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Ilkley Moor and the Cow and Calf Rocks: The Ultimate Guide

Ilkley Moor and the Cow and Calf Rocks: The Ultimate Guide

Ilkley Moor is a well-known moorland located just south of the spa town of Ilkley in West Yorkshire. Being a site of special scientific interest, you’ll find incredible wildlife and natural scenery here. Ilkley Moor is famous for many reasons, one being the impressive Cow and Calf Rocks, which can be found near the abandoned Ilkley Quarry. In this guide, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about visiting the stunning Ilkley Moor. In particular, we’re going to focus on, what we think, is the best Ilkley Moor walk.

For completeness though, we’ll cover details about all of the best walks on Ilkley Moor. Then, we’ll detail everything else about Ilkley Moor, including information about other things to do in the area, history, how to get there, where to eat and where to stay. We’ll also answer a bunch of FAQs.

About Ilkley Moor

Ilkley Moor is part of the larger Rombald’s Moor, which is the moorland located between the towns of Ilkley and Keighley. Truly, Ilkley Moor is so diverse in what it offers. You’ll find breathtaking, wild and windswept scenery at Ilkley Moor, which is best explored by doing a walk. You’ll find amazing natural landmarks, such as the famous Cow and Calf Rocks. Given the natural landscape, you’ll find the moors are an incredible habitat for birdlife. So, there’s plenty on offer for twitchers.

But, there are also prehistoric rock carvings and ancient monuments to find on Ilkley Moor. Yes, there’s something for everyone. Indeed, it’s the perfect place to explore if you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Leeds, Bradford or any other city or town in the UK!

Read about nearby Otley Chevin

Beck doing the Ilkley Moor Walk, near the Cow and Calf Rocks.

Ilkley Moor Location: Map

Ilkley Moor is located in West Yorkshire in the north of England. For your reference, please click on the image below to access an interactive map on Google Maps.

A map of Ilkley Moor and the Cow and Calf Rocks

The Best Ilkley Moor Walk: Cow and Calf Rocks and the Twelve Apostles Walk

One of the best ways to explore Ilkley Moor is by doing a walk. But, there are so many different Ilkley Moor walks to choose from. Of course, this isn’t a problem. It’s a reason to keep coming back to visit – to explore new trails. Of course, if you just have one day, or just the morning or afternoon to do an Ilkley Moor Walk, then we’ve got, in our humble opinion, the best walk for you to do.

Basically, it’s a combination of trails, which allow you to explore the natural and ancient highlights of Ilkley Moor. This includes exploring Ilkley Quarry, the Cow and Calf Rocks, the Twelve Apostles, White Wells and the Tarn (AKA Ilkley Tarn).

The Best Ilkley Moor Walk Details

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 10.10km
  • Time: 2.5–4 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 275m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead/Parking: Cow and Calf Rocks Car Park (AKA Ilkley Moor Car Park)
  • Ilkley Moor parking postcode: LS29 8BT
  • Map: Wikiloc

Ilkley Moor Walk Description

In the trail description below, we’ll point out the highlights of the best Ilkley Moor Walk!

Dan on an Ilkley Moor walk, near the Cow and Calf Rocks

Ilkley Moor Cow and Calf Rocks

Starting at the Cow and Calf Rocks Car Park, you’ll follow a path heading towards the disused Ilkley Quarry. To the right, you’ll find the famous Cow and Calf at Ilkley Moor. Also known as the Ilkley Rocks, the Cow and Calf is a large rock formation consisting of an outcrop and a single boulder. Made of millstone grit, the large outcrop is thought to resemble a cow and the single small rock beneath it, is thought to resemble a calf. The Cow and Calf Rocks are thought to be reminiscent of a cow sheltering her calf.

Of course, the Cow and Calf Rocks are an awesome attraction. But, honestly speaking, Beck and I were just as blown away by the surrounding abandoned Ilkley Quarry. Feel free to explore the former quarry, by walking through the huge gap in the rock formation.

Twelve Apostles

After exploring the Cow and Calf Rocks, it’s time to continue this Ilkley Moor walk. Heading in a clockwise direction, you’ll head south, with an option to visit the summit of Cranshaw Thorn Hill. From there, you’ll continue south through the dense moorlands, crossing Backstone Beck. Soon, you’ll arrive at a stone circle called the Twelve Apostles. The stones are believed to date back to the Bronze Age (2,000BC)! Although, the stones have been tampered with quite a bit in the last century. So, there’s a lot of uncertainty about their origin and history.

After checking out the Twelve Apostles, it’s time to head west across the moorland. You’ll enjoy mostly even terrain, which gently undulates. Eventually, you’ll turn right, following Keighley Road. As you approach the northern outskirts of the moor, you’ll turn right again, heading towards White Wells. It’s an old spa bath, which was built around 1700!

After scoping out White Wells, you’ll continue back towards the Cow and Calf Rocks, passing by the charming body of water called the Tarn. You’ll then pass a monument called the Stanza Stone Beck, which is a stone carved with poems written by Simon Armitage. Finally, you’ll pass by the Cow and Calf Rocks (for the second time if you explored them earlier), before reaching the car park, signalling the end of your Ilkley Moor Walk!

Beck on a walk on Ilkley Moor
Cranshaw Thorn Hill

Walking Ilkley Moor: Other Ilkley Moor Walks

There are many different Ilkley Moor walks to choose from. Let’s go through some of the other popular Ilkley Moor walks below.

The Peak of Ilkley Moor and Twelve Apostles

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 8.5km
  • Time: 2.5–4 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 265m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead/Parking: White Wells Car Park
  • Map: AllTrails

This walk is very similar to the Ilkley Moor walk discussed in this guide. The main difference is that you’ll start at the White Wells Car Park, which means you won’t visit the Cow and Calf Rocks.

Twelve Apostles and the Eastern Ilkley Moor Walk

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 5.65km
  • Time: 1.5–2.5 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 155m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead/Parking: Cow and Calf Rocks Car Park
  • Map: AllTrails

This walk is also known as the shorter Cow and Calf Rocks circular walk. Essentially, you’ll see the Cow and Calf Rocks and the Twelve Apostles. Then, instead of heading west, you’ll head east, exploring more of Burley Moor.

White Wells Walk

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 3.9km
  • Time: 1–2 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 150m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead/Parking: Cow and Calf Rocks Car Park
  • Map: AllTrails

This is another shorter circular walk, which starts at the Cow and Calf Rocks. Instead of heading deep into the moorlands, you’ll simply do a short loop, visiting White Wells and Ilkley Tarn.

Hebers Ghyll Waterfall Walk

  • Type: Loop
  • Distance: 4.35km
  • Time: 1.5–2.5 hours
  • Accumulated elevation gain: 110m
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead/Parking: White Wells Car Park
  • Map: Wikiloc

Hebers Ghyll is a waterfall that you can explore at the northern end of the moors. You’ll pass by Panorama Reservoir and see Hebers Gyll.

Bonus tip – make sure to walk a little further to see the Swastika Stone on Woodhouse Crag. Given erosion, the history and origins of this marked stone remain uncertain.

Other Ilkley Moor Heritage Walks

Of course, there are many other Ilkley Moor walks you can do. If you’re keen on doing official heritage walks, then check out Friends of Ilkley Moor. They list five specific heritage walks, which include the following.

  • Crawshaw Moss and Neolithic Sites
  • Cow and Calf Rocks
  • White Wells Moorland
  • Twelve Apostles and Beyond
  • Cup and Ring Stones GPS Trail

Essentially, the Cow and Calf Rocks, White Wells Moorland and Twelve Apostles and Beyond walks are essentially very similar walks to the ones already discussed in this guide.

Perhaps, the Crawshaw Moss and Neolithic Sites and Cup and Ring Stones GPS Trail are more historical trails, than natural trails, which we haven’t covered in any great detail in this guide. In particular, the Cup and Ring Stones walk is a fascinating trail that explores some of the 400 known rock carvings. For more information about these historical trails, check out Friends of Ilkley Moor.

Other Things to Do at Ilkley Moor

Other than walking, there are plenty of other things to do at Ilkley Moor. Let’s look at the other most popular activities to do at these moors.

Ducks in a pond
The Tarn
Running: Ilkley Moor Fell Race

You’ll find quite a few trail runners, doing their thing at Ilkley Moor. You could simply run the walking trails already discussed, or, combine a few trails for a more challenging run. We’ve heard the Burley Bridge Circular and the Ilkley Moor Explore routes are the best long-distance running trails.

You’ve also got the Ilkley Moor Fell Race, which is organised by the Ilkley Harriers Running Club. It’s become a popular event since it began in 1990. For more information, click here.

Rock Climbing

The gritstone boulders that make Ilkley Moor famous are also the reason why rock climbing is popular there. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, there should be a climbing route suitable to challenge you! Indeed, many climbers visit to take on the challenge of climbing the Cow and Calf Rocks.

Birdwatching on the Moorland

Ilkley Moor is a rare moorland conservation area, which forms part of the South Pennine Special Protection Area. One of the reasons for the area’s conservation is the amazing birdlife that lives there. If you’re a birdwatcher, then you’ll definitely be in your element. Expect to find red grouse and short-eared owls. Whilst there have been plenty of other birds spotted at these moors too!

Writing Poems

The moors have become a famous spot for writers and poets to draw inspiration. If you fancy dabbling in some poetry, that’s inspired by the moors, feel free to leave your work at the Poem Post Box located by Poetry Seat.

Ilkley Moor History, Myths, Legends and Events

Ilkley Moor is famous for many things. Other than its natural beauty, the moor has a rich and fascinating history. Let’s dive into some of the most interesting fun facts, stories, myths and legends of these West Yorkshire moorlands.

Dan stands by a historical building
White Wells
World War I and II

Given the robustness and toughness of the terrain on the moorland, it was used as a military training base during both World War I and World War II.

Music

On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at (On Ilkley Moor without a hat) is a famous folk song by Bill Oddie. Also known as the Ilkley Moor song, it’s sung in the Yorkshire dialect, so it’s unofficially considered the anthem of Yorkshire. If you want to know more about the song, you’ll find the Ilkley Moor lyrics here, which include a helpful comparison of the Yorkshire dialect used with standardized English. Feel free to listen to the song here.

UFO Spotting

One of the main myths and legends at the moors was that it was the site of a UFO spotting. In 1987, retired policeman Phillip Spencer claimed to have spotted an alien and a UFO, whilst taking a walk on Ilkley Moor.

New Years Dip

You may have seen the New Year’s Dip tradition increasing in popularity across the UK. Basically, on New Year’s Day, brave souls swim in freezing cold winter waters to raise money for various charities and fundraising efforts. The plunge pool at White Wells has become a popular destination for this New Year’s Dip tradition.

Useful Information

Now you know exactly where to walk and what to do at Ilkley Moor. Let’s go through some practical tips to help you plan your visit to the sublime moorlands.

How to Get to Ilkley Moor (Directions)

The easiest and quickest way to get to Ilkley is to drive there yourself. You can find free parking at both the Cow and Calf Car Park and the White Wells Car Park. Which car park you choose will be dependent on what you have planned.

If you don’t have your own set of wheels, we recommend hiring a car.

Car Hire

DiscoverCars.com

If you don’t have your own car, you should hire one using Discover Cars. Personally, we use Discover Cars and highly recommend them for finding your ideal car hire at an affordable price. Booking online is super easy and the free cancellation policy is great.

To find out more about renting a car with Discover Cars, read our Discover Cars review and Discover Cars Insurance review.

It’s also possible to use public transport to get to Ilkley. From Leeds and Bradford, you can take a fairly quick train. We recommend using Google Maps or Trainline to plan your journey.

Booking Trains

Trainline

Trainline is one of the best online platforms for booking trains. By using Trainline, you can easily find the best available prices and times for your journey. We always use Trainline to book our train journeys in the UK and in Europe.

Although, personally, we don’t recommend using public transport to get to Ilkley, as it may be a slow and tedious journey, depending on where you’re travelling from. Certainly, it’s best to drive to Ilkley yourself.

Amenities and Facilities

At the Cow and Calf Car Park, you’ll find the Cow and Calf Cafe. There, you’ll find toilets, food and drinks. The cafe is generally open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday and from 9am to 7pm on weekends. Otherwise, you won’t find any facilities or amenities on the moorlands themselves. So, be prepared!

Where to Eat

If you’re looking for something to eat near the moors, you can’t go past the popular Cow and Calf pub. Indeed, when it comes to Ilkley Moor pubs, The Cow and Calf is the obvious go-to option.

The Cow and Calf

Located just a stone’s throw away from the Cow and Calf Rocks, you’ll find the Cow and Calf pub on Hangingstone Road. Certainly, the Cow and Calf establishment is the ideal place to go for refreshments after exploring the moors. We highly recommend heading there for a hearty English meal or simply a pint after scoping out the moors.

Where to Stay

If you’re looking for a place to stay near Ilkley Moor, then we highly recommend The Cow & Calf by Innkeeper’s Collection, which is located next to the Cow and Calf pub. Given its prime location, facing opposite the moors and next to the Cow and Calf pub, the lodge is very popular. This 19th-century lodge comes highly rated with rave reviews.

Book The Cow & Calf by Innkeeper’s Collection

A room in a hotel
  • Excellent location next to the pub and Ilkley Moor
  • Superb breakfast available at on-site restaurant
  • Free private parking at hotel

Places to Visit Nearby in the Yorkshire Dales

If you want to see more natural scenery in Yorkshire, then you’ll have to explore Yorkshire Dales National Park. Below, we’ve listed some of the best walks in the Yorkshire Dales.

FAQs

Below, you’ll find the most frequently asked questions about Ilkley Moor.

The Tarn at Ilkley Moor
The Tarn

Where Is Ilkley Moor?

It’s located in west Yorkshire in the north of England. For more information, read this section.

Is Ilkley Moor in the Yorkshire Dales?

Yes, the moors are technically located within the borders of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Which of the Seasons is the Best Time to Visit?

Well, this really comes down to personal preference. If there’s been a dusting of snow, in winter, the moors are truly breathtaking to visit. But, of course, August is also a wonderful time to visit because in late summer the vibrant purple heather is in bloom and covers much of the moors in a purple blanket.

Is Ilkley Moor Always Open?

Yes, the moors are always open. Access will only be closed during rare circumstances such as the presence of wildfires.

Is Ilkley Moor Car Park Always Open?

Yes, the car park is always open. Please note that it quickly fills, particularly on the weekend and during summer. Thankfully, there’s usually street-side parking on Hangingstone Road.

Is Ilkley Moor Muddy?

Yes, the moors can become extremely muddy and boggy. This is particularly true during winter. So, be prepared!

How Big Is Ilkley Moor?

The moor is roughly 1,670 acres.

How High Is Ilkley Moor?

It reaches 402 metres above sea level.

Is Camping Permitted on Ilkley Moor?

No.

Can I Ride a Bike on Ilkley Moor?

Because of the Law of Property Act 1925, vehicles such as bikes aren’t permitted on the moors.

​​​​​​​Can You Drive Up Ilkley Moor?

No.

Can You Volunteer on Ilkley Moor?

Yes, Friends of Ilkley Moor is a voluntary group and registered charity that works closely with Bradford Metropolitan Borough Council and Natural England. The group organises volunteering days to assist with the conservation of the moors.

Who Owns Ilkley Moor?

It’s owned by the Bradford City Council.

What Is Ilkley Moor Famous For?

It’s famous for many things, as you’ve discovered by reading this guide. But, it’s probably most famous for the Cow and Calf Rocks as well as the On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at song.

How to Find Out More

The Ilkley Tourist Information Centre is located here in Town Hall on Station Road in Ilkley (LS29 8HB). The information centre is open between 1 May and 30 September from Monday to Saturday, between 9:30am and 4:30pm. It’s closed on Sundays. If you have any questions about visiting, feel free to give the friendly folks at the visitor centre a call on 01943 602 319.

Gear Essentials For the Ilkley Moor Walk

These are our hiking gear essentials for this walk.

Osprey Skarab 30
Osprey Skarab 30

The Osprey Skarab 30 is our go-to hiking backpack for day hikes. This well-designed unisex backpack is comfortable and spacious, so you’ll have plenty of space to pack everything without feeling the strain on your upper back.

Osprey Ultralight Raincover
Osprey Ultralight Raincover

A waterproof backpack cover is an absolute must when you’re adventuring outdoors. The Osprey Ultralight Raincover Medium is a high-quality waterproof cover that’ll keep your backpack bone dry.

GRAYL Reusable Water Bottle
GRAYL Reusable Water Bottle

The GRAYL GeoPress is the best water filter bottle that allows you to purify 710mL (12 ounces) of water. This bottle will make water safe to drink wherever you’re hiking.

BUFF Original Ecostretch
BUFF Original Ecostretch

The BUFF Original Ecostretch is a great option when it comes to multifunctional headwear. We use the Ecostretch as a neck gaiter to keep the sun off our necks and it helps us keep warm in cooler climates.

Sony Cybershot RX100 VII
Sony Cybershot RX100 VII

Capture epic photos and videos with the Sony Cybershot RX100 VII. This is hands-down the best compact camera. We love using this simple point-and-shoot camera when we’re hiking as it’s lightweight and durable.

To find out more about all of the gear that we use and recommend, read our guides about our favourite hiking gear, travel gear and camera gear. Otherwise, read our comprehensive travel packing checklist.

Other Yorkshire Dales Guides

Hardraw Force

For more information about the best things to do in the Yorkshire Dales, click the button below. Otherwise, to help you get started, read our 42 Best Yorkshire Dales Walks or 48 Best Yorkshire Dales Waterfalls guides.

Best Villages to See in the Yorkshire Dales

Bonus Tips

  • All of the Ilkley Moor walks are family-friendly: the kids should be fine to take on any of the walks discussed in this guide. Of course, you’ll be the best judge to know your child’s ability when it comes to walking!
  • Visit early: to avoid the crowds at the Cow and Calf Rocks and to enjoy a quieter trail on the moors, visit early in the morning.
  • Explore other nearby national parks: don’t just stop at the Yorkshire Dales. Head to the beautiful Lake District (guides coming soon) or North York Moors National Park.

Please leave us a comment below, we’d love to hear from you.

Daniel Piggott

Physiotherapist turned travel blogger, Dan is a keen hiker, natural wonder seeker and world traveller. He loves writing travel guides to help his readers explore the most beautiful destinations in the world.

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