Ilkley Moor view over Ilkey

Ilkley Moor

A rare moorland conservation area that has a big bird population; lots of walking trails and breathtaking views across the dales

Ilkley Moor stream and blue sky

Ilkley Moor sits below the spa town of Ilkley; a site of special scientific interest due to it’s unique wildlife and habitat. It forms a part of the South Pennines Special Protection Area. It’s a perfect place to appreciate two things that are food for the mind, body and soul – the panoramic views and the walking!

Amongst other things, Ilkley Moor is famous for the Yorkshire anthem “On Ilkley Moor baht ‘at” (On Ilkley Moor without a hat). It is sung in the ‘proper’ Yorkshire dialect, and is considered the unofficial anthem of Yorkshire.

Location Details

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Take a look around

  • Ilkley Moor view over Ilkley
  • Ilkley Moor low shot of stream
  • Ilkley Moor view over Ilkley and clouds
  • Ilkley Moor view over Ilkley
  • Ilkley Moor view over Ilkley and clouds
  • Ilkley Moor trees
  • Ilkley Moor trees and dark sky
  • Ilkley Moor cliff and dark sky
  • Ilkley Moor close up of waterfall and moss
  • Ilkley Moor waterfall and cliff
  • Ilkley Moor view over burnt moor
  • Ilkley Moor poem on rock
  • Ilkley Moor stream

Things to Note

Ilkley Moor has the following on-site or nearby:

  • Nearby Food & Drink
  • Nearby Parking
  • Nearby Toilets


Ilkley Moor is part of the larger Rombald’s Moor. The moor, which rises to 402 m (1,319 feet) above sea level stretches out around the spa town of Ilkley.

Ilkley Moor is a upland habitat, and like many sites like this it’s suffered ecological deterioration due to animal over grazing and the drainage of the blanket bog. This is why the site has been ring fenced under the South Pennines Special Protection area, to prevent further ecological damage.


When visiting in spring it can be boggy and muddy under foot. As early summer swings round the carpet of flora springs into life with a sea of cotton grass dancing across the Moor, and as the summer eclipses this green and white turns to a purple violet. By autumn and winter the heather has left us and the winter rolls in. The desolation and glibness of this period also creates a magical feel to the place, particularly when a sprinkling of snow settles across the Moor.


Things to Do

There’s lots to do and see on Ilkley Moor, here is our top picks when visiting this place of beauty.

Volunteer on Ilkley Moor

Founded in 2008, the Friends of Ilkley Moor are a voluntary group, and registered charity, that tend to the area with the ultimate aim of raising awareness of the site while preserving its natural beauty. The group work closely with Bradford Metropolitan Borough Council and Natural England.

The Friends of Ilkley Moor are always organising a series of volunteer days for the local community to carry out conservation activities – like replanting wildflowers – on Ilkley Moor. Sign-up to volunteer on one of their open volunteer days.

In tandem with the conservation work you can check out guided walks that cover both the practical skills and educational knowledge involved in becoming more connected to Ilkley Moor.

UFO Spotting

The story goes that a retired copper – Phillip Spencer – was walking on the Moor when he spotted what he believed was an alien in the distance, warning him not to approach. Before a dome like object hovered at the top of the hill and shot up into the sky at serious speed. This sighting was made in 1987, there hasn’t been any as big as this since then, but what’s to say a visit to spot UFOs won’t reveal another strange unexplained sighting.

Walking on Ilkley Moor

Ilkley Moor is one of the best places to walk or hike in Yorkshire. It has something for all fitness levels, the potential for many different walks of varying lengths and difficulty.

The five heritage walks on Ilkley Moor take in the most interesting sites on the Moor including the Neolithic stones; cow and calf; twelve apostles; white wells moorland; cup and ring stones – all of these are available to view and download from the Friends of Ilkley Moor website.

Is Ilkley Moor Muddy?

In spring the moor can be a little boggy and muddy, however if you keep to the main paths it shouldn’t be too bad. And there is the benefit of moor is quieter after rain. It can get fairly muddy in the autumn and winter. The spring and summer months are the best times to visit the moors, but on a sunny Saturday it can get quite busy!


If running is your thing, Ilkley Moor is certainly the place for it. If you fancy a long trail run then why not take a look at this 35km Ilkley Moor Explore Run Route.


Ilkley Moor is littered with grit stone boulders, aside from making the area visually captivating it also presents an opportunity to go climbing. One of the most famous and challenging climbs is on the Cow and Calf rocks – an outcrop and a boulder – that protrude high above the Moor. And if you’re a beginner or novice then many of the rocks in and around the walkways are perfect fun for a bit of light scrambling.

Poem Post Box

The expanse of Ilkley Moor is a writers paradise, namely because the environment is so good at putting you in a reflective and expressive mood. Local dry stone waller, Nick Ferguson has taken this to the next level by installing a poetry seat on the Moor. Once you’ve penned something to paper you can pop it in the poem post box – who knows where these will end up or who will read them? Another touch of magic on the Moor.


The moorland habitat is a unique example of flora because it’s one of the worlds rarest habitats and Britain is spoilt for choice when it comes to heather moorland as over 75% of it worldwide is found here in the UK.

Alongside Heather the moorland is home to an array of plant life, and in the spring and summer months you can come across an array of plants including: bilberry; cowberry; lichens; gorse; rowan; hazel; oak; goat willow; ash; and birch trees; water horsetail; yellow iris; soft rush and the grasses of Yorkshire fog; crested dogs tail; cocksfoot; sweet vernal grass and the list just keeps on going…


Much of the wildlife that’s found on the Moor is of the bird kind. When the vegetation is high in the spring and summer months you get red grouse and short eared owls nest in the heather clumps and lapwing, golden plover and curlew nest in the shorter vegetation. The lowland fields and estuaries are ripe for birds that enjoy a boggy quagmire like the number of wader species that migrate from sunnier places to winter in our summer.

During the summer months the following species have all been spotted on Ilkley Moor: meadow pipits; the merlin; curlew; redshank;  swallows; swifts; house martins; carrion crows; jackdaw; rooks; kestrels; cuckoos; wheatears; nuthatches; treecreepers; blackbirds; thrushes; chiffchaffs; warblers; fieldfares; redwings; wrens; robins; and small owls.

Can I Ride a Bike on Ilkley Moor?

Unfortunately bikes are not allowed on Ilkley Moor. Ilkley Moor falls under the Law of Property Act 1925, which states that vehicles are not permitted. The term vehicles also includes bikes.

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New Years Dip

This might be news to you as traditions go but across the UK it has become an annual event to take a dip in our seas, lakes or rivers on New Years Day to raise money for charity, or for the fun of it, apparently! There’s a perfect spot to take the plunge at White Wells spa cottage, just to the north of the Moors. Go on we dare ya!

Ilkley Moor Fell Race

Since its inception in 1990 the Ilkley Moor Fell Race has been staged by local running club the Ilkley Harriers. Fell running can be a more technical and risk taking type of running – picture wind milling down a very steep hill with unpredictable terrain and weather underfoot – and therefore is not suitable for beginners. If you’ve done a bit of fell running and feel confident enough to take on the steep rocky descent then you can sign-up to the yearly race over on the Ilkley Harriers website.


Cow & Calf

The Cow and Calf, also known as ‘Hangingstone Rocks’ is the result of the former quarry work that was carried out on the site. These rocks are made of millstone grit and are a variety of sandstone. The name comes from the arrangement of one larger one sitting alongside one smaller one, like a cow and calf.

A legend has it that a bull once quarried stone during the spa town boom era of the 19th century. Yet, no direct evidence links this theory to fact so the legend lives on.

Myths & Legends

Speaking of legends, the separation of the cow and the calf is supposedly the work of the giant called Rombald. Rombald stamped on the rock as he leapt from an enemy across the valley, the foe was actually his disgruntled wife. And as she bound after him she dropped the stones held in her skirt which fell and formed what we now know as the ‘Skirtful of Stones’.

To the northern end of the Moors there is the Woodhouse Crag where a stone, called Flyfot, that has been carved up in the pattern of a swastika. This example is the most striking of a collection of marked rocks including: the ‘Badger Stone’, ‘Nebstone’, and ‘St Margaret’s Stones’. Dating from the Bronze or Neolithic age these slabs of stone have had grooves, rings and cups etched into them. One theory behind this unusual collection of marked stones is that they all were geographically placed on a sight line, where the rock is transformed according to the position of the sun and the light projected onto it. Many turn from an uninteresting grey to a deep brown, illuminating the carvings at the same time.


With the First and Second World Wars made the country ready for war. Territorial units would have their summer camps and exercises on the Moor and the Wharfe around and during both world wars. This is testament to the toughness of the terrain.


There’s not many moorland areas with a song named after it. ‘On Ilkley Moor baht’at’ is a famous folk song all about a trip to Ilkley moor translated as “On Ilkley Moor without a hat”. The story goes that during a choir trip a young man and woman had a “little bit of courting” amongst the heather; the young fellow was so taken aback that he left his hat, and the group found it hilarious and made fun of this chap. The fable of the song boils down to the stark warning that if you lose your hat you’re probably going to catch a cold and die – lovely! This cheery tune has been claimed by Yorkshire folk alike; what many don’t known is it actually originated down south in Devon. Keep that under your flat cap away from any Yorkshire folk. And check out the recent YouTube rendition by a pretty heavy weight cast of musicians and singers, including a Brian Blessed rap!


Ilkley Moor is a really wild patch of nature in the hills of Yorkshire. When planning your visit consider that your most pressing amenities – food, drink and toilets – are a short distance away. We recommend you factor these extra journeys in when on foot on the Moor. Like the Cow and Calf on Moor Road that’s the closest public house providing food, drink and a toilet.

Food and Drink

The Cow and Calf is a pub located to the east of Ilkley Moor on Moor Road. It started life as the country’s first hydropathic hotel way back in 1844 where it treated people’s ailments with fresh natural spring water. You can still spot the Victorian well in the centre of the pub grounds.

Nowadays the Cow and Calf is dishing up wholesome classic pub dishes that work with the changing seasons; alongside a fine selection of ales, wines, gins and soft drinks too. Enjoy your dinner in the beautiful garden or inside beside an open log fire.

There’s a Friends of Ham – Ilkley a little further north from the Moors into Ilkley. It’s the little brother of Friends of Ham – Leeds City an ideal pit stop after working up an appetite on a long walk. Instead of large plates of food you can tuck into smaller bites like sandwiches or platters of cheeses and meats, all washed down with a classy selection of wines, sherry or craft ales.


Park for free when visiting Ilkley Moor. To the east of the Moor is Ilkley Moor car park. And to the north of the Moor is White Wells car park.


The paths are the more are all suitable for a good walk but consider that they can be warn in places and unsuitable for a wheelchair or pushchair.


A moorland might be a place of beauty, but it’s also a place of danger – hence why the Military like training on it. Be mindful when visiting the Moor that the terrain can become dangerous during bouts of bad weather – fog, heavy rain, ice and snow. A way of reducing the risk of becoming lost on the Moor is to use a map and compass as a reserve to a mobile app with GPS signaling. Having the technology and the traditional methods as backup will ensure you don’t become lost and stranded. More surprisingly is the rarer instance when dry weather get holds of a fire or lit cigarette causing a blaze – keep an eye out and move to safety if you find yourself in this situation.


How to Get To Ilkley Moor

Google Map Directions

When travelling by car the best route in is through Ilkley, leaving the town on Wells Road, heading to the top of the Moor (postcode LS29 9RF).

The closest train station is in Ilkley. This stop is 30-minutes from the city of Leeds. With a challenging walk up to Ilkley Moor to finish.

The Arriva Dales bus route 870 and 874 serve Ilkley from Leeds. Bare in mind that catching this scenic route is only possible in the spring and summer months on a Sunday or bank holiday. For an up to date service check out the Dale Bus website

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