Ilkley moor is a magical and wild place in West Yorkshire, not far from the city of Leeds. Hiking on Ilkley moor is fantastic as there are many paths, things to see on Ilkley Moor and wildlife to spot! The moor inspired the unofficial Yorkshire anthem “on Ilkley Moor baht’at”. Grab your walking shoes or hiking boots and let’s visit Ilkley Moor! This is the ultimate guide to visiting Ilkley Moor.
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Ilkley Moor or Rombalds Moor?
Firstly, let’s clear up the name Ilkley Moor. Ilkley Moor is commonly seen as the moorland which stretches from Ilkley in the north to Keighley in the south. Technically, Ilkley Moor is part of Rombalds moor which comprises of several moors. Each part of Rombalds moor is typically named after the settlement it is closest to. However, the famous tune “on Ilkley Moor bah’at” and the fact that many visitors start their trip to Rombalds moor from Ilkley has probably led to the entire area being seen as Ilkley moor. Therefore, for the purpose of this Ilkley moor guide we will be talking about the entirety of Rombalds moor which includes Ilkley moor, Burley Moor, Hawksworth Moor, Baildon Moor, Bingley Moor, Morton Moor, and Addingham High Moor.
If you were wondering who Rombald was, some believe he was a giant whereas others think he was Robert de Romille who was given the moors around Skipton by William the Conqueror. It may have also changed over time as early ordnance survey maps list the moor as Rumbles Moor. This may have been due to a misunderstanding if the cartographer was from outside of Yorkshire and could not understand the local dialect.
Getting to Ilkley Moor
Getting to Ilkley Moor is easy. Depending on which part of Ilkley Moor you would like to visit there are various parking spots and methods of public transport.
Many visitors start their visit to Ilkley Moor from the town of Ilkley. Ilkley is a lovely spa town which has its own train station. It is just a 30-minute train journey from the city of Leeds. From Ilkley train station it is a steep walk up to Ilkley Moor which is a great warm up!
If you are arriving by car to Ilkley Moor you can park for free by the Cow & Calf rocks near Ilkley.
Alternatively, there are various laybys and parking areas along the circumference of the moor. For example, if you would like to explore a quieter part of Rombalds moor you can also park for free by Weecher Reservoir or between Weecher Reservoir and Reva Reservoir in a lay by. This section of the moor is technically Hawksworth moor and is stunning when the heather is in full bloom!
Things to see on Ilkley Moor
Now you know how to get to Ilkley Moor, what things are there to do on Ilkley Moor?
Ilkley Moor is a wild, fascinating place with plenty of things to see.
1. 12 Apostles Stone Circle on Ilkley Moor
The most magical spot on Ilkley moor is without a doubt the Apostle stone circle. The stone circle has stood for thousands of years. While it is unclear why the men of Wharfedale chose this spot exactly for a stone circle as it is not the summit, the views are quite stunning. It can be a busy picnic spot in the day yet early morning or at dusk you may be lucky enough to have the 12-apostle stone circle to yourself! Unleash your inner druid and have a pagan dance in the stone circle. Even if you are not an Outlander fan you will still enjoy the mystery of the stone circle on Ilkley moor. Visiting the apostle stone circle is one of my favourite things to do on Ilkley moor.
If you like stone circles, you may also enjoy Castlerigg stone circle in the Lake District National park.
2. Poem Post Box on Ilkley Moor
The poem post box on Ilkley moor is a very peaceful place to visit on Ilkley moor.
There is a poetry seat on Ilkley moor. Local dry stone waller, Nick Ferguson created this seat for contemplation and to admire the view. The poetry seat also includes a poem post box. You can read other poems or even be inspired to post your own poem in the poem post box on Ilkley moor.
3. Cow & Calf on Ilkley Moor
The Cow & Calf are two iconic rocks on Ilkley moor. The cow is a large boulder and the calf is a smaller one. At sunset the two huge boulders create impressive black silhouettes and even in the day they are a wonderful site to behold.
Enjoy scrambling the rocks by the Cow & Calf. Keen boulders will enjoy the sheer number of climbing routes on the granite on this part of Ilkley moor.
You cannot visit Ilkley moor without seeing the Cow and Calf rocks! If you don’t fancy bouldering or scrambling, a less sweaty alternative is to grab a pint at the Cow & Calf pub. You can sit in the large beer garden and watch others play on the rocks on Ilkley moor instead!
4. Swastika Stone on Ilkley Moor
The swastika stone on Ilkley moor is a piece of ancient rock art. On a gritstone there is a wavy carving, said to resemble a swastika. It was carved during either the bronze age or the iron age.
If you like ancient art, add the swastika stone to your things to see on Ilkley moor list!
5. The summit of Rombalds Moor
The summit of Rombald’s moor, or as most people refer to as the summit of Ilkley moor is 402m high. It is not far from the 12 apostles stone circle. From the trip point you will have great views of the moor and into Airedale.
6. The Badger Stone on Ilkley Moor
The badger stone is another piece of prehistoric rock art on Ilkley moor!
Said to be “An eroded but quite excellent cup-and-ring stone — one of the very best on Ilkley Moor — comprising nearly a hundred cups”
7. Heather on Ilkley Moor
Forget lavender fields and go to a heather field!
The heather on Ilkley moor is simply stunning. Purple heather starts to appear in late July and by mid-August the moor is covered in a carpet of wonderful heather.
The heather is particularly important to bird species on Ilkley moor. Upland waders use the heather on Ilkley moor to nest and raise their young. The moor is designated as a national site of special scientific interest because of the heather as well as the various peat bogs.
Grouse shooting has been banned on Ilkley moor since 2018 meaning that Ilkley moor is once again a haven for wildlife.
8. Cotton Grass on Ilkley Moor
In late spring and early summer, little tuffs of fluffy white balls cover Ilkley Moor. This is cotton grass.
Despite its name it is actually a member of the sedge family. Cotton grass thrives on boggy landscapes and heath which means Ilkley moor is perfect for cotton grass!
You can also see huge swaths of cotton grass in Littondale.
9. Grubstones on Ilkley Moor
Grubstones is another stone circle on Ilkley moor. It is much less visited than the 12 apostles stone circle and is quite hard to spot. You may even walk past it without realising it is a stone circle.
There is a large shed close to the 12 apostles stone circle. It can be seen for miles. What you may not notice is the stone circle to the south of this shed. There is a very round collection of stones. Some have argued they are the remains of a hut or a cairn but a stone circle sounds more magical.
10. Doubler Stones on Ilkley Moor
The doubler stones are two very unusual rocks on Ilkley moor. Almost like giant mushrooms which have been squished, these two stones are close to the village of Silsden.
Their shape is caused by the top being made of hard gritstone whilst the lower part is a softer sandstone more susceptible to erosion.
This is a very pretty spot at sunset and is one of the best places to visit on Ilkley moor.
11. Great Skirtful of Stones on Ilkley Moor
Those interested in prehistoric history are spoilt for choice of things to see on Ilkley moor! The Great skirtful of Stones are the remains of an old burial mound. The size of this site is impressive at about 26 metres in diameter.
This giant cairn has several theories surrounding it, but my personal favourite is a tale about a local giant. It seems we have giants to thank for many natural and old wonders such as the giant’s causeway in northern Ireland!
One version of how the Great skirtful of stones was created is due to an argument between the local giant, Rombald and his wife. The wife of Rombald was carrying stones in her apron and as they argued she dropped a few. Hence the mention of skirt in the name!
Best time of year to visit Ilkley Moor
Ilkley moor is a great place to visit year-round!
In spring it can still be a little boggy and muddy but the moor is quieter and feels even wilder than normal.
In early summer, cotton grass dances across the moor as its pretty little white tufts sway merrily in the wind. Children enjoy paddling in the little brooks, climbers make the most of the dry weather and can be seen bouldering. In late summer, Ilkley moor turns purple. A huge carpet of violet heather takes over the green for a brief period. Who needs to go to a lavender farm when there are fields of heather in Yorkshire!? Just watch out for the midges as they tend to attack after wet weather when it is still warm. We were chased off the moors once as the little beasts would not leave us alone!
In autumn the heather leaves and the brisk wind makes for refreshing walks.
Winter on Ilkley moor can be a very magical experience as the moorland occasionally turns white with snow. Be careful hiking in winter as it can be much easier to get lost when the paths are covered in snow.
Climbing on Ilkley Moor
Those who like climbing and bouldering will enjoy a visit to Ilkley moor.
There are several places to climb and boulder on Ilkley moor. The main climbing spots on Ilkley moor are the Cow & Calf rocks and Ilkley quarry.
You cannot miss the Cow & Calf as you head up to the moor from Ilkley. There are several tricky routes on these rocks.
To the left of the cow rock is Ilkley quarry. There are lots of routes here to try.
Best walks on Ilkley Moor
Ilkley moor is a fantastic place for walkers! Most walkers head up to the moor and make their own routes. However, if you do like a set route, there are several great walks on Ilkley moor.
If you do decide to just explore, please stick to the paths to stop unnecessary footpath erosion and protect the flora.
12 Apostles Stone Circle & Rombald summit walk
A classic Ilkley moor walk which is perfect for first time visitors and families is the 12 apostles walk. This walk is around 6 miles from the Cow & Calf and will take you around 3-4 hours to complete. It is a great walk with epic views, a stone circle and a summit!
Doubler Stones Walk on Ilkley Moor
The Doubler stones walk is an easy walk on Ilkley moor which takes you past the two strange doubler stones.
You could make it longer by doing the Silsden circular. See the full 15-mile route here!
Rombalds Moor Circular
If you fancy a day of exploring Rombald’s moor, why not try and walk the circumference of the moor?
On Ilkley Moor baht’at
This would not be an ultimate guide to Ilkley moor without mentioning its famous anthem!
“On Ilkley Moor baht’at” is a famous folk song all about a visit to Ilkley moor. The title translates into “On Ilkley Moor without a hat”. The black humour lyrics warn of a story that if you go on Ilkley moor without a hat you will catch a cold and die. Then a cycle begins where worms are used to say that they will eat you when you are in the ground and that ducks will eat the worms until the writers of the song will eat the ducks.
It is believed that the song refers to a choir walking trip where various members would go into the heather to do a “little bit of courting”. Apparently one choir member was very taken with his young lady that he somehow forgot his hat when he got back to the group and the group then made fun of this chap. Choir outings would consist of lots of singing so it seems believable that this is how the song started.
What Yorkshirefolk will not like to hear however is that the tune itself actually comes from Devon. It was a church song tune but the choir outing on Ilkley moor decided to put their own lyrics to it. Do not tell a Yorkshireman that the tune is not actually from Yorkshire!
Nevertheless, On Ilkley moor baht’at is the unofficial Yorkshire anthem and is beloved throughout the region. Aside from Auld san lune, it is the most popular dialect folk song in Britain.
Safety Tips for Ilkley Moor
You need to be careful when visiting Ilkley moor just like you would on any other moor.
Pay attention to the weather, it can get very foggy on the moor reducing visibility. In snow, the paths can be hard to spot. Make sure you have a map and compass as a back up to a mobile app in these conditions.
Fires can be a problem in dry weather, generally due to the carelessness of visitors sadly. Again, stay alert and get to safety if you see a blaze.
Lyme disease is a disease transmitted by ticks. Although rare, you can reduce your chances of getting a tick by wearing long trousers and long sleeves.
Wildlife on Ilkley Moor
Ilkley moor is a fantastic habitat for many types of wildlife. Did you know that heather moorland is one of the rarest environments in the world and 90 per cent of it is here in the UK?
If you wonder what wildlife you may spot during your trip to Ilkley moor, the friends of Ilkley moor state that the following fauna can be found on Ilkley moor!
Amphibians on Ilkley moor:
Insects on Ilkley Moor:
- Green Hairstreak Butterflies
Birds on Ilkley moor:
- Meadow Pipits
- Red Grouse
- the Merlin
- Golden Plover
- House Martins
- Carrion Crows
- Small owls
Where to stay near Ilkley Moor
There are a few places to stay near Ilkley Moor. You can stay in the wonderful spa town of Ilkley itself. Alternatively, you could stay on the other side of the moor or in the nearby city of Leeds. Use the booking.com tool below to find the perfect place to stay for your visit to Ilkley moor!
More things to do near Ilkley Moor
There are many wonderful things to do in Yorkshire near Ilkley moor. The city of Leeds has many great things to see such as the arcades, the corn exchange, the town hall etc. For more outdoorsy things to do near Ilkley moor you can head into the Yorkshire Dales! There are many wonderful walks in the Yorkshire Dales, or for those who don’t like hiking check out this Yorkshire Dales 1-day itinerary for non-hikers! For the real adventurers among you, why don’t you kayak on the Leeds Liverpool canal?!
Would you like to visit Ilkley Moor?
I hope this Ilkley Moor travel guide has helped you plan your visit to Ilkley Moor. There are many great things to do on Ilkley Moor and every time you visit Ilkley Moor you will discover more! Have you been to Ilkley Moor? If not, would you like to visit Ilkley Moor? Let us know in the comments below!