Day out: Ilkley Moor, West Yorkshire

Wander among the prehistoric rock carvings and ancient monuments of a wild, windswept moor.

Moorland at dawn
Published: January 25th, 2021 at 1:01 pm
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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.

Rocks and moorland at dawn
Dawn among the heather at the Cow and Calf rocks on Ilkley Moor, above the spa town of Ilkley in West Yorkshire/Credit: Getty

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.

moorland on clear day in late summer
Ilkley Moor is part of Rombalds Moor, the moorland between Ilkley and Keighley in West Yorkshire/Credit: Getty

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.

Useful Information


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.


Ilkley Tourist
Information Centre

01943 602319


The Cheese Place

69 Main Street
West Yorkshire
BD22 8DA

01535 647959

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.


Hangingstone Road
LS29 8BT

01943 607335

Rural pub in Ilkley with plenty of character, promising hearty seasonal pub food.


The Crescent Inn
Brook Street
LS29 8DG

01943 811250

Stylish boutique rooms in a real ale pub with a roaring fire.


Brontë Parsonage Museum
Church Street
BD22 8DR

01535 642323


Haworth Parsonage was the home of the famous Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, from 1820 to 1861.


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