Day out: Ilkley Moor, West Yorkshire
Wander among the prehistoric rock carvings and ancient monuments of a wild, windswept moor.
Ilkley Moor is part of the larger Rombald’s Moor, and lies directly above the lovely spa town of Ilkley. Ideal for walking, birdwatching, rock climbing or simply absorbing the panoramic views, the moor is also home to a series of fascinating ancient monuments.
One of the best known attractions of Ilkley Moor is the Cow and Calf, in Ilkley Quarry. This craggy outcrop and the smaller, single rock beneath it are said to be reminiscent of a cow sheltering her calf, both looking out across the moor.
With its tearooms, flowerbeds and genteel Victorian architecture, the settlement of Ilkley is the picture of a Yorkshire spa town.
Myths and legends of Ilkley Moor
The origins of these curious slabs of millstone grit – a type of sandstone – are mired in legend. Stories tell of how a giant called Rombald was running from his wife when he stamped on the rocks here, splitting the calf from its mother.
The giant’s wife then dropped the stones held in her skirt, creating a rock formation now called the Skirtful of Stones. You can also find The Twelve Apostles on Ilkley Moor – a rock circle of unknown origin.
While you’re wandering, keep watch for skylarks above and red grouse among the heather.
Rock calvings of Ilkley Moor
There is an abundance of carved rocks on Ilkley Moor and most thought to date back as far as the late Neolithic or Bronze Age.
The most famous is the Swastika Stone, on the Woodhouse Crag, on the northern edge of the moor. Though no one has yet pin-pointed when the stone was carved, the effects of time have taken their toll on the strange four-pronged pattern, and it is now quite badly eroded. However, a modern copy next to it shows you how the pattern looked in the past.
There are other markings across the rocks of the moor. Perhaps the most impressive is the Badger Stone, a slope-sided boulder that rises from the ground 1m (3¼ft) high and 3m (10ft) wide. It is covered in detailed patterns, varying from simple cups to intricate grooved motifs.
This rock can transform according to the time of day – from a dull, featureless grey to a deep brown with the carvings clearly visible, thrown into sharp relief by the changing light.
One theory links all the carved stones here as being on a sight line, which might explain why some large stones elsewhere on the moor were left untouched.
We’ll never quite know, but they are certainly a highlight of this thrilling moorland.
HOW TO GET THERE
By road, leave Ilkley on Wells Road, and the moor (postcode LS29 9RF) is on the left. The nearest trains stop at Ilkley Railway Station. Arriva bus routes 870 and 874 serve Ilkley.
FIND OUT MORE
The Cheese Place
69 Main Street
Home to a fantastic choice of cheeses, stocking around 50 at any time, The Cheese Place is a must for stocking up on picnic delicacies.
THE COW AND CALF
Rural pub in Ilkley with plenty of character, promising hearty seasonal pub food.
The Crescent Inn
Stylish boutique rooms in a real ale pub with a roaring fire.
Brontë Parsonage Museum
Haworth Parsonage was the home of the famous Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, from 1820 to 1861.