I had been wanting to stay at the Gordale Scar campsite since seeing it featured on Martin Dorey‘s BBC2 series “One Man and His Campervan” a couple of years ago and this summer I finally got around to organising a trip. Let’s be very clear about the main attraction of this site: Location, location, location! Facilities are basic – easily the most basic of any site we’ve reviewed so far: no electric hookups, no hard standing pitches, no on-site shop (in fact no shop for several miles). All of that is easily forgiven though because the location is fantastic.
Getting booked in was a little difficult as the owner seems to have been overwhelmed by the demand (the site has also been featured in Cool Camping) and has chosen to scale back the number of campers allowed on the land this year also giving priority to those doing the Duke of Edinburgh award. I think he treats running the campsite as a sideline to managing the surrounding farmland and so he can be difficult to get hold of on the phone, and there’s only a very basic website with no booking facility. Eventually though after a couple of phone calls and messages we secured a pitch for 2 nights.
Gordale Scar is a massive gorge over which a stream flows (or river, depending on the prevailing weather). A well maintained public footpath follows alongside the stream from the road to the base of the scar (little more than a 5 minute walk) and the campsite sprawls either side of the footpath. Yes, that’s right, this isn’t a secure campsite with automatic barriers, security lighting and perimeter fence, you share the site not only with the local sheep, but with walkers making their way along the footpath. In fact this is probably as close to wild camping as you’re likely to get without actually pitching up in a deserted field.
Describing the on-site facilities won’t take long… there’s a small stone building by the entrance to the site that houses a couple of shower cubicles, toilets and washbasins. Gent’s at one end of the building, ladies’ at the other. It’s basic, far from modern, but it’s functional, and there was plenty of hot water.
The approach to the site is on a narrow winding lane that weaves through the Yorkshire Dales near Malham. As we crested the final hill and could see a campsite at the bottom of the road ahead we turned to each other with grins on our faces and and asked “is this our campsite?!” Locations like this are the reason we go camping.
We pitched up with the van reversed up to the stream that runs through the site. After cooking a quick meal we took a stroll to the scar. Literally a cliff face with a stream running over the top, it’s a overwhelming sight. It’s a popular location with climbers and we spent a good while watching a couple of climbers do their best to scale the rock face. The following morning we set off on a circular walk from the campsite to Malham Cove and back. It’s a route that involves scrambling up the rocks alongside the waterfall at Gordale Scar – if you’re not sure-footed, uncomfortable with heights or have young children in tow it might be advisable to skip this part of the walk. We also found it more difficult because of the number of people coming the other way and climbing down the rocks as we tried to climb up. It was a really enjoyable walk on a nice summer’s day though and revealed some fantastic views so is definitely recommended.
In the evening the weather took a turn for the worse and so we just managed to finish dinner outside before retreating into the van for shelter. The rain continued for most of the night and the following morning we woke to find that the small trickling stream that we pitched up next to was now a fast-flowing river. We took one last walk to the scar and discovered that the overnight rain meant that the waterfall was transformed and there was no way that it could be climbed so the circular walk is definitely a fair-weather route.
The basic facilities and lack of local amenities mean that this campsite won’t be troubling the top of our league tables but the truth is I’d forgive this campsite almost anything because the location is simply stunning.