Lower Wharfedale – Cow and Calf Rocks and Ilkley Moor

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The Yorkshire Dales is an upland area of Northern England spanning westwards from the Vale of York, over the Pennines and into Cumbria. Known mainly as The Dales it has outstanding scenery, a diversity of wildlife habitats, a rich cultural heritage and peacefulness. The Yorkshire Dales National Park, created in 1954 and one of fifteen National Parks in Britain, has over twenty main dales each with their own unique character and atmosphere. Most of the dales are named after their river or stream except Wensleydale which is named after the small village and former market town of Wensley rather than the River Ure. The Northern Dales are rugged and the Southern Dales are less remote but the dales, so beautiful, are littered and scared with ancient settlement sites, disused mineral workings, dry-stone walls and barns. The U and V shaped valleys, formed by glaciers, are mainly grazed by sheep and cattle and provides the hills for walkers and climbers and the valley bottoms for strollers and amblers.

Wharfedale is a beautiful lush green valley in the Yorkshire Dales of North Yorkshire running from north to south. It is one of the longest valleys in The Dales evolving near the villages of Cray and Buckden in Upper Wharfedale where the meandering River Wharfe and the rocky limestone outcrops, give this dale a different type of attractiveness to other dales valleys. Wharfe is a Celtic name meaning “twisting, winding”. The valley from Upper Wharfedale to Lower Wharfedale takes in some of the most prettiest and popular Dales villages, such as Starbotton, Kettlewell, Conistone, Kilnsey, Grassington, Bolton Abbey, Hebden, Ilkley, Burley-in-Wharfedale, Otley, Pool-in-Wharfedale, Arthington, Collingham before opening out into the Vale of York beyond Wetherby.

The River Wharfe for its first 15 miles heads east from its source the confluence of Oughtershaw Beck and Green Field Beck near Beckermonds in Langstrothdale. It then heads south, into Wharfedale, and south eastwards for a further 45 miles before it enters the River Ouse at Wharfe’s Mouth near Cawood. The section from the river’s source to Addingham below Grassington and Threshfield is known as Upper Wharfedale and lies in North Yorkshire and in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Below Addingham where the dale broadens and turns eastwards this section is shared between North Yorkshire and West Yorkshire which includes the towns of Ilkley, Otley and Wetherby and is known as Lower Wharfedale. The river flows through many gills and over the waterfalls of Scar Lash near Conistone, Linton Falls near Grassington and the Strid at Bolton Abbey it is also a public navigation from the weir at Tadcaster to its junction with the River Ouse and tidal from Ulleskelf.

Ilkley is a spa town which lies mainly on the south bank of the River Wharfe in Lower Wharfedale and situated in West Yorkshire at the southern edge of the Yorkshire Dales. The river running from west to east through the northern part of Ilkley is crossed by four bridges, a 16th century three arched stone bridge which is now closed to traffic, a19th century single span wrought iron bridge, a suspension bridge for pedestrians only and a prefabricated steel arched box girder bridge. There are also a set of concrete stepping stones over the river. The spa town’s heritage of Victorian architecture, wide streets and floral displays and the surrounding countryside of Ilkley Moor all play an important part in tourism. Ilkley’s town centre has a good selection of shops including Bettys the famous Yorkshire tea room and Lishman’s of Ilkley an award winning butcher shop whose owner became one of Rick Stein’s superheroes in 2003. The Victorian parades of The Grove and Brook Street have a selection of speciality shops and the original Victorian arcade has been restored as an indoor shopping walkway with a fountain and hanging baskets. There is a museum and art gallery situated in the Manor House which is one of the town’s oldest buildings and there is also the Ilkley Toy Museum, a Victorian bath house, indoor and outdoor swimming pools and outdoor tennis courts at Ilkley’s Lido and also Darwin Gardens a Millennium Green which commemorates the town’s links with English naturalist Charles Darwin. Ilkley is home to the annual Ilkley Literature Festival the largest and oldest literary festival in the north of England and also the Ilkley Music Festival and the Airedale Symphony Orchestra. In 1984 the British comedy film “A Private Function” written by Allan Bennett was filmed in Ilkley and the adjacent village of Ben Rhydding and in 2003 was used as one of the locations in another comedy film “Calendar Girls”.

Ilkley is the starting point of the Long Distance Footpath the Dales Way and the finishing point of the Ebor Way. The Dales Way ending in Bowness-on-Windermere in Cumbria passes through the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Lake District National Park. The 84 mile route, being mostly along river valleys, is shorter and less strenuous than the more well known Pennine Way and Coast to Coast Walk even though the first section in Upper Wharfedale from the Watershed at Cam Houses in Langstrothdale down into Ribblesdale is very steep going, up and down. The next section follows the river valleys of Dentdale, the River Mint and River Kent before descending to the shores of Windermere. The Ebor Way is 70 miles long and takes its name from Eboracum the Roman name for York and was first developed in the 1970’s by the Ebor Acorn Rambling Club. It runs from Helmsley, at the connection with the Cleveland Way, through the low-lying vale of York via Tadcaster and Wetherby and connects with the Dales Way a few miles after the grounds of Harewood House. From Hemsley the Ebor Way heads south to Hovingham and Strensall then follows the River Foss into the centre of York passing the Minster. It then skirts York via the north and west sides of the city walls and leaves on the west bank of the River Ouse heading west away from the river too Bishopthorpe and Copmanthorpe before picking the route of the old Roman roan between Eboracum and Calcaria where the route now crosses the A64, please divert and use the new bridge at Bilbrough Top it is much safer, and continues into Tadcaster. From Tadcaster the Ebor Way mainly follows the banks of the River Wharfe, with deviations through Newton Kyme and Thorp Arch, through Boston Spa to Wetherby. The route then heads south through Linton and meanders westwards before crossing the River Wharfe to Harewood and through the grounds of Harewood House the route is then joined by the Dales Way, where they both mostly take the same route, then continues through Bramhope and The Chevin before dropping into Menston and then climbing up to Ilkley Moor for the wildest part of the route. The route follows the edge of the moor then descends via the Cow and Calf into the centre of Ilkley. The Bradford Millennium Way which also passes over Ilkley Moor is a 45 mile circular walk taking in much of the countryside that surrounds Bradford and was devised by five volunteers from Bradford Countryside Service as a way for Bradford to commemorate the new millennium.

Ilkley Moor situated above Ilkley is part of Rombalds Moor and is the moorland between Ilkley and Keighley at a height of 402 meters (1319 feet). The moor is designated as a national Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and also forms part of the South Pennine Moors Special Protection Area (SPA) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC). Ilkley Moor is known as “Baht’ at” country and famous for its Yorkshire national anthem, a folk song “On Ilkla Moor Baht’ at” which warns in explicit detail the potentially dire consequences of visiting Ilkley Moor “Baht’ at” meaning without a hat. The Cow and Calf Rocks, also known as Hangingstone Rocks, is situated at Ilkley Quarry high on Ilkley Moor and is a famous large rock formation consisting of an outcrop and boulder made of millstone grit and a variety of sandstone. The large and small rock formations sit close together resembling a cow and calf, hence the name. Apparently there was also once a bull and was quarried for stone during the town’s boom in the 19th century but local historians have no evidence of its existence. The rocks are popular with rock climbers, walkers and tourists. Legend is the calf was split from the Cow when the giant Rombald was fleeing an enemy and stamped on the rock as he leapt across the valley. The enemy was said to be his angry wife and she dropped the stones held in her skirt which formed the nearby rock formation The Skirtful of Stones. The Great Skirtful of Stones is a giant tomb one of the moors major prehistoric sites which has been dug out over the years and now looks more like a volcano with a sunken middle. Other features of the moor is the Twelve Apostles Stone Circle a druidical stone circle constructed 2000 years ago, Ilkley Tarn, the bath house at White Wells and many prehistoric rock carvings such as the Swastika Stone dating back to either the bronze or the iron age and “cup and ring” patterns as seen on the Panorama Stone.

The Cow and Calf Rock Cafe situated in the car park has been a family run business for over 20 years starting off as a humble kiosk offering hot drinks and refreshments. Just down the road is the 19th century Cow and Calf country pub and restaurant with rural charm and rustic character. It has thirteen comfy en-suite rooms with complimentary continental buffet breakfast and serves hearty seasonal pub food, carefully natured cask ales and fine wines. In 1844 this classic Victorian building was the site of the country’s first hydropathic hotel, The Benrhydding, and in 1873 it became a private residence called Highfield House then in 1949 it became a boarding house.

The Walk

We park in the car park at the Cow and Calf Rocks and walk up the stone path to the quarry then climb up onto the top of the rocks for the fabulous views. We walk round the edge of the quarry turning left and continue straight forward on the combined path the Dales Way and the Ebor Way parallel with the road. At a cross roads of paths we head straight forward and when level with the Cow and Calf pub on our left we bear right on the path going uphill. We walk along the edge and soon pass a small quarry to meet a wall. When we come to the end of the wall on our left and we head forwards for a short way then with Barks Crag on the left we turn right up the gully with a stream. We make our way uphill following to the right of the stream until we come to a holly tree where we cross the stream and walk up the path bearing left. At the track we turn right the gully and stream now down on our right. We keep following the track and when we see a sign post on the right we bear left and head forwards to a flat wooden bridge we are now following the signposts of the Millennium Way. We notice a large pond (Lower Lanshaw Dam) on the left and keep heading forwards on Burley Moor until we see a shooting hut on the left and meet a track. (Great Skirtful of Stones is further to the left past the shooting hut.) We cross the track to the big boulders the sign post is slightly to the right and bearing slightly to the left we head across the Moor towards a reservoir in the distance. We pass some grouse butts in the ground then walk parallel to a wall on our left. We then follow the fence on our left, crossing over a bit of a stream, until we come to a wall in front of us and a stile in the fence on the left. We go over the stile to take a quick look at the boundary stone or pillar with the inscription Horncliffe Well. We then go over the stile in the wall and turn right, leaving the Millennium Way, and follow the track to go through a gate in the wall on the right. We follow the faint grass track heading away from the wall until we meet a track, the Dales Way Link. We bear right and follow the link passing the Twelve Apostles Stone Circle then at the footpath sign we keep heading forwards downhill on the stone slabs. We go down into a dip and back up the other side and keep heading forwards until we see a clump of trees on the left and a quarry down below we turn right here and follow the path round the edge of Ilkley Crags. We turn left off the crags on the path going downhill to the gap in the rocks in the distance. We are now back at the Cow and Calf Rocks and make our way down the path to the car park.


This is a moderate walk on grass paths and tracks over moorland. There are some moderate inclines and declines.
Elevation: lowest point 241.70 metres (793 feet) highest point 381.70 metres (1252.3 feet)

Distance and Start Point

Approx 6.25 miles allow 2 hours 40 minutes using OS map 297, Lower Wharfedale & Washburn Valley, Harrogate and Ilkley Moor.
Start point: Car park at Cow and Calf Rocks.


Cow and Calf Rocks situated above Ilkley in Lower Wharfedale in the Yorkshire Dales.

Directions and Parking

From the A1(M) take junction 47 onto the A59 and at the roundabout go straight over onto the A658 to Pool. After leaving Pool take the A660 to Otley. Go straight over two roundabouts in Otley still on the A660. Then go straight over the next two roundabouts heading on the A65 to Ilkley. On entering Ilkley take the B6382 on left into Wheatley Lane and follow the road onto Bolling Road then turn left onto Wheatley Road. At the end turn onto Ben Rhydding Road right then immediately left on to Cowpasture Road and continue onto Hangingstone Road. Car park is on the right, free parking.

Toilets and Refreshments

There are public toilets adjacent to the cafe in the Cow and Calf Rocks car park and the Cow and Cafe pub and restaurant is just a little further, on the other side of the road. In the town of Ilkley there are public toilets, shops, pubs, restaurants, cafes and takeaways.

One response to “Cow and Calf Rocks and Ilkley Moor round”

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