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Caroline Spalding
Features Correspondent
7:00 AM 30th July 2020

Curious Stones Of Ilkley Moor

Ilkley Moor is an exceptional place to explore on foot, home to numerous geological intrigues and providing astonishing views. The prolific network of paths will render walkers, like me, who stubbornly stick to analogue modes of navigation invariably wandering off the intended path but with use of a compass (and OS Explorer 297) it is difficult to become completely lost.

We began a 10.5-mile route from Burley Woodhead, on Moor Road, parking in layby (approx. GR SE 154 447) close to the Hermit Inn (LS29 7AS). We climbed the wall-stile to ascend the field, meeting a gap in the wall under the trees, crossing a stile into another field. Following the curve of the path, we passed through the gate-stile in the field corner on the right-hand side and meeting a metal gate behind the house, we turned right to follow the narrow lane. We approached York View and a large, white-fronted new build property to come to The Old Filter Station. Here, pass through a metal gate: there is a choice of three paths (SE 149 446). Take the middle one (all waymarked) which heads vaguely north-west onto the moorland. The plan was to meet the Dales Way/Ebor Way path, but it was not to be! At a path junction, we bore right downhill for approx. 250 yards, then took a well-defined path on the left. Ahead there is a clough, and again we bore right when the path split to cross the clough. We bore left, heading vaguely north and met a clear path running beside a wall.

This could have been the Dales Way/Ebor Way, but there were no way-markers to confirm. The direction to follow is north-west: the destination is the Cow & Calf rocks. If, like us, you find yourself much higher on the moorland upon arrival, there are many paths to bring you back down to the millstone grit rock formations. A great spot to pause to explore, allowing a scramble, perhaps even some bouldering, these large boulders attract folkloric tales.

According to thisisilkley.com the wife of the giant, Rombald, who lived on the moor, was pursuing her husband in a rage, and while being chased he knocked the cow and calf stones apart before leaping the valley to land at Almscliffe Crag at North Rigton. Abandoning her chase, she dropped her remaining ammunition at the edge of the moorland, these deposits of boulders on the eastern front are now known as the Great and Little “Skirtful of Stones”.

From the stones, we continued in a westerly direction towards Ilkley Crags, climbing above them. You never lose the path, although as said, without GPS navigation, you can’t be sure exactly whether it corresponds to what you see on the paper map. We passed through tall undergrowth and through woodland cloughs, but always on a distinct pathway. You can judge your position by the view of Ilkley directly north. The church spire of All Saints Parish Church, located in the town centre, is clearly visible (and marked on map) and between you and the town stands a large former mill building on Broderick Drive (also marked on map).

Swastika Stone
Swastika Stone
We came to the clough marked Spicey Gill on map and looking downhill, a narrow lane leads up, giving way to a track. Where the lane becomes track (SE 107 446), take the way-marked path west, along a gravelled drive to pass beside Silver Well Cottage. Leaving the property boundary via a gate, keep straight ahead, follow the path until it turns downhill slightly to join the track running below which is the Millennium Way. Continue west, cross Black Beck and you reach the Swastika Stone, surrounding by railings. The age and precise meaning of these carved stones is uncertain, either Bronze Age or Iron Age (however the carving nearest you is a Victorian copy), with the swastika in ancient civilisations often being a symbol linked to the sun.

Cowper's Cross
Cowper's Cross
We retraced our steps past Silver Well Cottage to the track, to follow it (marked Ilkley Road on map) up onto the moorland, passing Cowper’s Cross which is dated (possibly) to the 16th or 17th century; thought to have been erected to stop local people gathering at nearby Badger Stone in the spring (online information is taken from the books The Old Stones of Elmet by Paul Bennett (2001) and Rombald’s Way by E. T. Cowling, 1946: see https://www.thenorthernantiquarian.org/2008/09/30/cowpers-cross-ilkley-moor/ for further detail).

Twelve Apostles
Twelve Apostles
At the wireless station, turn left. The path is paved across the moorland; it will pass Thimble Stones and Simon Armitage’s Stanza Stone “Puddle Stone” just beyond it. You will pass a trig point and eventually meet other paths crossing the moor north-to-south. Bear right and the Twelve Apostles Stone Circle is almost immediately obvious. These date to the Bronze Age (in UK c2500 – 800) and originally consisted of 16-20 stones. All the remaining stones had fallen by the mid-20th century and have been re-erected more than once in the past fifty years. It remains one of the most damaged prehistoric sites in West Yorkshire but today, when other walkers are absent, it is an atmospherically peaceful place to pause and reflect.

From the circle, venture south on the path a short while, then take a distinct track on the left (SE 127 449). Head east, you will follow a stream, come to see High Lanshaw Dam, then meet another track (SE 135 449). Bear right then at a way-marker, you need the Millennium Way heading East. Keep using the compass to confirm your pathway. The route passes Lower Lanshaw Dam, begins a descent beside a wide moorland clough (to your left) and accompanying grouse butts. Follow the eastern compass bearing, the path continues its descent, the land slopes away to your left and you leave the moorland at Moor Road through a gate. Turn right, it’s a short walk back to the layby, passing the pub.