You would think that in an area known as the 'Yorkshire Dales', where the dales themselves are the main attraction, that some one would be able to tell you exactly how many dales there are? And that they'd be a definitive map showing each of their locations? I've never managed to find anyone who really knows and certainly never discovered a map with that detail. Let me know if you do!
Let's start with what we mean by a dale. The word is old English, probably originating from the German word Tal or Nordic Dal, and essentially means a valley. Most of the Yorkshire Dales are named after their river e.g. River Swale = Swaledale. There are a few exceptions such as Wensleydale named after Wensley, once a market town and now a village. The river Ure runs through Wensleydale, and the old name for the dale was Yoredale.
And what do we mean by the 'Yorkshire Dales'? Many people take it to mean the Yorkshire Dales National Park, often with the addition of the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (NAONB) which is adjacent. Since the National Park was extended ,it now covers 2179 square kilometres and the NAONB adds another 600. Since some Dales wander outside these two areas, and no-one is very certain about their exact boundaries, the 'Yorkshire Dales' are quite fluid and for some mean much of the large swathe of green land between the M6 and A1.
So, as you can see it's hard to be very specific about how many Yorkshire dales there are! Most people can name at least four: Swaledale, Wensleydale, Wharfedale, Nidderdale, but how many others are there? Counts vary from around 30 to over 50.
It's often hard to be clear about where a dale really starts and ends. Some lesser known named dales are side dales of larger ones. Some are short and remote, rarely visited like Mossdale above Grassington. Others are often misnamed like Apedale which many assume to be Swaledale or Wensleydale as it joins the two.
Here's a list of many of the Dales: we could argue about some of them and whether they're dales in their own right or not, and we could definitely add more to this list too - although it's doubtful whether most people would find them. For me, one of the delights of the dales is that you can't instantly name and define them. Isn't that what nature should be like? Sometimes untamed, uncertain, but always full of beauty. 'A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet'...
Apedale, Arkengarthdale, Barbondale, Birkdale, Bishopdale, Claphamdale, Cotterdale, Coverdale, Crummackdale, Deepdale, Dentdale, Doedale, Fossdale, Garsdale, Gordale, Grisedale, Kingsdale, Langdale, Langstrothdale, Littondale, Lonsdale, Lunesdale, Malhamdale, Mallerstang, Mossdale, Ravenstonedale, Raydale, Ribblesdale, Swaledale, Waldendale, Weasdale, Wensleydale, Wharfedale, Widdale...