Ilkley is one of the most elegant towns in England, a former spa town that has retained the dignified air that would have once attracted the wealthiest people to this "heather spa" in search of a cure during the Victorian and Edwardian era. However, there is so much more to this small town, as you will discover on this short walk.

There have been people living in this area, particularly on the extensive moorland to the south of Ilkley, since the earliest times. Indeed, Ilkley Moor and Rombalds Moors boasts more than 250 carved rocks dating from the Bronze and Iron Ages; an internationally important collection of "rock art".

This famous "shoulder" of moorland is littered with "cup and ring" marked stones. These mystical carvings can be found on large slabs of grit-stone in prominent positions overlooking the valley and on the highest ground, which has given rise to a number of theories as to why they were carved, although no one is really sure.

The most plausible theories include associations with burials, pagan religious significance or astronomy. Perhaps the most enigmatic rock carving is that of the Swastika Stone, which is one of the oldest rock carvings in this country dating back to at least the Iron Age, if not the Bronze Age, and is similar to carvings found in Italy and Sweden. There are nine cup marks in the shape of a cross surrounded by a swirling "swastika" shape (the carving nearest to the railings is a 20th century copy). This symbol has been used in many ancient cultures throughout the world for thousands of years to represent the sun and good fortune, before the Nazis gave it a much more evil significance.

In AD79, the advancing Roman legions swept aside the native British tribes of Northern England, known as the Brigantes, and established a fort named Olicana to protect the important river crossing. Little remains of this Roman fort and civilian town, although the Manor House Museum boasts a fine collection of Roman artefacts and also tells the story of the history of Ilkley through the centuries.

This museum stands on the site of the West Gate into the Roman fort, while All Saints' Parish Church stands in the middle of the fort. In the 17th century a well was discovered on Ilkley Moor, according to folklore, by a shepherd who bathed his injured leg in the water and the pure water cleaned the wound and cured him!

During the 18th and 19th centuries, Ilkley developed from a small village into a fashionable spa resort with large hotels, hydros and villas where wealthy businessmen and their families from the neighbouring wool towns and cities could come to recuperate, including Charles Darwin who visited White Wells in 1859. In addition to bathing in pure spring water, the "Ilkley Cure" included exercise, fresh air and a healthy diet - the perfect tonic to rid the system of the pollution from the industrial towns.

White Wells Spa Cottage was built in the 18th century by Squire Middleton and still retains its plunge pool. There are extensive views from here across Ilkley Moor and Wharfedale, but don't forget to wrap up warm or you may just catch your death of cold!

1) From the crossroads beside All Saints' Church in the centre of Ilkley, walk up along the wide main street (Brook Street) at the top of which turn left, then immediately right, along Wells Road (sign "Ilkley Moor, White Wells Spa Cottage"). Follow the road climbing gradually up passing a number of large Victorian buildings to reach Ilkley Moor after a cattle grid. Immediately after the cattle grid (with the Millennium Green on your right), head to the left off the road on to the moor, passing a small pond and a shelter, then follow the clear path winding up to reach the conspicuous White Wells Spa Cottage.

2) Turn right, passing in front of White Wells, and head down along the track, crossing over a ford above a waterfall, just after which head off the track along a clear gravel path to the left. Follow this clear path across the side of the moor, bearing round to the left to eventually join to road.

3) Cross over the road and take the footpath opposite (signpost) passing to the left of the large houses, and follow this path straight on to quickly join a clear track. Walk straight on along the track with the houses on your right, then passing a small reservoir, after which the track becomes a footpath. Continue along this path across the heather moorland, over a footbridge (ignore path to the right into Heber's Ghyll) and carry on alongside the stone wall to reach a small metal gate across your path that leads out on to open moorland.

4) After the metal gate, head up to the left to quickly pick up a clear path that leads up to the right on to the top of the ridge and on to reach the Swastika Stone (behind railings). Re-trace your steps back down to the metal gate in the stone wall, however, do not head through the gate, but walk down alongside the stone wall on your right until you reach a gate in this wall (signpost).

5) Head down through the woodland then, just before you join the lane, turn right along the footpath running parallel to this lane heading through the woods. Follow the path over a footbridge across Heber's Ghyll and on to the road, at which point take the path up some steps to the right ("Ilkley Moor"). At the top of the steps turn to the left and head on to reach a track beside Westwood Lodge. Continue straight on along the track, which soon becomes a road that leads through the outskirts of Ilkley to a T-junction. Turn left down the road then, just after St Margaret's Church, turn to the left along St Margaret's Terrace (cup and ring marked stones in woodland opposite the church) at the bottom of which head along the road opposite down to reach The Grove and the centre of Ilkley.


Distance: 4 miles

Time: 2 hours

Start: Ilkley town centre

Date walked: Friday, August 30, 2002

Map: OS Explorer Sheet 297 (1:25,000)

Terrains: Clear paths lead up across Ilkley Moor to White Wells and then across moorland to reach the Swastika Stone, from where there are extensive views across Wharfedale. From here, a less distinct path leads down through bracken and heather, then woodland back into Ilkley.

Parking: Several car parks throughout Ilkley.

Toilets: Ilkley and White Wells Spa Cottage

Refreshments: Plenty of choice; try Bettys Caf or White Wells.

Tourist Information: Ilkley Tourist Information Centre: 01943 602319

How to get there: Ilkley lies on the main A65 to the north of Bradford.

Click here to view a map of the walk

Updated: 16:35 Friday, September 20, 2002