In 1975 I rented the top floor apartment in a spooky old Victorian mansion situated high on the edge of Ilkley moor. I lived there with my first wife, Diane for several years. From our back window we had fantastic views across the moors, and occasionally we would notice strange lights flickering in the far distance. We never discovered what they were – possibly walkers returning late with torches, or maybe a ranger checking the grouse. It seemed that almost every week the local paper was reporting these lights and interviewing various people who had seen them. There was a lot of discussion about them in the pubs and lots of explanations were put forward. But no one ever discovered what they were.
One dark winters’ evening Diane and I were driving down a lonely moor road to a friends house in nearby Keighley. As we approached a dip in the road – with high walls on either side, another car came towards us. Then, without any warning, what looked like a large white hairless animal which resembled a sort of thin chimpanzee, suddenly scaled the wall, ran across the road between our two cars, scrambled over the other wall and ran off onto the moors. We both slammed on the brakes and stared open mouthed for a few seconds, our headlights shining into the distance. The other driver got out of her car and came over – she said she had seen some lights on the moor earlier and was shocked when this animal ran out. We were both a bit shaken. We all had a clear view of the animal and our descriptions matched. We had no idea what it was, maybe a frightened sheep, or a deer would be the most plausible explanation. But it didn’t resemble a deer or a sheep…
Then in 1987 a retired policeman, Philip Spencer claimed he was abducted on the moors and managed to take a grainy photograph of a supposed alien. It was a time of heavy UFO activity over the moors and the local papers were full of stories of strange lights and sightings. It is now generally deemed to be a hoax – but only one person knows for sure, and he is sticking to his story.
All this is said to show that the moors are a very strange place indeed. Much more goes on here than weird lights and UFO’s. The moors are places of legend – giants, old gods, mythical creatures, faery and of course, the strange lights that some say are the souls of the dead dancing around the circles. A big black dog with saucer eyes has been seen wandering the moors by many.
The old people who created the tombs and circles and cairn on these moors believed in animism, that the streams and stones were alive. They carved strange markings on these stones – today no one knows their meaning, or their exact age. Until very recently people have gathered at them – maybe not quite understanding their original purpose, but being drawn to them in some way.
There is a spirit on the moors – it is tangible, you can feel it. Walk onto the moors all alone in the pitch dark and sit at one if the circles and watch the dawn rise and you will know it is there. This isn’t the same as gathering with hundreds of other people to watch the sunrise at a national monument. This is personal. And silent.
Rombalds moor is a collective name for the moors defined by local township boundaries. These are Baildon Moor, Hawksworth Moor, Bingley Moor, Burley Moor, Ilkley Moor, Morton Moor, Addingham High Moor, High Moor, Silsden Moor, Kildwick Moor, Bradley Moor and Skipton Moor. In olden days people used to believe that the giant Rombald (or Rumbald) lived on these moors with his wife (who is always nameless) and they frequently fought – she often chasing him with a ‘skirtful of stones’ to throw at him (two of the ancient burial mounds are called ‘Little Skirtful of Stones’ and ‘Great Skirtful of Stones’).
A storm rages over the moors
It has been said that “The Ilkley Moor can scare you to death during daylight, and at night it’s even worse.”
There is a small beck draining the moors, and at the side of it lies ‘Backstone stone circle’. This is Neolithic – about 5000 years old, and the local archaeologist Gavin Edwards thought it may have been the religious site for the small enclosure across the beck. A lot of strange things go on at Backstone circle – it was first re-discovered by my good friend and Antiquarian Paul Bennett in 1989. He and a mate saw some shadowy beings walking between the stones one night, recorded large temperature variations between the inside and the outside of the circle, witnessed strange lights and much, much more. Another peculiarity of the circle is that sometimes you get a very strong feeling that you have to keep away from it. You are not wanted near it. If you enter the circle you have to get out quickly. I have felt this, and so have many others. It is overpowering.
‘The Twelve Apostles’ is another prehistoric circle high on the moors. In 1976, three members of the Royal Observer Corps were out on an exercise on the moors. Heading towards the Apostles, they noticed a bright sphere of light hovering right above the circle at low level. It then shot straight up into the sky at great speed and disappeared from view. In July 1990 two campers noticed a similar ball of light low on the moors move towards the Apostles and again shoot skywards. And Nicholas Size in his book ‘Haunted Ilkley Moor’ describes watching a procession of ghostly figures here.
A couple of miles away is the ancient ‘Horncliffe Well’ – and legend has it that the fairy-folk used to meet there at Beltane (May Day). And nearby is another mysterious stone circle, that no one can quite figure out what it was used for. I always get the shivers when near it, and I try to avoid it when possible.
Ashlar Chair is situated almost in the middle of the moors – at the boundary of Burley, Bingley, Morton and Ilkley moors. It is a large rock shaped almost like a reclining chair. It has mysterious symbols carved on it and it was reputed to have been a Druidic Chair, with rituals performed there. The Freemasons have used it as a meeting point as long ago as the fourteenth century. Nicholas Size calls this area ‘The Place of Horror’ and had a vision that people were being crucified and butchered there by the Romans.
The ‘Great Skirtful of Stones’ is a giant grave. At least nine ancient trackways seem to converge there – almost as if it is a hub. I discovered one myself last year. They maybe were trade routes, but why so many.
And nearby is ‘Roms Law’ (or ‘Grubstones’ circle). No one can figure out what it is or what it’s purpose was. But it has been suggested that it has something to do with the dead – maybe a ritual site. Bones and ashes were discovered in the centre of the circle in 1946. Possibly the ancient trackways were some sort of processional routes used to bring the dead to Roms for a ritual prior to cremation or burial. Evidence also points to Masonic groups meeting here in medieval times.
My friend Paul used to take people for guided walks across the moors. One day they came to Roms Law and Paul stood on a small hillock at the side of the circle and began his talk. A lady approached and asked Paul to move off the hill, and naturally Paul asked why? She then replied, pointing past Paul “it’s his grave you are standing on – he doesn’t like it!” The week before Paul had discovered that the hillock contained a burial – no one else knew and Paul hadn’t told anyone. But this lady, who later admitted to being psychic, knew! I love being at Roms – it is really peaceful and I have spent hours there all alone. It is my favourite place on the moors.
On a very remote part of the moor is the enigmatic ‘Fairy Mine’, another of Paul Bennetts’ discoveries. A small stone lined entrance about 11 inches across protrudes out of the bottom of a 30 ft. high hill which is covered in large jumbled boulders. It looks like a culvert, but it isn’t. It is completely dry. It can only have been made first then having the hill piled on top of it. We have contacted several professional archaeologists, geologists and historians – sent them maps and photos, and no one has a clue what it is or how old it is. There is an old legend that says several monks from Fountains Abbey stole some treasure and buried it on the moors. Maybe this is where it is. A very strange feature of the Fairy Mine is that the stone covering the entrance moves. Whenever we visit the mine we cover up the entrance with a large stone, and next time we visit it is always moved. I have gone back within half an hour and the stone had moved. Yet fewer than half a dozen people know it’s location, and you never see anyone in this part of the moor.
Across the way heading West you come to Rivock Edge, where a large plantation grows. There are a lot of cup and ring carvings here. In 1998 some countryside workers who were resurfacing the bridleway spotted several hooded figures floating above the ground and watched then for several minutes. These figures have also been seen elsewhere on the moors. Maybe they are the ghosts of the monks who are searching for a place to stash their stolen treasure!
There is a beautiful carved stone called the ‘Barmishaw Stone’ (old dialect translation ‘barm i’ t’ shaw’ – ghost in the wood stone’) on the West side of the moors, and there have been several reports of green elemental type creatures seen between here and a local spring
At the West side of the moor, the ancient family of Middleton decided to build a new track from ‘Windgate Nick’ over the moors to ‘Dick Hudsons’. The reason was to obliterate the original track which was reputed to be haunted (Nicholas Size says he once saw a Roman legion on this track). And the reason they gave was that there had been inexplicable fatalities upon it. Later, they erected a cross near the point where this ancient track crossed the Keighley road, and it was believed that this cross was intended as a place of refuge when supernatural dangers were about.