50 Walks in West Yorkshire

Ilkley Moor and the Twelve Apostles

Try this sample walk from the latest edition of 50 Walks in West Yorkshire.

About 50 Walks in West Yorkshire

Walking is one of Britain's favourite leisure activities, and this guide to West Yorkshire features 50 mapped walks from 2 to 10 miles, to suit all abilities.

The book features all the practical detail you need, including:

  • fascinating background reading on the history and wildlife of the area,
  • clear OS-based mapping for ease of use,
  • every route has been colour coded according to difficulty,
  • annotations for local points of interest and places to stop for refreshments,
  • summary of distance, time, gradient, level of difficulty, type of surface and access, landscape, dog friendliness, parking and public toilets.

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Sample walk: Ilkley Moor and the Twelve Apostles

  • Distance: 4.5 miles (7.2km)
  • Minimum Time: 2hrs
  • Ascent: 875 feet (266m)
  • Gradient: 2
  • Difficulty: 2
  • Paths: Good moorland paths, some steep paths towards end of walk
  • Landscape: Mostly open heather moorland and gritstone crags
  • Suggested Map: OS Explorer 297 Lower Wharfedale & Washburn Valley
  • Start Grid Reference: SE132467
  • Dog Friendliness: Under close control at all times
  • Parking: Car park below Cow and Calf rocks
  • Public Toilet: Beside refreshment kiosk at car park
Background reading

Ilkley Moor is a long ridge of millstone grit, immediately to the south of Ilkley. With or without a hat, Ilkley Moor is a special place – not just for walkers, but for lovers of archaeological relics, too. These extensive heather moors are identified on maps as Rombalds Moor, named after a legendary giant who once roamed the area. But, thanks to the famous song – Yorkshire's unofficial anthem – Ilkley Moor is how it will always be known.An ancient ringThe Twelve Apostles is a ring of Bronze Age standing stones sited close to the meeting of two ancient routes across the moor. If you expect to find something of Stonehenge proportions, you will be disappointed. The twelve slabs of millstone grit (there were more stones originally, probably twenty, with one at the centre) are arranged in a circle approximately 50ft (15m) in diameter. The tallest of the stones is little more than 3ft (1m). The circle is, nevertheless, a genuinely ancient monument.The Twelve Apostles are merely the most visible evidence of 7,000 years of occupation of these moors. There are other, smaller circles too, and Ilkley Moor is celebrated for its Bronze Age rock carvings, many showing the familiar 'cup and ring' designs. The most famous of these rocks features a sinuous swastika: traditionally a symbol of good luck, until the Nazis corrupted it. There are milestones, dating from more recent times, which would have given comfort and guidance to travellers across these lonely moors. In addition to Pancake and Haystack rocks, seen on this walk, there are dozens of other natural gritstone rock formations. The biggest and best known are the Cow and Calf, close to the start of this walk, where climbers practise their holds and rope work.A guidebook of 1829 described Ilkley as a little village. It was the discovery of mineral springs that transformed Ilkley into a prosperous spa town. Dr William Mcleod arrived here in 1847, recognised the town's potential and spent the next 25 years creating a place where well-heeled hypochondriacs could 'take the waters' in upmarket surroundings. Dr Mcleod recognised – or perhaps just imagined – the curative properties of cold water. He vigorously promoted what he called the 'Ilkley Cure', a strict regime of exercise and cold baths. Luxurious hotels known as 'hydros', precursors of today's health farms, sprang up around the town to cater for the influx of visitors.Predating the town's popularity as a spa is White Wells, built in 1700 around one of the original springs. A century later a pair of plunge baths were added, where visitors and locals alike could enjoy the masochistic pleasures of bathing in cold water. Enjoying extensive views over the town, the building is still painted white. White Wells and its cafe are open on New Year's Day and at weekends during school holidays, whenever the flag is flying.

  1. Walk up beside the road, forking right 150yds (138m) beyond the Cow and Calf pub onto a signed footpath. Higher up, swing right and then turn left. At a waymarker, double back right onto the edge and follow it past the Pancake Stone. Dip across a path rising along a shallow gully and continue beyond Haystack Rock, joining another path from the left. Keep left at successive forks, swinging parallel to the broad fold containing Backstone Beck, over to the right.
  2. After gently rising for 0.75 miles (1.2km) across open moor, the path eventually meets the Bradford–Ilkley Dales Way link. Go left along the paved path, cresting the rise by Lanshaw Lad, a prominent boundary stone to reach the Twelve Apostles, lying just beyond.
  3. Retrace your steps from the Twelve Apostles, this time staying with the paved Dales Way. Keep ahead beyond the end of the flags, crossing a small stream and then Backstone Beck at Gill Head. Climbing away, take the left fork past a waymarker. After 0.25 miles (400m), keep ahead at a crossing. The path then swings left in a steep descent, eventually leading to White Wells.
  4. Swing right in front of the cafe and bath house, the path passing a small pond and slanting down the rocky hillside to meet a metalled path. Go right, taking either branch around the tarn. Leave up steps at the far end, the ongoing path later dipping to cross Backstone Beck. Over the bridge, bear left and stick with the main trail. Approaching the Cow and Calf Rocks, ignore a crossing path and keep ahead to skirt below the outcrop.
  5. It's worth taking a few minutes to investigate the rocks and watch climbers practising their belays and traverses. From here a paved path leads back to the car park.

Extending the walk: A classic extension of this walk takes you across the moor from the Twelve Apostles (Point 3) to the pub at Dick Hudsons, returning by the same route.

While you're there

Ilkley Moor is an intriguingly ancient landscape, criss-crossed by old tracks. This walk and its extension offer short and long options, but you could explore for weeks without walking the same path twice. An east–west walk from the Cow and Calf will take you along the moorland ridge, with terrific views of Ilkley and Wharfedale for most of the way.

What to look out for

Many rocks on Ilkley Moor are decorated with 'cup and ring' patterns – including the Pancake Rock, near the start of this walk. Many more rock carvings can be found if you take the time to search for them.

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