Walkers visiting Ilkley invariably set their sights on the high ground to the south of the town – the iconic Ilkley Moor and its satellite heather tracts of Burley Moor and Rombalds Moor.
But should they choose to look the other way – to the north – there is much to be appreciated and enjoyed on the wide, wild expanses of Middleton Moor, Langbar Moor and Denton Moor, all watched over by the graceful summit of Beamsley Beacon.
This circuit enters that particular realm and what a treat it turns out to be. A gentle ascent leads by woodland glades, field paths and broad bridleways to the scattered Saxon settlement of Langbar at which point everything changes – and for the better.
The lonely outpost of Langbar Moor sets the scene for the return leg, leading easily on to neighbouring Middleton Moor, the crossing of which proves to be the highlight of the day. And, here, a surprise awaits us – the path over this rarely-visited stretch remains visible over the ground.
This ensures a safe and pleasurable crossing with no chance of putting a foot wrong. To hedge your bets, however, it would be preferable to save this walk for a clear day so that you can pick out the route ahead. So avoid this one in mist or low cloud.
Ilkley’s prosperity and fame today as a tourist destination is based on its 19th-century boom years as a spa when it attracted people from all over the country hoping to benefit from the water-cure craze which took such a hold on the Victorians. The Ben Rhydding Hydrotherapy Establishment started the ball rolling in 1846 and was quickly followed by other hydros and hotels, including the Craiglands, Ilkley’s biggest hotel.
The railway chugged into town in 1868 and turned Ilkley into a major spa resort. The population soared from 778 in the 1841 census to 7,500 by the 1901 census. In addition, there were 8,000 resident guests and 200,000 annual day trippers.
Today, the town is regarded as one of the most prestigious residential communities in the north, superbly situated below Ilkley Moor at the gateway to the Dales and ideal for the commuters of Leeds and Bradford.
ILKLEY and MIDDLETON MOOR 7 ½ miles: Allow 3 ½ – 4 ½ miles. Map: O/S Explorer 297 Lower Wharfedale. Avoid in mist.
Park at the bottom – northern – end of New Brook Street, Ilkley and set out in a northerly direction – away from Ilkley town centre - and turn first right along Denton Road (brown sign: Ilkley Lido).
Go past the Rugby club and then turn left at fingerpost through the Lido grounds, past the pool, and straight on over the grass, past picnic tables, to enter a wood at a gap in trees. Go up steps to arrive in road (Curly Hill), turn left for 30 yards and then turn right, across the road, to a fingerpost to enter Middleton Woods.
Go up steps and then bear half left with the strong path to arrive in a cross track and turn LEFT, soon crossing footbridge. Note: On this next section, the general rule is that whenever you arrive at a fork, always take the left branch to stay nearest to the edge of the wood.
Just past the footbridge, at fork, take the left (minor) branch. At the next fork – stay alert! - take the left branch again. At next fork, take the left branch to arrive at a tiny stream – again, take the left fork. Soon, houses appear on your left.
Sweep right on passing the houses to a fork and take the left branch out of the wood, over a stile and then turn left along field edge, ignoring a stile on your left, to gain the wood ahead, entering via a stile. Soon, turn left over footbridge and then, at marker post, turn right and follow path into road.
Turn right up the road to red post box and turn first left at fingerpost for 40 paces and then go off right at marker post through trees. Continue past houses to enter a vehicle track and turn right. When vehicle track turns left, go straight ahead through gate and follow the fine track to the next gate, pass through and press on.
On entering road, turn left and follow it for a short half mile to a big sign for Upper Austby Farm and, here, leave the road and pass just to the left of the farm sign, along a wall, past an old box-top footpath sign, to a stone stile in wall corner.
Cross it and the next stile to enter field and turn left to a stile to right of a stone building (stile awkward – take care) and the next stile and turn left along wall with Beamsley Beacon to your front right.
Go over a series of stiles, the last one crossing a new fence and then go a quarter left to a green-roofed wooden stable and go through gate to its right. Now go half right to a wall corner and continue in the same line, passing to the right of a red-and-white pole, and aiming for a wooden pallet leaning against wall.
On gaining a wall corner at pallet, press on with wall on your left, the best line being a few yards right of the wall. Once through the reeds, the ground becomes much easier. Go over entry road to a house (Moorcroft) and then half right, round a wall corner, and follow wall on your left towards houses.
1: On arriving in the dead-end entry road at Chapel House Farm, go straight ahead, through gate at Old Chapel Cottages, and then go through a tiny gate ahead and along an enclosed path, sweeping left within a few yards to enter a field.
Go straight ahead along right edge of field, over a stile with makeshift gate, until within 100 yards of a new wooden barn and spot the wall corner on your right. Here, turn right at marker post, through gate (open, on our visit) to enter the Langbar road. Turn left, soon passing a house, Hardisty.
Follow the road past a yellow bike and turn first right up a farm track past a “fresh eggs” notice. Beamsley Beacon dead ahead. At farm (Spring Well), continue up a green lane, under telegraph wires, and then, at top of slope, sweep right with wall to enter access road and bear right along it.
Just before a cattle grid, go off left along a grass track with wall on your right. Enter access road and turn right to approach the entrance to a house. Just before house, go off left to bypass the property and continue over Langbar Moor with wall a few yards to your right. This is Badgers Gate.
Curl right with the wall and follow it round until it turns sharp right and, at this point, spot the path going straight onover the moor (yellow tape on fence post on your right). Leave the wall and take this path to the brow of the moor where you will encounter a cross track and an ancient milestone for Otley and Skipton.
Go straight past the milestone to enter Middleton Moor with March Ghyll Reservoir in the distance. After a couple of hundred yards, you will pick up a paved packman’s trod which leads over a tiny stream. The path – miraculously! - stays visible over the ground throughout.
2: On crossing Middleton Moor, on arriving in vehicle track at a concreted area at rubble tip, turn right along vehicle track through the lefthand one of two gates and follow the splendid track all the way to enter road at a sign for Windsover Farm.
Take the stile to your front left and go half left over the field aiming well down the field for the start of a row of trees where you will find a stile. Now go half right across next field on a vague green path to gain a drinking bath, old metal gate and a stone stile – easiest to cross the metal gate.
Turn right along wall to field corner and then turn left and follow the wall on your right all the way along this huge field. At field end, go over a stone stile at the lefthand one of two gates. Now follow wall on your right to a barn, go past it, over a stile, and straight on (fingerpost pointing back) using a vehicle track just to your left. At double metal gates, cross the stile to right of gates.
Turn right along the road – ignore a road going down to your left – and keep on to arrive at road junction at Hunger Hills. Take the road opposite (Curly Hill). Race down the hill, past the last house, and then, after about 80 yards, turn left into Stubham Wood.
Take the path half right, initially down a board walk, to a fingerpost for Woodland Walk, turn right for a few paces and then turn left down through the wood and stick with the main path to spot the edge of the wood ahead (and probably parked cars).
Just before edge of wood, turn left to a footbridge and turn right to exit wood to emerge in access road and go straight ahead, soon curling left to the Lido. Go past it to enter Denton Road, turn right to T-junction and left to the finish.