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Situated between the boundaries of Hawkesworth, Burley and Bingley moors, Horncliffe Well was first described in land records going back to 1273 and was regarded as a site of great importance and repute – never known to run dry even in severe drought. It’s waters were believed to have healing properties and the sick and infirm would come to ‘take the waters’ in the belief that they would be cured.

High summer on the moors

High summer on the moors

Tradition says the Well was a haven for ‘fairy folk’ who were seen frequently there on or around Beltane (May Day), and several people have reported ‘Will-o’-the-wisp’ lights nearby – very recently in fact!.

The path over the moors

The path over the moors

The path across the moors to the Well intersects several streams and when I visited last winter they were in full spate and I almost had to wade in the fast flowing water to get across. The ground nearby is also very boggy and it is not unknown to sink a foot or two into the wet mud and peat.

Through fields of purple heather

Through fields of purple heather

I was telling my walking buddy James about the Well, and he wanted to see it for himself. So on a beautiful high summer morning we parked the car and walked up the steep path onto the moors. Neither of us had been here for a few months and we were surprised at how high the bracken had grown – covering many of the ancient landmarks and standing stones which abound on these moors.

The site of the Well with marker stone

The site of the Well with marker stone

After awhile the bracken thinned out and we walked through a field of wild purple heather alive with yellow and white butterflies, and eventually picked up the moor path and made our way over to the Well.

Through the style towards Bingley

Through the style towards Bingley

The area around the Well is lonely and wild, and we sat on some old stones and had our lunch whilst listening to the lonely cry of a curlew and admired the stunning views around us. There has been human habitation on these moors for 10,000 years and in a dip a hundred and fifty yards away are remains of a Neolithic settlement which is about 5000 years old – although it is easy to miss unless you know where to look. And in summer it gets almost completely covered by bracken – with just the tops of the 5ft high stones which make up a circle visible.

Horncliffe Well

Horncliffe Well

Unfortunately the Well has been vandalized in recent years – the original stone trough has disappeared and now there is a metal manhole cover on the moor floor. Raising this shows a small concrete chamber containing a plastic pipe out of which flows a small amount of water – most of the original flow has been diverted off somewhere. Apparently it was a ‘gusher’ but it is little more than a trickle. What a shame.

The moors

The moors

We decided not to have a drink from the Well – I am sure it would have been safe, the waters having been naturally filtered by the moors, but the pipe looked a bit mucky so we didn’t bother. What a shame that something which has been used by people for ten thousand years or so is almost inaccessible now and hidden away by a dirty old metal cover.

The town of Ilkley

The town of Ilkley

We took a slightly longer way home, it being a perfect day for walking and arrived back at the car after after 10 or 11 miles.

Well worth a visit if you are in the area 😉

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