It was a return to Ilkley Moor to round off our Leeds trip and unlike last time there wasn’t even the hint of a light shower let alone the deluges which had severely challenged our resolve earlier in the week. In their place was a clear sky and sweltering temperatures as we set off from the Cow and Calf.
These famous millstone grit formations are so-named due to their proximity and size difference though the legend of their creation is somewhat more intriguing. The story goes that they split when the giant Rombald was fleeing an enemy and stamped on the rocky outcrop as he leapt across the valley. That enemy was allegedly his wife! Whatever their origins these rocks have been drawing in the crowds for decades and many are now covered in graffiti, some of it carved to such a high standard that it must have been produced by stonemasons. The more modern stuff is typically vulgar and slapdash but examples dating back well over a hundred years are almost historical documents in themselves.
There were no signs of Red Grouse in the nearby quarry this time around and, for now at least, we had no intention of climbing higher up onto the moor itself. Instead we kept to a relatively steady altitude and followed the valley West. Along the way we passed White Wells, a spa bath dating from around 1700. Originally open to the elements it was later enclosed and survives to this day in the form of a single plunge pool. Such ailments as bad eyes, tumours and sores were all within the healing power of this magical water but in truth an escape from the pollution of Leeds and its factories would have had just as much benefit. No doubt that view would have done wonders for ones soul as well.
Our reason for heading this way would take us even further back in time however, probably to somewhere around the Iron Age. That’s when persons unknown carved a five armed swastika into stone on Woodhouse Crag. The design is unique in Britain and even further afield only the Camunian Rose designs in Italy bear any similarity. What I hadn’t realised at the time is that the well defined carving I photographed is in fact a twentieth century replica. Argh! The real one sits a short distance beyond and sadly didn’t make it into any of my images. We’ll just have to go back.
From Woodhouse Crag we went a bit off-piste and forged a route through the undergrowth which would take us up onto the moor proper. The going was relatively easy with nothing but low growth Heather for as far as the eye could see. In fact that’s all there was to see as almost without exception we didn’t see a bird, animal or even a Butterfly. The intensive management of this area was very obvious with evidence of controlled burning dotting the landscape. Our Short Eared Owl and Marsh Harrier encounter a few days earlier does show that their is life out here but it is far less abundant than nearby untouched areas would suggest should be the norm. Before I start another rant though here’s Cowper’s Cross.
Believed to have been erected to deter local people from travelling to the nearby Badger Stone for spring gatherings it has over the years suffered a series of unfortunate events. From vandalism to lightning strikes the cross has pretty much been destroyed with its upright now formed from an old gate post and is even sited a short distance away from its original placement. Despite such hardship it still makes for a distinctive landmark and signalled our turn back East. Following the boundary fence for another mile or so we soon had in our sights a trig point. You couldn’t find a more different location from our last ‘bag’ on Skomer Island and it also allowed us to help another group of walkers who had ventured out without a map and seemingly no definite idea of the landscape around them. Whenever I’m asked “where does this path head?” I’m often tempted to respond “anywhere in the world” as in truth it does. The other similarly banal question is “how long until we get to <insert location of your choice>?”. How should I know I’ve literally just met you and have no idea how quickly you walk. No wonder our mountain rescue teams are seeing such an upsurge in calls. That so many people want to get out into the countryside is absolutely to be commended but surely it’s not too difficult to go prepared.
I continued to ponder such philosophical questions as we approached the Twelve Apostles. No not the Biblical ones but instead a ring of twelve standing stones measuring some fifteen metres in diameter. The circle actually had between sixteen and twenty stones at one point but several were lost and the remainders were all toppled by the mid twentieth century. Who re-erected them is a mystery but it does at least give a little sense of how this prehistoric site once looked.
The remainder of our walk back to the Cow and Calf proved pretty uneventful. The landscape remained much the same and despite the presence of Grouse shooting butts and us being so close to the start of the Inglorious 12th, it was only once we were nearly at the car that we actually saw our first Red Grouse of the day.
Another five or six birds were nearby but on this basis it makes you wonder what the general population across Ilkley looks like. Wouldn’t it be a shame if the hunters went to all that effort and had to go home empty handed? In fact I will probably write a separate blog on this thorny issue in the next week or so having had a couple of unpleasant experiences whilst walking which I have not yet shared and also with Mark Avery’s much anticipated book “Inglorious” currently working it’s way towards me. It’s not often that an issue provokes me to do more than shake my head in disappointment but conflict in our uplands? Now that’s really got me going.