29: Burley Moor, Leeds

Approaching the Cow and Calf
Approaching the Cow and Calf rocks, above Ilkley.

Date: 27th March 2021.

Weather conditions: Dry, bright and mostly sunny. A brisk and chilly wind kept the temperature well down.

County Top bagged: Burley Moor, which at approximately 1,115 feet/340m above sea level, is the highest point in the local authority of Leeds. The summit lies at grid reference SE140446, but it is not a ‘hilltop’ in the topographical sense, as there is higher ground immediately to the north-west. Nevertheless it is marked, by a tumulus called, on the map, the “Great Skirtful of Stones”, and even more precisely by the fencepost pictured here.

The summit fencepost
The summit of Leeds does its best.

The name ‘Burley Moor’ is adopted on my list for convenience. On the OS map, the label appears in the rough vicinity of the highest point. More commonly, the area of high ground on which this spot resides is known as Ilkley Moor, and officially, it’s Rombalds Moor, the actual summit of which (at 1,319 feet/402m) lies about a mile west of the Skirtful.

This is my second consecutive top bagged from what was West Yorkshire, from 1974-1986 anyway. By altitude it ranks 72nd of the 172 modern Tops and 90th of the full list of 196.

[ << Woolley Edge, Wakefield (28) | (30) Warden Law, Sunderland >> ]

Start and end point of walk: Started at Saltaire railway station. Finished at Ilkley railway station. Both of these can be reached by train services from Bradford Forster Square and Leeds stations — although, not the same services. The walk took me four hours.

Climbing the Cow and Calf
Getting to the top of the Calf (or is it the Cow) by a more strenuous method than I will ever try.

Pub at end: The Midland Hotel stands right outside Ilkley station, but I cannot tell you what it is like, as we are still in Great Fear mode. The Cow and Calf hotel, up near the eponymous rocks, could have also offered a beer on the way down, though bear in mind that here you are still about a mile from the station. I ended up slaking my thirst at Tesco’s near the station, where everyone looked at me as if I was a serial killer, descended off the moors to wreak havoc.

Distance walked: 9.3 miles/15km approx.

Feet of ascent: 1,180 feet/360m approx.

Difficulty: ★★★. This is never a difficult walk but there are passages of moorland tramping and a few steep slopes. It’s long enough to make you feel like you’ve had a decent workout at the end of the day.

View down Wharfedale
View down Wharfedale from the later stages of the walk. The Chevin is the hill on the right.

Ease of access: ★★★★. Although you should check the train times out of Leeds or Bradford, there are plenty of services to and from the stations that you need. You can also start at Shipley, which has more services than Saltaire, and is less than half a mile away. Doing it the other way around is also an option, and would increase the flexibility.

Scenic qualities: ★★★. I nearly gave it four stars but there is a little too much tramping through heather that has been burnt off in an ugly patchwork way. Nor is there ever a satisfying ‘summit’ to the walk. However, the views are excellent, particularly down Wharfedale, and Saltaire is always a good-looking place. Let’s call it three and a half stars, maybe.

Horncliffe Well
Stone marking Horncliffe Well, right on the border of Leeds.

The area: There have been other walks that have spent very little time in the territory of the local authority whose Top is being visited, like South Gloucestershire’s, for example. But today I reached the ultimate on that scale, as while my walk proceeds along the boundary of Leeds local authority for a while, it does not enter it except, and then only symbolically, at the summit itself; the walking is all done today in the territory of Bradford. There may be a couple of other Tops like this (South Ayrshire, for example), so the record may be equalled, but it can never be surpassed.

Despite not spending any time in it today, I know Leeds well enough. I am a double graduate of the University of Leeds and resided in the city from 1993 – 2001. I like the place, while still admitting to loathing its football team (the White Shite). It never did me any real disservice, and I met our lass there, to whom I have been married for 21⅔ years at the time of writing. For that alone it gets top marks.

Grouse butt
One of the many grouse-shooting butts passed en route.

There’s plenty of history there, as the city was first granted its charter by King John in 1207 AD, and in governmental terms it’s been independent since 1889. With nearly 800,000 people, it’s the second most populous local authority in the UK, behind only Birmingham.

Incidentally, I have lived in six counties or local authorities in my life — in their modern form and in chronological order, Tameside, East Sussex, Kent, North Yorkshire, Leeds and Calderdale. This is the first Top of those six that I have reached on this project.

Map: Routefinding on this walk is not straightforward, so it’d be worth bringing a map: two, in fact. The first part of the walk. Shipley Glen, is on OS Explorer 288 Bradford and Huddersfield, and the rest is on 297 Lower Wharfedale and Washburn Valley.

On this summary map, the marked summit is that of Rombalds Moor, and the walk summit lies roughly east of that point. The walk proceeds from south to north.

Map of walk 29

Route: While not a classic, this is certainly a very good walk with some excellent views in all directions. There are a few passages of tramping through the heather and routefinding is not always obvious. But on a decent day it’s worth the effort. I would not bother in poor weather; you could follow the route easily enough, but it wouldn’t be much fun. I suspect that the paths up on the moor will be closed in grouse shooting season (autumn).

The first thing worth seeing comes straight away, with the train depositing you in the midst of Saltaire village. This is one of the great planned Victorian industrial settlements in the UK, ranking up there with New Lanark and Port Sunlight. Saltaire was built by, and named for, the textile magnate Titus Salt, and when it was built, the enormous Salt’s Mill (which you see immediately after leaving the station) was the biggest industrial building in the world. He wanted to house his workers decently, and while this didn’t, at the time, include the construction of a pub, the housing and other services that he did build were exemplary and the village still looks cosy and welcoming to this day.

Saltaire church
The rather impressive church built by Mr. Salt in Saltaire.

Saltaire is well worth a day of leisurely exploration, but there is no time today. Instead, walk down to the canal past the end of Salt’s Mill and then proceed west along the towpath for half a mile or so until reaching the next lock, and the end of the huge Salts sports complex. Cross the river by the footbridge and keep the housing estate on your right. The stream you then cross is the one that comes out of Shipley Glen, and seeing as that was where I was heading it seemed logical to follow the water up, first on the right bank and then, after crossing the road, the left (which as you are going upstream, is the left-hand then right-hand side as you look at it).

The Glen is very steep-sided. I ended up following a path on the right bank (left side) which zigzagged me back up the hill until eventually heading north along the rim of the valley. Continue along this until dropping down to a stone bridge and then climbing up to the road above, called Glen Road on the map.

Shipley Glen
In Shipley Glen.

Head north on reaching this and carry straight on along a somewhat muddy path, to reach an area of horse-racing gallops around Birch Close Farm. This is all a right of way, apparently, though it doesn’t feel like one on the ground. Watch it when you are crossing these gallops, as you don’t want to be mown down by the local stampede.

Keep to the left of the farm, then to the right of Weecher reservoir. On reaching the road, turn right, and take care for the next 200 yards as the way lies by a busy road with no pavement. Escape left up the next signed footpath, and realise that the wall beside which you are ascending marks the boundary of Leeds; not that you can enter the territory at this point, thanks to padlocked gates. Keep it on your right, and ensure you then skip through the wall to stay following the border as it becomes a fence leading across the semi-burned expanses of the heather moors. This is not an edifying experience, but compensation comes from the extensive views down Airedale, to Leeds itself in the distance.

Ruin (and two walkers) near Weecher reservoir.

The path drifts away from the boundary fence, ascending to the building visible ahead, a shed for the shooters that marks the highest point of the walk, at about 1,135 feet/346m. The summit of Leeds is then down the track to the right a short way, marked by a spill of grey stones (a tumulus) near the corner of the fence. It’s not a summit in the topographical sense, but there is a fine view, and so I guess it can count as a moral County Top.

From here you could carry straight on down the path and be in Menston soon afterwards — there are trains from there. However, I headed north-east, aiming for Ilkley. To do so, go down through the heather to the tiny reservoir of Lower Lanshaw, then bear right down the ‘Millennium Way’ before heading left along the edge of the escarpment, with its stupendous views of Wharfedale. This path brings you to the Cow and Calf rocks, neither of which look very bovine, but which are dramatic and interesting.

Cow and Calf from the east
The Cow (or Calf) from the east.

The town of Ilkley — one of the affluent enclaves Southerners assume the North of England doesn’t have — is obvious below, and one of the multitude of paths which descend in that direction will doubtless prove of use to you. In fairly short order from the Cattle Rocks, I ended up on Cowpasture Lane, a street which drops in a straight line down to the railway station. If they still won’t let you in the pubs by the time you do this walk, Tesco’s just on the right.

Still at home commentary: I am still in West Yorkshire. It’s a pleasant part of the world, so on the whole I don’t have a problem with this — directly. But how long can this bunch of clowns sustain the fiction of lockdown? There were two dozen people up on the Cow and Calf this afternoon, busy trains in and out of Bradford. People are making their own judgments about their safety and health. Do you see irresponsibility? Well, if you do, you probably stopped reading this blog a year ago.

Above Eldwick
Cyclists on the bridleway above Eldwick.

This was one of those walks that I knew wouldn’t lead to much summit satisfaction, but it still looked good on the map. And so it proved on the ground. The burnt heather — an ecological crime that Our Glorious Leaders choose to ignore — was an irritant but the panoramic views of Airedale and Wharfedale compensated admirably. Saltaire and then Shipley Glen made for a nice prelude and no one’s going to claim Ilkley is an unattractive place.

In two days’ time I’m supposed to be able to not ‘stay at home’ again. On April 12th the pubs may even reopen, though the sphincters that rule us are already twitching on that one. Apparently, to keep us all ‘healthy’, we need to introduce active discrimination — whereby if you’ve not been lucky enough (or un-pregnant enough) to be vaccinated, and you therefore don’t have the concomitant e-passport, you won’t be able to go stand at a bar. Thus giving a big fuck you to not only the 19-year-olds of the UK but a whole bunch of foreign tourists who might have wanted to spend their money on these local businesses over the summer. But that would have been uncontrolled wouldn’t it. And these inept idiots just cannot risk that. They’ve had their taste of overt social control now, and enjoyed it.

The canal at Saltaire; get out, stay healthy.

By next weekend, Easter, I hope to have made it back to the Lake District, as after Monday they apparently can’t arrest me for it. I’m off work until the 8th, so it would be nice to get another CT in before then as well, though largely it depends on the weather. The sharp breeze today was a sign things are deteriorating, but hopefully this will be just for a day or two.

Meantime, another Yorkshire Top bagged — but that’s fine. It’s a highly attractive and diverse part of the world. And while today had, geographically, very little to do with the city of Leeds itself, it was still a nice reminder of times past. Without the eight years I spent in this place, I would definitely not be where I am today, in all sorts of ways. But Leeds United? Nah. Nuff said. See you next time.


7 thoughts on “29: Burley Moor, Leeds

  1. Thar looked a decent enough walk. As to the politics words fail me. How they can be talking about slowing or reversing our route out of this nightmare due to 2000 cases of a variant?!

    1. I will carry on doing what I’ve been doing since late January, and ignoring all restrictions at a personal level. I also do believe that what came up last week is just media bluster — a tactic from a moronocracy suddenly worried that people might get used to the idea of freedom once again, softening us up and drawing, as ever, on the (sadly copious) reservoirs of guilt and fear that have driven this whole thing. In the end though the only way out of this will be mass disobedience.

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