Ilkley Moor

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Cow and Calf rocks on Ilkley Moor

Ilkley Moor is part of Rombalds Moor, the moorland between Ilkley and Keighley in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The moor, which rises to 1,319 feet above sea level at SE114452, and is world-famous as the inspiration for the Yorkshire "county anthem" On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at.

This is a place far removed from the industrial towns of Yorkshire not far beyond; wild, bleak and beautiful.

History and myth

Ilkley Moor on a clear evening as the daylight falls

To the north, where the moor drops steeply towards the village of Ben Rhydding, a satellite of the town of Ilkley, are two millstone grit rock climbing areas: Rocky Valley and Ilkley Quarry.

Ilkley Quarry is the site of the famous "Cow and Calf", a large rock formation consisting of an outcrop and boulder, also known as Hangingstone Rocks. The rocks are made of millstone grit, a variety of sandstone, and are so named because one is large, with the smaller one sitting close to it, like a cow and calf. Legend has it that there was once also a "bull", but that was quarried for stone during the spa town boom that Ilkley was part of in the 19th century. However, none of the local historians has provided any evidence of the Bull's existence.

According to legend, the Calf was split from the Cow when the giant Rombald was fleeing an enemy, and stamped on the rock as he leapt across the valley. The enemy, it is said, was his angry wife. She dropped the stones held in her skirt to form the local rock formation The Skirtful of Stones.

In July 2006 a major fire on the moor left between a quarter and half of it destroyed.[1]


The millstone grit of the moor gives character to the town of Ilkley and also gives the area its acid soils, heather moors, soft water and rocky scars.

During the Carboniferous period (325 million years ago), Ilkley Moor was part of a sea level swampy area fed by meandering river channels coming from the north. The layers in the eroded bank faces of stream gullies in the area represent sea levels with various tides depositing different sorts of sediment. Over a long period of time the sediments were cemented and compacted into hard rock layers. Geological forces lifted and tilted the strata a little towards the south-east, producing many small fractures, or faults.

Since the end of the Carboniferous time there has been erosion and more than a thousand yards of the coal-bearing rocks have been completely removed from the area. During the last million years, Ice Age glaciers modified the shape of the Wharfe valley, deepening it, smoothing it and leaving behind glacial debris.[2]

Antiquities of the Moor

The swastika stone and its replica carving, overlooking Woodhouse Crag

On the Woodhouse Crag, on the northern edge of Ilkley Moor there is a swastika-shaped pattern engraved in a stone, known as the Swastika Stone,[3] also referred to as a Fylfot. In the figure in the foreground of the picture is a 20th-century replica; the original carving can be seen a little further away.

This stone is just one of a great abundance of carved rocks on the moor, well known others include the 'Badger Stone' and 'St. Margaret's Stones'. These are earthfast boulders, large flat slabs or prominent rocks that have cups, rings and grooves cut into them and thought to date from either the late Neolithic or the Bronze Age. While some carvings consist of simple cups, others such as the Badger Stone, Hanging Stones and the Panorama Rocks have complex series of patterns (or motifs) combining many different elements. Indeed, Rombald's Moor can boast the second highest concentration of ancient carved stones in Europe, with carving as far away as Skipton Moor. There is also a small stone circle known as 'The Twelve Apostles'.[4]

On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at

Ducks on Ilkley Moor, as in the song.

On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at ("On Ilkley Moor without a hat") is a popular Yorkshire folk song, sung in the Yorkshire dialect, and is considered the unofficial anthem of Yorkshire.[5] According to tradition, the words were composed by members of a Halifax church choir during an outing to Ilkley Moor.[6]

The song tells of a lover courting the object of his affections, Mary Jane, on the cold, wind-blown slopes of Ilkley Moor without a hat. The Yorkshire Dictionary (Arnold Kellett, 2002) stated that the song probably originates from the Halifax area, based on the dialect used in the song, which is not common to all areas of Yorkshire. Dr Arnold Kellett reports the traditional belief that the song "came into being as a result of an incident that took place during a ramble and picnic on the moor. It is further generally believed that the ramblers were all on a chapel choir outing, from one of the towns in the industrial West Riding".[6] The first published version of the words appeared in 1916.

  • The song is the Quick March of the 4th Battalion, the Yorkshire Regiment
  • The tune is often played by train drivers on their two-tone horns


Sung to the old Methodist hymn tune Cranbrook (composed by Canterbury-based shoemaker Thomas Clark in 1805 and later used as a tune for While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night), the song has become so popular that the origin of the music as a hymn tune has been almost forgotten in the United Kingdom.[7] It is still regularly used for the traditional words While Shepherds Watched in some churches including Leeds Parish Church, but is no longer widely recognised as a hymn or carol tune in the United Kingdom.

Cranbrook continues in use as a hymn tune in the United States, where it was not adopted as the tune of a popular secular song and is customarily used with the lyrics of Philip Doddridge's Grace! 'Tis a Charming Sound.[8][9]


Within the lyrics there is one central verse to the song, the first, third and fourth lines are changed with each following verse. All of the verses in the song feature the second, fifth, sixth and seventh lines which are "On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at".

Wheear 'ast tha bin sin' ah saw thee, ah saw thee?
On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at
Wheear 'ast tha bin sin' ah saw thee, ah saw thee?
Wheear 'ast tha bin sin' ah saw thee?
On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at
On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at
On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at

Subsequent verses replace "Wheear 'ast tha bin sin' ah saw thee, ah saw thee?" with:
  • Tha's been a cooartin' Mary Jane
  • Tha's bahn' to catch thy deeath o` cowd
  • Then us'll ha' to bury thee
  • Then t'worms'll come an` eyt thee up
  • Then t'ducks'll come an` eyt up t'worms
  • Then us'll go an` eyt up t'ducks
  • Then us'll all ha' etten thee
  • That's wheear we get us ooan back

Many sources [10][11] give the first line as "Wheear wor ta bahn when Ah saw thee?" (Where were you going when I saw you), though "Wheear 'ast tha bin sin' Ah saw thee" ("where have you been since I saw thee?") is the more common version nowadays.

Some singers add additional responses, for example after the fourth line of each verse adding "without thy trousers on", and "where the ducks play football" after the seventh line. Other variations include "where the nuns play rugby", "where the sheep fly backwards", "where the ducks fly backwards", "where the ducks wear trousers", and "an' they've all got spots".

Also in some recitals, after the first two lines of "On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at" it is followed by a "Where's that?". Another variant adds "Howzat?" after the first line and "Not out!" after the second.

There are also alternative endings, where verse nine states: "There is a moral to this tale", and is followed by a chorus of "Don't go without your hat / Don't go without your hat / On Ilkey moor baht 'at" (which is sung commonly within the West Riding of Yorkshire), or "Don't go a courtin' Mary Jane" (another variation known in the Scouting movement). Alternatively, verse nine is sung as "There is a moral to this tale", and verse ten as "When courtin' always wear a hat".


The moor forms part of the South Pennine Moors Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).[12] It also forms part of the South Pennine Moors Special Protection Area (SPA) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Ilkley Moor)
("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Cow and Calf Rocks)


  1. Amanda Greaves (3 August 2006). "Aftermath of moor fire will be felt for years". Ilkley Gazette. 
  2. Information courtesy of David Leather of the Wharfedale Naturalists' Society; in leaflet literature from Bracken Hall Countryside Centre.
  3. "Swastika Stone". Megalithic Sites in England. Retrieved 12 March 2012. 
  4. National Heritage List 1011763: Twelve Apostles stone circle, Burley Moor
  5. "The National Anthem of Yorkshire 'God's own county'". 24 October 2007. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Kellett, Arnold (1998). On Ilkla Mooar baht 'at: the story of the song. Smith Settle. p. 55. ISBN 1-85825-109-5. "We can at least clear the ground by looking at the most widely accepted tradition that On Ilkla Mooar came into being as a result of an incident that took place during a ramble and picnic on the moor. It is further generally believed that the ramblers were all on a chapel choir outing, from one of the towns in the industrial West Riding." 
  7. Ian C. Bradley (1997), Abide with me: the world of Victorian hymns, p. 9, ISBN 978-1-57999-010-7 
  8. See, e.g., John P. Wiegand, editor, Praise for the Lord (Expanded Edition) (Nashville, TN: Praise Press / 21st Century Christian, 1997), Item 199.
  9. "Grace! 'Tis a Charming Sound". Cyberhymnal. Retrieved 2008-11-07. 
  10. "On Ilkley Moor Baht 'at (On Ilkley Moor Without a Hat • Yorkshire's "National Anthem")". 
  11. " On Ilkley Moor Baht 'At". 
  12. Natural England: SSSI citation