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A wild flower walk around Langcliffe Scars

This bracing walk winds along a flower-filled green lane, before climbing up to cross the Plantlife reserve at Winskill Stones, which protects precious fragments of limestone pavement. It provides opportunities to see some specialised plants adapted to the conditions on the pavement, as well as a range of interesting and uncommon species in the surrounding pasture and meadows.

A wildflower walk around Langcliffe Scars

Start at the village school and proceed to the left along a lane. Take a right-hand fork to reach a walled green lane which heads out of the village. This lane has a profusion of wild flowers growing at its edges and on the walls [1]. Look out for shining crane's-bill, ivy-leaved toadflax, crosswort, ox-eye daisy, meadow crane's-bill, bush vetch, hedge wound-wort, field scabious, wood avens, meadow-sweet and lady's bedstraw. Soon the impressive sight of Langcliffe scar, a former quarry, comes into view, with Ingleborough beyond it.

The green lane ends at a gate. Go through this and join a path that leads you up to the right-hand side of the Langcliffe scar through fields with a range of flowers [2]. Look out for betony, wild strawberry, germander speedwell, eyebright, wild thyme, salad burnet, mouse-ear hawkweed and common bird's-foot-trefoil.

Winskill Gorge

When level with the top of the scar proceed through a stile and upwards on a path through walled fields. On reaching a minor road bear right and continue for a short stretch, looking out for limestone outcrops by the roadside with common rock-rose, fairy flax, hoary plantain and quaking grass [3]. Immediately after joining the road bear left, not on the wall-side track signed 'Catrigg Force', but due east across the scattered limestone pavement on a poorly-defined path. As you wander among the pavement keep a look out for plants nestling among them, such as limestone bedstraw, mountain pansy, dog's mercury and ferns including hart's tongue, maidenhair spleenwort and wall-rue [4]. In spring this is an excellent area for early-purple orchid, strongly spotted leaves revealing their presence long after the purple flower spikes have withered.

Proceed through a stone stile in the dry stone wall and you soon reach a track. Bear right here and you will shortly meet the B6479 that joins Langcliffe with Malham. Here you enter for the first time the Plantlife reserve of Winskill Stones, which protects fragments of limestone pavement, one of Britain's most threatened habitats. The pavements have been formed from the combined action of glaciers, which stripped the soil around 10,000 years ago, and more recent erosion by the elements. Blocks (clints) and fissures (grikes) characterise the pavement landscape.

This is a harsh environment, with strong winds and wide variations in temperature and moisture levels. Many plants enjoy the conditions in the grikes, where there is soil and protection from the wind. The area was saved in 1996 from total destruction for use in garden rockeries, when Plantlife raised the money to buy it through a campaign led by the late Geoff Hamilton. Light grazing is used during summer and autumn to maintain the botanical interest of the site. Animals are excluded during the winter and in spring to allow wild flowers to become established.

Continue down the road and into a gorge-like cutting with much botanical interest on the limestone crags and sheltered grassland below [5]. Plantlife have an open access policy on the reserve, allowing you to explore away from the road. However, beware of the slippery rocks and hidden hollows between the limestone blocks, which have broken many walkers' ankles in the Dales. Look among the rocks for wall lettuce, wild thyme, blue moor-grass and hairy rock-cress, plus a range of ferns including the more unusual green spleenwort, rigid buckler-fern and brittle bladder-fern. The limestone sward here is very rich, supporting species such as carline thistle, eyebright, field scabious, mountain pansy, cuckoo-flower, burnet-saxifrage and heath speedwell. In order to appreciate the full range of species, it is necessary to get down on your knees here!

Wall & Quarry

A little gem to look for here is the very local mountain everlasting. This small plant grows in only a few places in the Dales on dry limestone pastures in upland areas. The woody flowering stems bear tiny white flowers in June and July, with the male and female plants having a completely different appearance. Whereas the male flowers are typical open flower heads consisting of florets ringed by bracts, the female plants have a cluster of flower heads at the end of the stem, each with long woolly bracts that enclose the florets. After seeding the flowers drop off to reveal the seeds with their white parachutes of hairs. The 'everlasting' label may have two origins; first the perennial nature of the plant, appearing in the same spot year after year, and second its use for decoration as a dried plant in winter in times of old. Its other name, cat's foot, refers to the soft feel and appearance of the plant.

Proceed down the quiet road in the direction of Langcliffe, pausing to investigate the well-preserved lime kiln dotted with ferns. Such lime kilns were once a common feature in the Dales, used to produce a powder that reduced the acidity of pastures. Carry on past a car parking area on your left, with an information board about the reserve. As you walk down the road enjoy the splendid view across the valley below you [6]. This is another good area for early purple-orchid and mountain pansy.

Follow the road as it winds down steeply into Langcliffe, looking out for flowers on the roadside and in the fields either side. Here common milkwort and common spotted-orchid grow in addition to the species already mentioned. As you near the outskirts of Langcliffe, you will see the twiggy nests of rooks in the tall trees in the churchyard. Continue past the church and on to the school where your walk began.

There are quite a few birds to look for along this walk, including several types of finch, peregrine falcon, raven and wheatear. There is a rookery in the churchyard. Among the many rabbits look for hares, larger and with longer legs and black tips to the ears. The sunny slopes are good for butterflies, with common blue, small copper and small skipper likely.

This walk is taken from the book Wild Flower Walks of the Yorkshire Dales: southern region by Amanda and Brin Best, published by Waterfront in 2002 and priced at £7.95.

The next title in the series, which is produced in association with Plantlife, is Wild Flower Walks of Teesdale by Christopher and Gayle Lowe (published July 2004). For ordering details please telephone 0870 747 2983.

We would be very interested to hear of your own wildlife sightings during June, or of any other interesting wildlife observations you would like to report. We hope to feature such contributions on Daelnet in the future, so please get in touch with me at brin@daelnet.co.uk.

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