Ilkley Moor is a stunning expanse of open moorland: shrouded in mist in the early morning it has an eerie presence which, in the sun, transforms into a glorious adult’s playground comprising of gullies, boulders (including the famous Cow and Calf and the aptly-named Stone Circle), rocky outcrops and streams.
Lying less than twenty miles to the north of Leeds, Ilkley Moor is the perfect escape for those seeking refuge from the buzzing metropolis of England’s third-largest city. In a bid to escape the realities of final year, my housemates and I ventured to Ilkley. Armed with the trusty Landranger 104 OS map (and leftover scones from the previous day’s afternoon tea) we set off . . . into the fog. Gossamer covered the bushes and plants as we made our way up and onto the plateau.
At White Wells, we stopped to explore the historic spa baths before continuing over the moor, chasing the intermittent patches of blue sky across the open heath.
Luckily, as time wore on the weather (as indicated by the BBC) improved: the fog and clouds gave way to clear blue skies and incredible panoramic views.
Our hike led us along stone paths and small trails through the heather, across a shooting range and into close contact with the local residents, aka sheep.
For the most part, it’s a well-signposted area, with numerous trails winding their way across the moor; to make the most out of your trip, a map is essential as navigating the moors can be difficult if the clouds roll in. If you err off course, on days with good visibility it’s not difficult to wend your way back to your intended destination. As autumn draws us closer to winter, the landscape begins to undergo a dramatic transformation: the vivacious greens of summer become vibrant hues of amber, gold and russet.
Ilkley Moor is a postcard-perfect landscape, offering aerial views of the surrounding towns and villages, alongside vistas of the nearby national park, the Yorkshire Dales.
Extensive stretches of heather are home to grouse and other mysterious furry creatures; we caught a glimpse of something which we couldn’t conclusively identify before it scurried away into the undergrowth.
For any tired walkers, the perfect place to end a walk is the Cow & Calf, a Vintage Inns pub located near the boulders of the same name. Often, you’ll see climbers bouldering on the rocks or learning the ropes of abseiling and rock climbing.
Ilkley itself is a picturesque town and one of quintessential British charm. It’s home to dozens of little cafés, including the well-reputed Betty’s, traditional sweet shops, and independent boutiques. If you find yourself in the Leeds area, don’t miss the chance to experience one of the best day trips around.
* I urge any utterly confused readers to check out the Yorkshire “county anthem” (titled “Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at”) on YouTube, for which Ilkley Moor was the inspiration.