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Malham Tarn at sunrise, Photograph by Dan Cook

The Yorkshire Dales in Winter

Here we have compiled some ideas of what the Yorkshire Dales National Park offers to inspire you to plan your winter excursions.

A photograph of Malham Cove at night with stars overhead.
A winter night at Malham Cove, Yorkshire Dales National Park

The short days and long dark nights of the Yorkshire Dales National Park in winter, might not seem the best time for nature spotting but the lack of leaves on trees means that birds are that much easier to spot, and a covering of snow overnight will show just how busy the countryside is when we are tucked up safe in bed.

Wildlife in Winter

Flooded pasture near Bruce Loch on the outskirts of Sedbergh where Mr McPherson walks most days to take observations for the British Trust for Ornithology Bird Track project
Flooded pasture near Bruce Loch on the outskirts of Sedbergh

Look out for the winter sun catching the speckled breast of a Mistle Thrush, singing its heart out from the top of a tree. It is often known as the storm thrush because of its habit of singing in that eerie light just before thunderclouds roll in. For interesting facts about the Mistle Thrush visit the RSPB website.

Winter Visitors

Raindrop Laden Hawthorn Berries above Stainforth early December.
Raindrop Laden Hawthorn Berries above Stainforth in early December.

Flocks of blue tits, long-tailed tits, great tits, chaffinches, and the occasional nuthatch or tree creeper can be spotted flitting along hedges or through trees in mixed groups, twittering and fluttering about busily looking for insects hidden in nooks and crannies. Flocks of special winter visitors like fieldfares, or if you are lucky enough to see them, waxwings, come down from harsher northern climes to gorge on our hedgerow berries.

Visit the RSPB website for more information about these birds.

Spot an Otter

Otter stood on a grass bank next to the river.
An Otter in the Yorkshire Dales

Keep an eye open for otter footprints in the snow along river banks – this shy animal has made a strong return in the Dales but you are very unlikely to see one as they are usually only out and about at night. Finding a set of footprints is almost as thrilling as seeing the animal, as it means the otter is thriving.

Winter Woodland

A photograph of Malham Landscape Trail on a decmber day. Low lying mist in the valley.
Walking the Malham Landscape Trail on a December day. Low lying mist in the valley.

Enjoy the early snowdrops peeping through in the coldest weather. Many clumps have been naturalised alongside village walls and woodland edges. Some gardens have special open days for snowdrop viewing, such as Austwick Hall and Fountains Abbey.

A Roe Deer photographed stood in a country lane, looking back at the photographer in the Yorkshire Dales National Park
Roe Deer in the Yorkshire Dales National Park

Early in the morning, you might catch a glimpse of the white rump of a roe deer disappearing into the gloom of woodland. In Spain, they are known as the ghosts of the forest. If you startle one it might bark at you – an eerie sound echoing through the still winter air.

Dark Skies

Astrological photograph of Pendragon Castle ruin, located in Mallerstang Dale, Yorkshire Dales National Park
Pendragon Castle ruin, located in Mallerstang Dale

On a cloudless night and away from the lights of town, the Yorkshire Dales’ night skies are a wonder to behold. Turn off your torch and just stand and stare in amazement.

The Yorkshire Dales is home to some of the darkest skies in the country. We’re proud to have large areas of unpolluted night sky where it’s possible to see the Milky Way, planets, meteors, and even the Northern Lights. 

This is one of the special qualities of the Yorkshire Dales, and why we’re thrilled to have gained international recognition as an official Dark Skies Reserve, which will help raise awareness, conserve and celebrate this special quality.

Check out our Dark Skies Festival page to find events and activities we have arranged for you to enjoy.

Why not download an augmented reality star chart app on your smartphone and you’ll be able to name the planets and constellations twinkling above you. For example, Star Walk for iPhone or Google Sky Map.