This is a ride of two halves, an easier warm up loop followed by a really tough second loop. You could easily split them into two separate rides or tackle them as part of the same ride – depends how strong you’re feeling!
If you ride both routes together, you get to enjoy the contrast between the softer, lower, green hills of the outer Dales, skirting over into the Forest of Bowland, and the Dales proper, with full on moorland and limestone valleys around Malham.
All metrics in this article are approximate.
The views from Black Gill Road between Settle and Kirkby Malham are top class, but the climb up Malham Cove, around Malham Tarn and over Malham Moor take some beating. Bleak, wild and dramatic in equal measure.
1. Settle to Settle: 0-27 km
You climb up out of Settle and head north on a narrow country road surrounded by low green hills and the odd isolated stone barn. As you come over the top of the hill after Little Stainforth, you catch sight of an enormous quarry in front of you.
You turn left here, and are then descending down towards Austwick and beyond the village of Clapham.
You cross the A65 via an underpass, which can be used except in flood conditions, and continue to Clapham Station. Bear left under the railway bridge and take the left turn, sign-posted to Settle and Yorkshire Dales Cycleway.
You are now on the Yorkshire Dales Cycleway which will take you back to Settle. It’s a bit lumpy in this section but nothing severe or long and there are some beautiful views into the Dales.
2. Settle to Arncliffe: 27-52 km (via Malham Cove)
Climbing out of Settle for the second time is quite a different experience to the first loop! The road rears up Albert Hill and High Hill Lane at an alarming gradient: an average 12% over one kilometre. As you head into the moorland out of town, the road flattens out for 1.5km before then pointing to the sky once again for another 1.5km, though this time at a more reasonable 6-7% average gradient.
There’s then a great descent down into Kirkby Malham. A lumpy kilometre or so later and you’re in Malham ready to tackle the next monster climb: Malham Cove. Read all about it, here.
Once at the top of Malham Cove, there’s 7 or 8 kilometres of rolling hills around Malham Tarn and over Malham Moor. Malham Tarn is England’s highest lake – the water is trapped by glacial deposits. This whole area is spectacular, in the vein of the usual bleak and desolate Dales scenery.
A 9% descent takes you down into the village of Arncliffe.
3. Arncliffe to Settle: 52-75 km (via Fountains Fell)
If you’ve done the Etape du Dales route, you should recognise the next part of this ride. You follow pretty Littondale on a slowly upwards trajectory, along a narrow road with the River Skifare and green lush pastures to your left.
At Halton Gill, it’s time to get your climbing legs on again as you grind up around 1.5 kilometres of 7% gradient to the top of the Fountains Fell/Dales Head climb. It’s a rollercoaster along the top here, as you coast down and push up the lumps along the top. To your right is the spectacular Pen-y-ghent. There’s a fast descent, with stone walls on either side, into Stainforth. Here you leave the Etape du Dales route and head left at the junction, back to the main road into Settle.
Settle has shops, a petrol station, pubs and cafes. Clapham and Malham are other good choices – though the letter two are villages rather than a town so more limited on the shop front. There are toilets in the car park in Clapham.
We drove down to Settle from Hawes, but if this ride is your focus, it would be more obvious to stay in the Settle area or further south near Skipton.
Read our tips for cycling in the Yorkshire Dales before you set out.
We cycled this route on a Bank Holiday Monday, which was not a great choice. Malham is a famous tourist hotspot, and there was a bank holiday fete in progress with hundreds of people all over the road. There was also a fell running race through the village of Clapham. This meant the road was closed to vehicles and we had to dismount and walk through. Avoid this route on bank holidays!
Settle has had a market since 1249 and the market still continues on Tuesdays. You may also want to check out The Naked Man cafe which dates back to 1663 and so is one of the oldest cafes in the country.
Don’t miss our main guide to the Yorkshire Dales, which has links to all our rides and information on where to stay, when to visit and bike hire. You can find links to more of our route guides in the Articles section below. Happy riding!
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