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.