Ilkley Moor, Burley Moor, Twelve Apostles and the Cow and Calf

A walk on the most popular moor in West Yorkshire with visits to Twelve Apostles stone circle, the Cow and Calf gritstone outcrops and the Tarn which sits in a beautiful setting above the town of Ilkley. This walk is indeed a super circuit.

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Statistics and Files
Start: Ilkley Distance: 6.3 miles (10.2 km) Climbing: 398 metres
Grid Ref: SE117470 Time: 3-4 hours Rating: Moderate
GPX Route File Google Earth File About Ilkley Moor
Start: Ilkley Distance: 6.3 miles (10.2 km)
Grid Ref: SE117470 Time: 3-4 hours
Climbing: 398 metres Rating: Moderate
GPX Route File Google Earth File
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map (1:25,000)

The Walk: Above the West Yorkshire spa town of Ilkley is the vast upland expanse of Rombalds Moor. Sections of the moor are sub-named in deference to their local settlement and it was to Ilkley Moor I climbed from the West View Park car park just off Wells Road. It was a beautiful day and I set off with eager anticipation of a good day out. Ilkley Moor is a mass of heather and gritstone which forms a bulky boundary between the prominent West Yorkshire valleys of Wharfedale and Airedale. Man has wandered the moor for centuries leaving evidence everywhere including the Swastika Stone and many cup markings in the local gritstone. I had visited the Swastika Stone on my previous walk on the moor which had also included a visit to the mysterious Doubler Stones. On that occasion I had missed out the Twelve Apostles Stone Circle and the Cow and Calf Rocks. This time I had them firmly plotted on the route plan.

Lovely parkland on Wells Road, IlkleyLovely parkland on Wells Road, Ilkley
Heather moorland overlooks IlkleyHeather moorland overlooks Ilkley

I was in for a wonderful surprise. I had crossed Wells Road and began following a path down to a footbridge leading to the Dales Way Link path and up towards White Wells. No sooner had a done so, not five minutes into the walk when I saw swathes of purple. The heather flower was out and I had not expected to see it. "Too early" I thought; it was still July, albeit the last weekend. But July all the same. Yes Spring had come early and the Summer was exceptional over recent years but still it was surely a week or two early. Flowering Heather moors are what I expect in August and September. I was surprised but I was not complaining, the joy of seeing the moor side in blossom was invigorating and it spurred me on up the bank.

Looking down towards IlkleyLooking down towards Ilkley
White Wells, IlkleyWhite Wells, Ilkley

Not that I was rushing on the climb. Being in the midst of such unexpected beauty caused me to stop and dwell while taking it all in on more than one occasion. I must have taken an age on the climb to White Wells as I turned and looked down across the purple banks of flower to Ilkley and across to Middleton Moor on the far side of the River Wharfe constantly. I could not help myself as it was a scene of such splendour. "The perfect moment to look out on this view" I mused. Eventually I managed to draw myself away from the dalliance and I climbed to the whitewashed building of White Wells. An inscription on the side of the building reads 'Former bath house built by Squire Middleton for the people of Ilkley in the eighteenth century. Restored by Eric Busby 1972-1974. The Wells were officially opened to the public on 13th May 1976 by the Lord Mayor Councillor Mrs Doris Birdsall Hon MA'. I believe the plunge pool is still in use today though I would prefer to avail of the other attraction now found at White Wells. Which would you choose - the cafe refreshments or a freezing bath?

Ilkley CragsIlkley Crags
Heather carpet on Ilkley MoorHeather carpet on Ilkley Moor

After climbing to White Wells on a south course the path tracked south east up the moor to Ilkley Crags. The ascent was never too arduous, a steady climb throughout and as it was during my ascent to White Wells the stretch of walking up to and past Ilkley Crags was also a mixture of stop and go. I still had exhilarating views to Ilkley and along the Wharfe Valley and to supplement them I now had the bonus of interesting rock outcrops and local erratic gritstone boulders to hand. I cavorted up and over several of the smaller rock outcrops and stood on one to take the photograph of Ilkley Crags, above left. From Ilkley Crags I continued along the path to where it branched. The left fork downhill would take me across Rocky Valley and down to the Cow and Calf outcrop. That pleasure was for later. Now I forked right and uphill onto the moor plateau.

Lanshaw LadLanshaw Lad
Twelve ApostlesTwelve Apostles

I followed a path across the moor and with nobody around I took in the aura of the moor all to myself. Striding along the path which was surrounded by masses of purple Heather left and right I revelled in the moment. Could it get better? Difficult to imagine how particularly as the sun shone brightly down on me. It was a warm and pleasant day. After a mile of luscious moorland walking I came to Lanshaw Lad where a boundary stone has stood since the early 19th Century marking the division between two sections of Rombalds Moor. Thus I walked off Ilkley Moor and walked on to Burley Moor. Not long on Burley Moor I came to my next sight of interest, the Twelve Apostles Standing Stone Circle. I circumnavigated around the stone circle while imagining for myself who might have built it and for what reason. These ancient sites always fascinate me and form the premise of many of my walks.

Burley MoorBurley Moor
Lower Lanshaw DamLower Lanshaw Dam

With my thoughts about the Twelve Apostles Stone Circle banked I walked east across Burley Moor, just as neighbouring Ilkley Moor, a picture of beauty. Banks of fluffy white cumulus cloud slowly meandering across the sky from the south west added to the wonderful scenery. I continued to be enthralled and while walking across the flat upland tabular part of Burley Moor I imagined what the next draw on the imagination might be. I did not have to wait long. First I spotted a small body of water to the left of my path and the map told me it was Upper Lanshaw Dam. Just beyond that attraction on the right hand side of the path was a small rocky outcrop. All I could see on the map was a title 'Great Skirtful of Stones'. How very British! After passing the great skirtful I came to a second body of water, this being Lower Lanshaw Dam.

Heading off Burley Moor with Wharfedale in viewHeading off Burley Moor with Wharfedale in view
The path rises from Coldstone BeckThe path rises from Coldstone Beck

From Lower Lanshaw Dam I continued on a path taking me off the moor on a north east course. Ahead of me and directly in my eyesight was a majestic view of Wharfedale. I could see for miles across the valley and I easily made out the prominent and to me much familiar landmarks of Norwood Edge, Almscliffe Crag and Otley Chevin. Once more I was stopped in my tracks as I stood transfixed by the view. (On reflection this was not the quickest walk I have ever done, by any stretch of the imagination but with everything laid out so perfectly before me I was going to savour it all. And the thrill was not yet over). I came off the top moor plateau by following the Millennium Way, one of many such named paths, to just above Barks Crags near Burley in Wharfedale. I stayed on an elevated moor path running parallel to Moor Road/ Hangingstone Road. I dropped down to cross Coldstone Beck and climbed back up again to follow the moor edge path once more which kept me 80 metres above the road.

Following the Dales Way link near Stead CragFollowing the Dales Way link near Stead Crag
The Cow and Calf Inn come into viewThe Cow and Calf Inn come into view

I was now following the Ebor Way and the Dales Way Link and on a course directly towards the Cow and Calf. Below me, to my right, a steady but never excessive stream of traffic trundled along the moor road. There was not one heavy Arctic, this is not the road for them. A few light haulage lorries and trade vans passed by but most of the traffic were cars. As I walked along the path further some cars stopped beside the road and the passengers got out of their cars to look upwards to the moor. The flowering Heather was drawing their attention towards it. A little further on I spotted the Cow and Calf Hotel on the far side of the road. I was nearing my next goal and as I approached I noticed more cars parking up. This time people were leaving the cars by the roadside and climbing up towards the moor. The Cow and Calf outcrops are a huge draw to the people of Yorkshire. To some people to visit the rocks is a pilgrimage. To me, a personal aim and long overdue since the last time.

Nearing the Cow and CalfNearing the Cow and Calf
Cow and CalfCow and Calf

After staying high above the road when I reached a line level with the hotel I followed a path to get below the outcrop. As I approached I started to come across people. Couples of all ages, most mature. Families with young children. People of all ethnicities Foreign visitors too, I soon was called into action to take a photograph of three generations of Germans. Mother, daughter and granddaughter - a lovely moment. After my photo-shot duties I focused on the scene and wandered around the site of the gritstone outcrops and to especially take in the awesome sight of the Cow and Calf.

The Calf with Ilkley in viewThe Calf with Ilkley in view
The giants of Yorkshire folkloreThe giants of Yorkshire folklore

The Calf is sheltered by the Cow. It is an isolated boulder about 10 metres high and 10 metres wide. Looking directly at it from close by to the east with Ilkley directly behind is a particularly aesthetic viewpoint. Shame about the graffiti painted on the rock though, try to ignore it. From below the rock a good framed picture can be made of the Calf in the foreground and Cow behind.

Sheep sheltering on the CowSheep sheltering on the Cow
Heading towards Rocky ValleyHeading towards Rocky Valley

After walking around the Calf I scrambled up the outcrop to the right of the Cow. As I neared the top I noticed two sheep sheltering in a natural layering of the Cow - two Ovines being sheltered by a Bovine! They looked quite content so I left them to their peaceful escape. And it was not difficult to understand why they were there. Youngsters were cavorting on the rock above, blissfully oblivious though that the sheep were directly below them. If they had known then I am sure the sheep would have been hassled. So I did not let on. After I had enjoyed a clamber on the top of the Cow myself which included another sublime look across the Wharfedale valley I left the site of the Cow and Calf and headed across towards more exquisite beauty. I followed trails though disused quarrying and past manicured pine woods in the vicinity of Rocky Valley. After the hustle and bustle around the Cow and Calf the trails were a peaceful delight. In fact I would class this late surprise as another wow moment. I thought to myself one more, this time with the promise "I must bring Lil one day".

Rocky ValleyRocky Valley
The Tarn, IlkleyThe Tarn, Ilkley

As with much of this brilliant walk I was loathe to leave Rocky Valley and after much dwelling on more remarkable views both local and far I did leave by following the well worn path down off the moor towards Wells Road and back to the car. I had one more highlight to come though and another I had not visited before. In fact when I reached The Tarn I was gobsmacked. What a beautiful spot. Such a serene place, a perfectly placed tarn with lovely mature trees landscaped to perfection. How had I never been here before? Answer - because I did not know it was here. Now I do I shall be back, the private promise I made to Lil will be fulfilled. Sooner than later. After taking as much time as I could by the tarn and drinking in the beauty I followed the path down to the car park and on doing so I completed my extraordinarily beautiful walk.

WOW, I was beguiled throughout by this exceptional walk. I cannot do more than suggest you walk it yourself.

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