Yorkshire Times
Voice of the North
Caroline Spalding
Features Correspondent
6:24 AM 10th May 2020

Twelve Apostles - Burley Moor (Ilkley)

One of Poet Laureate Simon Armitage’s Stanza Stones
One of Poet Laureate Simon Armitage’s Stanza Stones
Yorkshire moorlands are littered with curious rock formations – natural and manmade – you need only consult an OS Map to see sites identified, often with intriguing names. Ilkley & Rombalds Moor, immediately south of the spa town, is host to numerous sites of “Cup & Ring-marked Rocks”, “Tumuli” and Cairns. The former are defined as “a stone bearing one or more small, roughly hemispherical depressions surrounded by a concentric arrangement of annular (ring shaped) or penannular (in the form of a ring but with a small part of the circumference missing) grooves.” They are a form of prehistoric art, found mostly in the UK and Europe, but with instances as far afield as Australia and Hawaii. Whether the cup & ring-marks were done for artistic purposes, or for writing and recording what the stone was used for, remains in question, and indeed it is hard to precisely age the practise. Some analysis suggests it dates to the early Neolithic period (varying across the globe) but whilst stones can be dated using a process called chronostratigraphy, determining when the marks were made is harder to define.

Stone Circles appeared later in the Stone Age during the Neolithic era, c.4300 BC-1700 BC, when people had evolved from the hunter-gatherer way of life to adopt farming techniques. Their purpose, again, is surrounded in mystery, however it has been suggested, particularly in Scotland, that they were constructed to provide the best vantage points to observe the highest points on the horizon when the sun and moon rose and set.

It is also widely assumed they served a religious purpose, settings for ceremonies and worship. We often associate them with the practises of the Druids of the Iron Age; however stone circles were erected long before Druids came along and this is just one example of how people of later epochs created their own ritualistic or pagan connections with the mysterious sites. Since the mid-20th century, stone circles have been adopted for Wiccan celebrations which use cycles of the sun and moon; relating directly to another school of thought that suggests positioning of stone circles was specific for viewing lunar or solar alignments.

On Burley Moor, south of Ilkley, is the Twelve Apostles stone circle which comprises 12 somewhat irregularly spaced stones. Dating to the Bronze Age (in UK c2500 – 800) and originally consisting 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 and with its reconstruction and therefore inevitable shifting in position, it is hard to give credence to any theories suggesting it was erected to observe lunar or celestial events.

Standing high on the moorland the site provides outstanding, almost 360° views. My own experience of walking on Ilkley and Burley Moor is that it can be rather confusing, with a myriad paths not all marked on the map. However, with the giant golf balls of RAF Menthwith Hill always in view to the north-east, you can use that as a point of orientation.

The most direct route to the Twelve Apostles is from the car park adjacent to the Cow & Calf Rocks on Hangingstone Road (approx. postcode LS29 8BT). These large boulders themselves attract folkloric tales. According to 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”.

Route One: 5 miles (approx.)

From the car park and the rocks, you need to aim south-west (there are several options) crossing Backstone Beck to bump into the Dales High Way path bearing south and keeping left when the pathway splits. You can continue beyond the Twelve Apostles, still on Dales High Way (a mostly paved path) until Horncliffe Well. Here, turn left, almost back on yourself along the Millennium Way, past Great Skirtful of Stones and when the Millennium Way turns a distinct right, continue straight on between High Lanshaw and Lower Lanshaw Dams towards Little Skirtful of Stones, from where a path bearing north-north-west will lead back to Cow & Calf Stones. This route can be shortened by taking the track heading east close to the stone circle which follows a spring towards High Lanshaw Dam. Meeting a clear track, turn right, then at the junction with the Millennium Way turn north.

Route Two: 5.5 miles (approx.)

Follow previous route to the stone circle, then from the Twelve Apostles, retrace your steps a short distance. Take the paved pathway going west (marked on map as only black dotted line). This crosses the moorland, passing a trig point and one of our Poet Laureate Simon Armitage’s Stanza Stones – The Puddle Stones – then reaching Wheatstone Gate Wireless Station. Here turn right along the track marked Keighley Road and just before the land ahead starts to descend, turn right, passing above the crags. With some luck, and use of a compass, follow an eastern bearing back towards Ilkley Crags and the Cow & Calf Stones.

Use of OS Explorer Map 297 is highly advisable, as is the use of a compass due to the multitude of paths and, based on my own experience of getting confused, or rather, a tad lost! However, as a hugely popular walking destination, when we can all venture out once again, there are bound to be numerous people who could offer directions if needs be.

Information drawn from and available at: