With its tearooms, flowerbeds and genteel Victorian architecture, Ilkley is the picture of a Yorkshire spa town. The settlement’s roots stretch back much further, however: more than 250 rocks on nearby Ilkley Moor bear intricate carved patterns of cup indentations, concentric circles and grooves from Neolithic and Bronze Age times.
This 10-mile circular walk, which could also be split into two shorter parts, takes in Ilkley Moor’s most impressive carvings and also some of its natural rock wonders. Start in front of the town’s Victorian railway station, then follow Wells Road up to the moor’s edge. Above you’ll see White Wells, an 18th-century natural spa and now a café where brave customers can still take a plunge. A footpath to the left leads to a tarn. From here, climb steadily towards crags on the skyline.
1 Cow and calf
The path ends at the Cow and Calf rocks – a large, flat outcrop overlooking a rounded boulder – with spectacular views over Wharfedale. The Cow bears centuries’ worth of carved graffiti and is also a popular rock-climbing spot. Leaving the rocks, follow a path passing in front of Ilkley Crags through a moorland landscape of rust-coloured grasses and vivid green moss.
2 The badger stone
A bench up on the left will help you find the Badger Stone, one of the most elaborately carved rocks, whose circle and spiral patterns seem to change with the light throughout the day. Retrace your steps briefly then cross a small valley to join a tarmac track heading downhill towards Ilkley, before turning and following a ridge above the dale.
3 Off the trail
Soon you will reach the Swastika Stone, which features the original ancient carving and a clearer Victorian copy showing more detail of the four-legged design, which arose in many different cultures long before its 20th-century association with Nazism. This stretch of moor boasts many carvings and is designated access land, so explore freely, taking care not to disturb grouse.
4 Doubler stones
Continue, passing through several gap stiles in dry stone walls, until you reach a crossroads marked with a cairn. Turn left along a path that leads to the Doubler Stones, two boulders naturally eroded into curious mushroom shapes. Afterwards, return to the crossroads and take the path heading down and under the brow of the ridge, where you might see paragliders soaring. A mix of fields and quiet lanes provide a gentle wander back into Ilkley.
HOW TO GET THERE
Ilkley is 17 miles north-west of Leeds on the A65. Trains run to Ilkley station from Bradford Forster Square and Leeds.
The Box Tree
35-37 Church Street, Ilkley
Michelin-starred French cuisine from chef Simon Gueller.
27 The Grove Promenade, Ilkley LS29 8AF
Café offering local delights.
West View, Wells Road, Ilkley LS29 9JG
This hotel and restaurant offers an extensive menu.
Lumb Beck Farmhouse
Moorside Lane, Addingham, Ilkley LS29 9JX
This 17th-century stone house is set in beautiful gardens.
Ilkley Toy Museum
Whitton Croft Road, Ilkley LS29 9HR
Toys through history, including dolls houses, teddy bears and a working model fairground.