The Ilkley Moor Petroglyph Walk – 8 Interesting Stones in one short route

Ilkley Walk Route

Ilkley Moor is home to an estimated 300-400 carved stones, the majority of which are home to numerous carvings of cup and rings and petroglyphs, over the years some of the stones have been lost to quarrying whilst others are still waiting to be discovered, as they lay, unearthed and covered in moss and soil, as they have done for thousands of years. Surviving examples of rock art in the British Isles are believed to represent only a small sample of that which had been produced in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. Many examples of petroglyphs would have eroded away, thereby being lost to contemporary scholarship. In other examples, images might have been painted onto rock, or marked onto less permanent surfaces, such as wood, livestock or the human body, thereby also failing to survive into the present.This walk I’ve devised is both short and interesting, it only covers a distance between 2 and 3 miles on roughly the western side of the moor. It’s certainly not a difficult walk and there are easily followed footpaths between the carved stones, the terrain is outstanding and, other than the stones, it’s full of surprises, I’ve seen wild deer, dead sheep and even a brand new shovel and pick axe which seemed to have been abandoned.

The route is a horseshoe which starts and finishes on Keighley Road, adjacent to the footpath for Silver Wells, where, the tarmacked road surface terminates and it becomes a track, there is available car parking for about 4 cars with roadside parking available if necessary.

The first stretch of the walk in a south-easterly direction leads to the first find of the day, and, what I can only describe as the least interesting of any of the day’s discoveries, it’s both unnamed and easily missed, it was only a stroke of luck that I noticed it, plus the fact that it stands on the footpath I was following. The stones are notoriously difficult to find, and, without a 10 figure grid reference reading on the GPS, well, such as this one, would be virtually impossible.

1 Unnamed Stone
Unnamed stone 1 – GR 11006 45642

On this unnamed stone, I could see maybe six cups and no rings, whether this was due to weathering and erosion or there were no rings cut, I don’t know, but, a find is a find, and this was a great start to the day. It’s fair to say, due to the stone lacking as much interest as many of the others in regards to its surface, that may be the reason it has no name and remains nothing more than a chronological number on the moor’s finds list, but, this really is the least interesting on the route, they really do improve with quality as progress is made.

Barmishaw Stone 2
Barmishaw Stone – GR 11193 46417

Following the route and GPS leads to the second stone and, in my opinion, one of the best I’ve ever discovered, the Barmishaw Stone which, due to the winter terrain, was so much easier to find than it was initially when I discovered it during the summer, then, it stood hidden and surrounded by deep and thick ferns, when, although it stands close to an ancient track, it remained completely hidden to view.
This stone is home to some of Ilkley Moor’s speciality carvings, ladders, which consist of parallel grooves linked by perpendicular ‘rungs’, which, so far are unique to this and the Panorama Stone. As with many of the moor’s carvings, these seem somewhat difficult to see, (weather depending), but if my research is correct, there are 6 in ladder form and 24 cups, 9 of which have rings.

About half a kilometer away, heading WNW, was the next port of call, the Willy Hall Stone, which, is situated in Willy Hall’s Wood, who was Willy Hall? Whoever he was, the location which bears his name is believed to have once been a very sacred spot, and, it’s easy to see why whilst you’re there. The stone is on a mound which is surrounded by 2 streams which drain off Green Gates and rejoin one another at the bottom of the mound at Willy Hall’s Spout. The stream then takes route into Ilkley, under Brooke Street where it joins the River Wharfe near the bridge close to where the Roman fort of Olicana once stood.

Willy Hall Stone – GR 11584 46592. The bright sunshine and dryness of the day, ensured the difficulty in capturing many of the carvings, they are often difficult to see on certain stones in dry weather, especially the eroded ones, damp weather or early morning after a coating of dew gives them more enhancement, as is seen here, on the complete photo of the WH stone, hardly any of the carvings are visible.

Random find 1
Unexpected and random find on my approach to the Willy Hall Stone.

As I was close to the Willy Hall, I met a hiker, he was doing a horseshoe route and heading back to his destination, (the Cow and Calf pub being his half way point and return), we had a little chat, he was telling me, how, he’d forgotten his compass but felt comfortable with his map, knowing where north was, and, with his experience, he felt comfortable following his route. He told me he was on the Millenium Way, sadly, he wasn’t, he was on a track about 100 yards above it. I’m not criticising him at all, he wasn’t far from where he thought he was, he wasn’t lost and he was heading in the right direction. But, he told me he was ‘old school’ and confident with nothing more than his map. I didn’t challenge him, nor did I criticise him, but, I don’t agree with his thinking. I’m a believer of using every piece of modern technology which exists. Finding these stones without a 10 figure GPS reading would, with some of them, be virtually impossible, plus, I know exactly where I am in any weather or condition, and, as yet, I have found every single stone and carving I’ve been looking for, in my opinion, if the technology is available, use it, not only do you know exactly where you are, in ANY weather condition, but so do the Mountain Rescue, should you need to contact them, (so long as you have a phone signal), modern technology is a life saver.

Pepperpot Stone – GR 11812 46549

After discovering the Willy Hall Stone, realising I had walked past in on numerous previous occasions, and, like many others, being completely unaware of the wonderful carvings adorned upon it, I took a south-westerly route in search of the illusive Pitchfork Stone. My route was nothing more than a short horseshoe, starting and finishing at the same point, although there were other carved stones within the area, I hadn’t included them, it was simply a basic route I’d devised with some interesting features along it. Finding the Pepperpot was a first, I’d only read about it and never seen it. It’s only a few yards from another ancient trackway and another wonderful discovery. On display are an estimated 50 cups on its upper part with another 17 on its lower  part, well, how many more lay beneath the moss which covers over a third of the stone which is covered in moss, it needs removing, regardless of some may disagree, I’m a great believer the removal of the moss will reveal more, and, the acidic soil erodes any potential carvings at a faster rate than exposure to daylight and weathering does, it makes sense to remove the moss. Once at the wonderful stone, there’s very little dispute to why it received the name it has.

This didn’t stretch my imagination too far, nor did I consider any of the carving theories, it didn’t appear to be a grave marker or burial mound, a navigational aid, a boundary stone or any of the others, let alone a star constellation or an image of a UFO, to me, this seemed nothing more that decorative, Neolithic graffiti, then again, what do I know?

For the sake of practice, I took a map and compass bearing for the next stone, the Pitchfork. on the horizon, a stone seemed prominent, it matched the bearing, so, towards it I headed, on what seemed, the longest empty stretch of my route. I didn’t stay on the footpath which ran adjacent to some wonderful woodland for long, I headed into the wild moorland in the direction of the prominent stone, believing, in my own ability that I would easily find the Pitchfork, not that I had any idea of what it looked like. The south-westerly hike gave me plenty of time to ponder over the 2 roe deer I’d seen earlier, those wonderful animals roaming free on the open moorland, pure eye candy, unlike the decomposing sheep I’d seen earlier, (I’d have taken its skull as an ornament had it not been full of brain tissue).

The Pitchfork is situated on the brow of the hill, an exposed area, close to a footpath but on the wild and windy moorland, it certainly wasn’t the large and prominent, isolated rock I’d imagined it to be on my compass bearing, far from it, it was hidden and very difficult to find, but, eventually, find it I did, I was stood on the stone before I saw the carving, this one is a tester for anybody to find, the buzz of finding it was a pure highlight, and, it stands on an alignment with other unmarked stones, another puzzle for potential explanations to their meanings?

Correct grid reference but not the Pitchfork Stone – GR 11495 46039 ??
Standing on the alleged Pitchfork and viewing west, are 3 stones which are in the same alignment, shame it isn’t the Pitchfork?

The above photo was taken at the GR reference I had found, the cup and ring carving is absolutely wonderful, but, I did question why on earth it took the name Pitchfork, I questioned it, but, left it there. It really is a wonderful cup and ring carving, an absolute gem, but, having since researched the stone for information regarding it, I discovered that this stone, isn’t the Pitchfork as I’d previously being led to believe, it’s a wonderful stone and carving but not the one I’d come in search of.

Pitchfork real one
The real Pitchfork Stone, (the picture isn’t mine. I discovered it on-line whilst researching), clearly defines why it’s named such, but, the one I found and believed to be the Pitchfork, is another of which I don’t know the name of, I guess I’ll have to return and find this one, never mind, its great fun searching for them, even if they aren’t logged correctly.

Having believed I’d found the Pitchfork, I headed towards my next one, one of the moor’s most famous and visited, it even has a bench for tired walkers located close to it.

Badger Stone
The Badger Stone – GR 1107 4605

This is probably one of the most impressive carved stones on the entire moor, this photograph wasn’t mine, the daylight made mine worthless by comparison, so, I have used this as a replacement, a far superior one. Over a metre high and 3 metres in length, it has over 95 cups, rings, interlinking grooves and gutters, and, an incomplete swastika.

Swastika Badger
An incomplete Swastika on the Badger Stone

It’s worth bearing in mind, the swastika, as it’s remembered today, was a negative symbol corrupted by Hitler in the 1930’s and since then has been revered. Sadly, it will never be seen as anything other, but, prior to that dark period in the 20th century, it had a positive meaning and in some parts of the world, it still has. This carving predates Nazism by a few thousand years, so, it should be respected, as all the other carvings, as nothing other than it was intended, a symbol of good fortune and hope for all.

There was more than a touch of irony as I headed for my 7th stone after leaving this wonderful piece of rock art, the weather was changing for the worse, a black cloud was heading over from the east, the temperature was dropping and I could sense rain wasn’t far behind. The Neb Stone was my next destination, a welcome descent from the bleak and windy plateau I’d been covering for the previous hour.

Neb Stone – GR 1039 463

The Neb Stone is more of a landmark stone than any other, although there are a few possible cup carvings on its surface, maybe the Neolithic inhabitants deemed it unworthy of their handy carving, we’ll never know, but, like many others surrounding it, this prominent stone is both interesting and worthy of a visit. As I approached the Neb, whilst crossing the tracked part of Keighley Road, there were 2 female German tourists heading down the road towards Ilkley, we said hello and they asked if they were on the correct road for the town, I told them they were and, after observing their shoes and clothing, encouraged them to make haste their descent into town, the rain was very soon to dominate the day, and, they certainly weren’t prepared for it, like anywhere in the hills and fells, even on a warm day, it’s essential to prepare for a change in the weather, at the very least, some waterproof clothing, sturdy shoes or boots and, no denim jeans, these two weren’t prepared and, unless they hurried, would feel the full force of the oncoming storm.

My final stone, and my 8th of the day was a particular friend of mine, not only am I responsible for removing the moss both from its surface and around its edges, which revealed more hidden and buried carvings, it was the last place I spent some time with Wendy before her sudden death, she was my former partner, my son’s mother and without doubt, my best friend. She joined me on my last visit and helped me finalize the cleaning of the stone, so too did she find what I believe to be a stone axe head, something I still need to be checked out by the experts, she was in her element in a pair of hiking boots and up to her knees in a muddy field, she was a legend and she is deeply missed.

The Weary Stone – GR 10615 46588

Located on Weary Stone Hill, this stone demands views over the Wharfe valley towards Bolton Abbey and Great Whernside. Prior to it being cleaned and having the surface moss removed, more than half of the surface was buried by it, there were 12 cups and some rings visible, since it’s cleaning, there are now at least 4 more cups clearly seen. Removal of the acidic peat moss not only reveals the hidden carvings, it prolongs their lifespan, it appears that the soil and moss erode the stone at a faster rate than being exposed to the elements would.

So, having completed this horseshoe walk at the wonderful Weary Stone, the circular walk was now completed with only a hundred yards to go to  the car. It’s not a difficult walk with only one ascent, the difficulty is finding the appropriate and correct stones, one of which failed me as I had an incorrect grid reference number. Still good fun and a wonderful way to spend a full afternoon, I recommend it to anyone, don’t forget the correct clothing, map and GPS.

Wendy Lakes

Dedicated to Wendy Joanne Barnes – 1/12/1966 – 25/11/2017


Rock Art and the Ilkley Style – Part 1

This was a walk with a difference, unlike any other, navigation was as basic as any, the distance wasn’t in any way challenging, and, as for isolation, that too was a complete no, but, as for escapism, they certainly don’t come any better. The music I selected for the blog was historically inaccurate, but, the sound, the mood, the language, the aura it creates, well, from my point of view, was perfect. (Then again, we are in the land of Trolls, paganism, sacrifice and neolithic carved stone symbols, an area so spiritual, the most heathen of pagans can taste it, Stonehenge eat your heart out, so, there is a connection to the wonderful Swedish folk song and from my location, only a few miles north stands an isolated, hidden and secretive valley, Trollers Ghyll, thus, any time difference the historians of whichever ology, choose to curse me with, I challenge them to do it).

What are Cup and Ring carvings? – They are basically symbols (petroglyphs) which have been carved into rocks. Although they appear in other countries, in Britain they are found mainly in the north and Scotland. They are believed to be between 4000 and 5000 years old which places them in the same time period as the construction of Stonehenge, the Neolithic and Bronze Age period.

Wonderful example of cups, cup and ring and channels, carved stone, Ilkley Moor

What to look for:- Cupmarks, these are hollows cut into the surfaces of rocks which can be singular or in groups.
Cup and Ring Marks, A central singular cup surrounded by singular or multiple rings.
Cups, Rings and Channels, These can be cups and rings with ladders or channel joining them together.

These 3 are the most common in Britain although there are many more designs such as, spiral chambers, cups in rosette patterns, chevron channels, ladders, grid and curl like motifs.
After close examination of uneroded carvings, it was deducted that the carvings were pecked into the stone using tools with about a 5mm point with metal, flint or deer antler been the most likely tool used. The only real facts about the carvings meanings are, and will probably remain the only known facts, are, there is no clear picture of their real purpose.
There are some clues:-
* The carvings are situated close to or incorporated within burial mounds and cairns, there may be a link with burial practices, ancestral connections or the after life.
* They are also found on standing stones and close to stone circles, locations believed to have both ritual and religious purposes.
* They frequently appear on outcrop rock where there is an uninterupted view over the surrounding terrain, indicating, their locations had been specifically chosen, bearing in mind, at this period of time, most of the terrain was heavily wooded.

This outing was the first of three on this, an area I consider, one of the least understood and most metaphysical locations on the planet. I’m not alone thinking that, I know two people whose ashes are scattered on the moor, both parents of friends who, for whatever reason, asked for their remains to be shed there, so, it makes me wonder, how many others have done the same, what is the attraction and why?

Located in Panorama Woods, Opposite St. Margarets’ Church, Queens’ Road, Ilkley (GR SE 11475 47288) – The Panorama Stones

The route was simplicity itself, nothing technical or difficult, about 6km in total with a return journey being the reverse of the outward, on a very well-defined, ancient footpath, there are many testing and far more difficult walks in the area, but, on this occasion, that wasn’t the purpose of my visit. I’d come in search of neolithic stone carvings and there became the challenge, finding them. On this occasion, they were all adjacent to the footpath, for reasons I will explain later, but, they’re not all obvious, and, if I was a gambling man, I’d place good money that the majority of walkers are oblivious to the carvings and stroll past unaware of their existence, just as I used to.

From the church I followed the road west for a couple of minutes till I saw the entrance to the moor at Hetchell Ghyll, ascending this overgrown, wild and picturesque ghyll to the, westerly bound, required footpath is a pleasure in itself.

Originally, The Panorama Stones were located half a mile away, on the moorland edge, in the woodland at the rear of the small Intake reservoir, but, they had to be moved to be saved, as 19th century development in their surroundings would have vandalised and destroyed them. Fortunately, in 1890, a Dr. Fletcher Little, purchased them for £10 and, in 1892, in order to save them, had them moved from their natural location to the present one, sadly, during their transportation, the largest stone was broken in two places, fortunately, better them broken and saved, than lost forever. Still, over the years, the combination of weather and vandalism have taken their toll and the carvings are now quite difficult to discern. In total there are 25 cups on the Panorama, 16 surrounded by between 1 and 5 rings, some incomplete, some linked by ladders and parallel grooves joined by perpendicular lines, the ladders are believed to be unique to this and the Barmishaw stone. The smaller stone has about 40 cups with 3 incomplete or eroded rings and some linking grooves. The smallest stone has 12 cups, one of which may have been a partial ring and stone.

Hetchell Ghyll and the ascent from Queens Road to Woodhouse Ridge and the wonderful, carve riddled, required footpath.

Emerging from the woods onto the westward bound footpath, which is also part of the long distance routes of the Millenium Way and the relatively new Dales High Way, it’s like leaving a jungle for a bleak moonscape, maybe an unfair comparison, but the change really is that immediate and instant, there’s no gradual gradient. Bear right, and onward, the second and probably, the most famous stone carving on Ilkley Moor, the world-famous Swastika Stone.

Left to Right:- The fenced and protected Swastika Stone from its high vantage point overlooking Lower Wharfedale, then, the original 4000-5000 year old and severely worn and weathered stone above the Victorian duplicate carved beneath. GR SE 09557 49697.

By far the most famous carved rock in the moor and, still the most mysterious in age, origin and understanding. Completely unique to the British Isles but almost identical to the Camonica Rose in Val Camonica, (Bresica, Italy), which suggests to some, there may be a connection to Roman troops situated at the outpost in Ilkley, which, would cancel the believed date of the original carving. There are enough suggestions to its meaning to drive anybody to the verge of insanity, the bottom line was, and remains, nobody knows. There are 9 cups within and around the 4 curves, with an additional and random curve to the top right with its own cup within. (Well, I’m not going to start to add all the random and wild suggestions to their representation, instead, I’m going to offer my own, the 9 cups are there to represent the 9 worlds of Viking Norse mythology with the 10th and outside one representing an expanding outlook! It was carved by the maverick, Soren the Norse as he roamed these lands in search of wild boar and continued his never ending battles against the Trolls from their homeland a few miles away close to Appletreewick, let’s face it, during winter, these parts certainly have the feel of Nifhelm). One there for the many ….ologists to contend with.

Only a few yards away, on the opposite side of the footpath, laid there like dormant stone coffin lids are 2 fallen stone gateposts, not that their carved structures would immediately strike the average passer-by to their original purpose, that is, if the average passer-by should actually observe them, I never had, and, I’m quite a fine representative of the average passer by, one of the gateposts plays host to 2 cup carvings. In my humble

One of 2 gateposts close to each other, this one containing 2 cup carvings, I wonder if they were overturned, would they reveal more?

opinion, these are more confusing than any other carving I’d yet discovered, there is no visible evidence to why the stones are there, there is no visible boundary for the posts to represent, nor are there any visible signs to where they formally stood, but, the carved cups are very visible within one of them.

The 2 cup carvings are clearly visible although any sign of surrounding rings has either eroded away or never existed.

Onward and westerly I continued, next stop, the Anvil Stone, this one, did cause a little self-inflicted confusion. The GPS I was using, is, in my opinion, the best thing since sliced bread, but, it does have a single fault, man, or in my case, me! As long as the GR number is correctly added, it will find a needle in a haystack, or in this case, any stone required, the thing is, you have to ensure the figures added are correct, one error and you could be miles away, and, in this instance, I placed 03 where I should have inserted 30, and, I was about 100 yards out, on a hillside with hundreds of stones scattered around, but, after appearing a complete eccentric loonatic to the young couple sat above me on the hillside, I eventually found the temporarily illusive stone.

The Anvil Stone (SE 0928 4700), no prizes for guessing how it gained its name. It’s a triangular flat slab which perches on the top of other rocks with its point facing north-east. Like others, it’s sat close to the track following the northern edge of Rombald’s Moor above the River Wharfe.

No question about it, cup and rings on the top of the Anvil Stone

I climbed onto it and looked carefully for any carvings, and, although there were many indents into the surface, if they were originally cups, or cup and rings, then in this case, time, weather and erosion had delivered a particularly harsh blow upon them and it was particularly difficult for me, with my untrained eye, to decipher if they were or had been natural or man-made. Still, a magnificent stone with, space beneath for shelter or, as has been suggested, burial.

Continuing along the footpath, for maybe another couple of hundred yards, I wasn’t counting my footsteps, delivered me to the next famous stone on my journey, The Sepulchre Stone, (SE 0907 4700). Easily recognised by its unusual shape and strata, plus, it’s smaller adjoining stone, this too is home to carvings and a potential shelter beneath, and, as the name suggests, a possible ancient grave, so too does it dominate a prominent view over the valley below.

The local Trolls named this Soren’s Stone, after their leader, made a solo bid to kill Soren the Norse, King Troll had single-handedly pursued Soren close to this spot, when, after realising the rest of the Trolls had given up the chase, and, it was a one to one, Soren hurled this stone at the defiant Troll, landing it directly on top of it, so, the King of the Trolls remains, to this day, buried beneath, is there a man brave enough to raise the stone and confirm this story, knowing full well, King Troll’s have been known to rise from the dead with the first hint of daylight, well, I for one, have no intention of finding out!

There’s no disputing I wasn’t feeling very pleased with myself, the route took no working out, but the stones, well, they aren’t sign posted so it’s still a pleasant feeling individually identifying them.

Unusual and unknown (to me), stone, a distinct cup on the surface and a strange seat like structure to its front. I’ve decided, once Soren the Norse, the maverick wanderer, wild boar hunter and Troll destroyer, used this spot to rest and dine after a day’s hunting and, of course, he could keep an eye out over the valley for any trespassing Trolls should they venture from their hidden valley close to Appletreewick.

Five done, (including the gate post), two to do, that meant, continuing along to the Noon Stone and the famous and prominent Doubler Stones, they all seem to have unusual and interesting names, who named them and why were the selected names chosen? Maybe I’d find an answer for the next one, the Noon Stone, another few hundred yards along the track to find it.

The Noon Stone from each compass point, and, a view of the cupped summit, it’s a natural stone and mentioned in Paul Bennetts ‘Old Stones of Elmet. Initially described as the Noon Stone in 1579. It’s been suggested that it may have been used for some form of time keeping, or, as it’s been described as the stone over which the noon-day sun appears. I wonder how well it keeps the time?

The day had been wonderful, not a great distance covered, but, slow due to the interest and discoveries, now came a little more effort, the footpath needed maybe another mile completing prior to reaching my final destination, there was a left turn at the junction known as Windgate Nick prior to about half a mile’s walk to the famous Doublers’.

The Doubler Stones are 2 naturally shaped rocks on the western edge of Rombalds’ Moor above Silsden. Their peculiar shapes are due to the top stone been gritstone standing above the softer and easier eroded sandstone. Both tops have cup carvings with the eastern one has 2 whilst the western one has several cups and 3 deep basins with grooves.

The western Doubler stone with its 3 deep basins and grooves

So, after spending half an hour or so climbing around and on top of the unusual and quite incredible Doublers, it was time to return on my outward route back to the car. My canine companion, the never tiring Mountain Meg, didn’t seem to mind which way we went, so, after a little self appraisal at achieving my target on the first attempt, the hour or so return walk to the car began. Another successful day in the hills.


Having just watched one of the best documentaries I have ever seen, an hour-long, brilliantly filmed testimony to one of the Lake Districts finest, Blencathra and Sharp Edge, the memories of my visit there 30+ years ago came flooding back, we climbed it in bad weather, low cloud, mist and drizzle, we scrambled the ridge and at one point, I lifted myself up one of the rugged rocks, pulled myself up and almost over the shiny, slippy rock, as my head and shoulders ascended the edge, the view awaiting me was, to say the least, very memorable, a sheer drop of maybe 500 feet below me to Scales Tarn, I can still feel that absorbing breath of shock which immediately absorbed me, one of the most memorable breaths of my life. The point I’m eventually and gradually making is quite simply, that such a wonderful documentary will guarantee an over population of Blencathra (Saddleback to the purists), and, for me, the Lake District is and always has been, over populated, the beauty of the entire region guarantees it. This mass of people, for me, defeats the object of the challenge and the solo trip. Navigation is made easy when you can ask for guidance and directions, check with others of your location, where to aim for if you feel lost and isolated, how to react if you do become lost, these skills are vital to learn for yourself, that’s why, I choose quieter locations, new to me, and, often, in poor weather, that way, each outing I take, my skills improve, and that’s my target; you never know, one day I may master it!


So, why Hell Ghyll, simple, until recently I’d never heard of it, and, it’s located in an area I’m unfamiliar with, on a route I’d never walked, and, as it happened, on a day of cloud and mist, more challenging to navigate and free from people! Basically, with a name like that, the attraction was instant!

The route was roughly a 7 mile horseshoe with the wonderful looking pub at its start and finish, not that I’d have the opportunity to sample its fine ales, my visit was a day one and, from what I could see, there were no facilities for camping, (I may be wrong on that one, I hope so, the location is wonderful for various alternative walking routes, so, outside a pub, would be a marvellous spot to pitch a tent for a couple of days).

From the pub the route took me about a mile, via a footpath and Cobbles Hill to join the The High Way footpath, a gradual ascent, but not over difficult, even for these old and weary legs, trek and a tremendous introduction to what would become a wonderful day in Wensleydale.

The High Way

In February, in the Yorkshire Dales, usually, there are 2 kinds of weather, rain, or, it’s about to start raining, it suits me fine, I’m prepared for it, and, it virtually guarantees the hills and dales, if only for a few hours, belong to me, and only me. Lost in this world of silent contemplation I can forget about everything and any issues or problems that may be on my mind.

People put time recommendations on routes such as these, I think this one had a 3 hour time attached to it, who decides such times? Why are they suggested, if a walk such as this takes me 10 hours, I’m happy with it, I try not to look at my watch if possible, watching the clock instead of the scenery simply defeats the purpose of being there.

After ascending to a footpath/bridleway marked on the map as The High Way I became slightly confused if this was part of the relatively recently formed Dales High Way, or not. I don’t know it’s route even if it has been included on recently published OS maps since March 2014. The High Way footpath was my route for a couple of miles, it was a delight to follow, littered with the ghostly remains of farm buildings, lime kilns and fast flowing streams descending down the hill-side into the early stages of the River Ure. An easy NWN route to follow which took me towards my next destination, Hell Ghyll Bridge.

Had I been there a few days earlier, the sound of the trains running along the Settle-Carlisle railway line in the valley below, would have been powered by steam engines, as, during the previous weekend, as part of the celebrations of the reopening of the line, steam engines had been running along the famously scenic route.

The mist covered moorland to my right, Abbotside Common, is home to the black grouse and there are warning signs to protect them along the route, it mention’s how dog’s must be kept on a lead which, isn’t a bad thing, although, I’d covered half the track with my canine companion before I saw any such signpost, not that Mountain Meg, has the heart or the temperament to harm or catch anything, respecting the rules isn’t unreasonable.

An old, long time abandoned and forgotten Lime Kiln

The weather had been unfavourable all day, and, as the hours progressed, it gradually deteriorated, there was no heavy rain, it was simply becoming mistier, wetter and heavier in dull, grey cloud. It didn’t deter my day, it simply spoiled the views of this magnificent valley and the surrounding terrain.

Of all the tracks I’d covered over the years, this particular stretch of the High Way was truly dynamic, it was littered with history and fascination, it had fast flowing ghylls descending into the valley below, shake holes, abandoned farm houses, buildings and lime kilns, all the evidence of a once well worked location, fed on harsh surroundings and tough physical labour, a place without modern comforts or luxury, isolated and exposed to the wild elements, if only these structures could tell their tales, stories of long harsh winters with little or no means of communication to the outside world, an amazing couple of miles hiking, truly exhilarating. Now, the only residents are the ghosts of those long gone, and, when the weather permits, the sheep, as they graze and maintain their wild and rugged lifestyle, in their challenging, bleak but outstanding terrain.

The High Way, at least the stretch of it I covered, between Hell Ghyll Bridge and the point I joined it, just below High Dyke, I found confusing with the modern long distance trail known as the Dales High Way. The one I walked is an ancient track, with evidence supporting it was used in the Bronze Age, (discovery of flint tools), then, used by the Romans (discovery of the Mallerstang Hoard), as they tracked between their forts in Wensleydale and the A66. In more recent times it was often used by Lady Anne Clifford, the Countess of Pembroke, as she journeyed between her many castles, the track was in use until the 1820s when the new turnpike road (now the B6259) was built.. Even the buildings ruins along the High Way seem far too elaborate in their construction to have been merely for sheep, these were dwellings, and, it’s said that one, of the ruins was used as an inn called the Highway House, on a well-used route through the mountains – well used, not only by nobility, but also by drovers, tradespeople, and highwaymen, too. And Mary Queen of Scots is said to have passed along it in 1568, on her way from Carlisle to imprisonment in Bolton Castle.


THE DALES HIGH WAY was conceived in 2007 by husband and wife, Tony and Chris Grogan. It’s a 90 mile route across the high points of the Yorkshire Dales. It starts in Saltaire and finishes in Appleby with a return journey via the Settle-Carlisle railway line. Since March 2014 the route has been shown on OS leisure maps, and it is recognised by the Long Distance Walkers Association. It is described on Bradford’s official tourism site and the Yorkshire Dales National Park website.  An informal “Friends of A Dales High Way” group has been established.


The High Way really was as it’s name suggests, an ancient road, well known as an important route through the hills and dales, how many feet have walked across it, how many incidents have occurred on it, how many lives have been lost along it, who knows, I certainly don’t.

Hell Ghyll Bridge
Hell Ghyll Bridge – viewed from the West Riding of Yorkshire across into Westmorland

Dating from 1825, Hell Ghyll Bridge is a single arch span which replaced an earlier structure. One of the parapets houses a particular stone which is believed to be an original boundary stone between the traditional counties of the West Riding of Yorkshire and Westmorland, the true counties, I always choose to ignore the ludicrous boundary changes introduced in 1974.

Prior to reaching Hell Ghyll Bridge, (who named it that and why?), all the ghylls, streams and becks were feeders for the River Ure below, the county border really did leap out and define itself here, Hell Ghyll is a feeder for the River Eden. It’s entirely Westmorland and is one of the few large rivers in England that flows northwards. The source of the river is on the high limestone fells above Mallerstang Common, near the West Riding border, and makes its way across eastern Westmorland, with the hills of the North Pennines to the East, and the fells of the Lake District to the west, to Carlisle. Here it merges with other rivers to form the great Solway Firth estuary, before reaching the open sea, 90 miles (145 km) from its source.

The River Ure is approximately 74 miles (119 km) long from its source to the point where it changes its name to the River Ouse. It is the principal river of Wensleydale, which is the only one of the major dales now named after a village rather than its river. The old name for the valley was Yoredale after the river that runs through it.It’s is one of many rivers and waterways that drain the Dales into the River Ouse. Tributaries of the Ure include the River Swale and the River Skell.

Descending Hell Ghyll from the bridge to the waterfall

I felt as though I’d almost achieved my target, not my complete route, I’d only achieved half of that, but, Hell Ghyll was the mysterious object of desire and, without any real difficulty, I’d found it, a feeling of gratification.

Although it had been a wet and drizzly day, it hadn’t rained heavily, had it done so, the surrounding view and running water would have been tremendously more aggressive. Once at the base of the stream, there it was, in all it’s magnificence, Hell Ghyll Force. The waterfall is a single drop fall of around 8 metres (25 feet). Hell Ghyll, which begins its life as Red Ghyll, is fed by water rising from the High Seat range of fells. I was informed that, as part of the Duke of Edinburgh Award, on conclusion, participants were expected to leap into the pool at the waterfall’s base, not something I intended to copy, not  that day.

Hell Ghyll Force

At this half way point it was time for some refreshment, even with all the modern equipment and fast boiling cooking kit, this was the occasion to divulge into the traditional pre-made sandwiches and a flask of piping hot coffee. At least the coffee was mine, the sandwiches I had to share, old Mountain Meg simply stared at me the moment I’d sat down and opened my snack, it takes a stronger person than myself to refuse a hungry hound some tuna sandwiches, besides, she was great company and she deserved every bit.

I was surprised to see how close to the waterfall stood the Settle-Carlisle railway line, maybe 200 yards from each other and the waterfall is clearly visible from the train.


My intention had been to return to the car via a route ascending Grisedale Common on the opposite side of the valley. A walk through clearly defined marsh and bog, with an ascent to the common, prior to returning to the car. I departed with a full intention of completing the route, but, only a few minutes into it I had second thoughts. The terrain was saturated, and, the marsh was unforgiving. Each step through it requires twice, or even three times the effort of an established track or footpath, the mist and cloud were covering the summits and the drizzle was turning into rain, I made the executive decision to descend back to the road and opt for the easier option. I took the direct route and found myself confronted with a dry stone wall, as I climbed over it (had I damaged it I would have immediately repaired it), I slipped and fell backwards into the marsh, I was saturated, soaked to the skin, a shame, but these things happen.

I was disillusioned, cold, wet and now pretty miserable, it was about 3 miles back to the car and considering my state, it was going to be a long three miles, but, these moments ensure these outings are memorable and they make good conversation.

As I slogged along the road back to the car, it was too late to take to my Gortex jacket, the damage had been done, but, the railway line and it’s viaducts and tunnels became a major attraction, something I’ve decided to treat my son to during the school holidays at Easter, he will love the journey to Carlisle and back to Leeds, so will I. Anyway, maybe the route wasn’t completed but my target of Hell Ghyll had been achieved, I’d had a wonderful day and I was looking forward to arriving home and divulging into a good stew and vegetables, another wonderful day in God’s Own County.