The Cow and Calf rocks on Ilkley Moor provide one of the most iconic of all Yorkshire images. But how much do you know about Ilkley’s very own world famous landmark? The formation, also known as the Hangingstone rocks, appear in every LS29-based newspaper piece, boast their own mythology and can shift location at will, if a certain film is to be believed. So, let’s find out more about the Cow and Calf.
What are the Cow and Calf?
The Cow and Calf are a collection of rocks and a nearby boulder. They are perfect for climbing up, walking on and using as a platform on which to gaze upon the general beauty of the Wharfe Valley.
Where Does the Cow and Calf Name Come From?
So-called experts would have you believe the stones represent a cow and her child sitting on the moor, looking down over the town. The trouble is that they really do not, as this video explains:
Basically, whoever named them simply plumped for the first ‘little and large’ thing they could think of. They could just have easily called them ‘the Syd and Eddie’, ‘the Shaun Wright-Phillips and Peter Crouch’ or ‘the X Factor viewing figures and Simon Cowell’s ego’. Still, they’ve printed all the signs and guidebooks, and the cafe and pub have spent cash on signage so we’ll probably have to stick with the name.
Visiting the Cow and Calf
Visiting the Cow and Calf is certainly a cracking day out. You don’t have to climb the sheer rock face (unless you want to), there’s a reasonably steady path up to the top, and it’s completely worth it. To my mind, it’s one of the finest views anywhere on Earth. No exaggeration!
You can explore the tops of the rocks, featuring graffiti carved into the stone from more than a hundred years ago.
— Sarah Wakefield (@WakeyWakefield) 8 September 2017
There’s also the rest of the moor to traverse, or just sit and have a brew/pint at one of the aforementioned facilities.
Here’s where you can find the Cow and Calf:
Fly to the Cow and Calf
One of the best bits about visiting the Cow and Calf is the drive up from Ilkley. I like to pretend I’m on a plane that’s taking off. The point where you pass out of the town, up the steep hill, with open countryside to your left always reminds me of that experience. The only difference is that there’s no one trying to flog me overpriced perfume in my car. Thank goodness.
The Legend of the Cow and Calf
The myth around the stones is that the giant Rombald, who lived on Ilkley Moor, knocked the ‘calf’ free from the ‘cow’ whilst fleeing his angry wife. No one seems to know her name, so we’ll have to presume she was Mrs. Rombald. The story goes that Mrs. Rombald was tooled-up with a load of stones to throw at her husband (goodness knows what he’d done wrong, but it must have been something major), and he pushed off from from the Hangingstone Rocks, leaping the valley and landing on Almscliffe Crag at North Rigton, more than ten miles away.
Obviously, that is the most unbelievable bit of the whole tale.
Anyway, after witnessing her husband’s gigantic, Olympic long jump-style leap, Mrs. Rombald dropped her stones, producing what is now called the Skirtful of Stones on the moor.
The view from the Little Skirtful of Stones across to Lower Lanshaw Dam (Burley Moor) pic.twitter.com/fuVQC9HaGL
— Explore the Moor (@ExploreMoor) 5 July 2016
The Cow and Calf on Screen
As you’d expect from such a visually stunning landmark, the Cow and Calf has appeared on screen a number of times. It was used as a location recently on ITV detective show DCI Banks and local soap Emmerdale is always up there. It also appeared in Calendar Girls, the film about the Dales-based WI ladies who posed naked for a charity calendar.
The scene in that movie sees two lads chatting on top of the ‘calf’, before walking home. To Kettlewell. 25 miles away. Yet they don’t seem too knackered when they get back.