill Fells. This valley differs from most in that it runs out of the western edge of the Dales, and also offers an alternative approach to Whernside.
The Three Peaks area is also on the route of the Settle to Carlisle Railway, a famous scenic route that was once threatened with closure but is now a major tourist route. The Three Peaks route crosses the railway twice - once near the impressive Ribblehead Viaduct and one at Horton.
One of the most impressive features of the Dales is Malham Cove, where a massive waterfall once thundered over a now dry cliff. The valley behind still feels as if the water could re-appear at any time, but it actually came from melting glaciers. Close by is Gordale Scar, where a stream has cut itself a very narrow but very steep gorge that emerges at the foot of another line of cliffs.
In the south-east of the Dales are two of the longer valleys - Wharfedale and Nidderdale. Of the two Wharfedale is the better known, and the attractive village of Grassington is well worth a visit. Nidderdale is outside the National Park but is still worth a visit.
Another world is hidden under the Yorkshire Dales. The area is riddled with caves, some of which reach the surface in impressive pot holes (Hull Pot near Horton is a classic example). Others can only be entered via tiny cracks in the ground and there are miles of caves underneath the Dales, with more being discovered all the time.