Pancake Stone, Ilkley Moor, West Yorkshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SE 13404 46228

Also Known as:

  1. Carving no.167 (Hedges)
  2. Carving no.332 (Boughey & Vickerman)
  3. Pancake Rock

Getting Here

Pancake Stone, Ilkley Moor
Pancake Stone, Ilkley Moor

We were up here again the other week: wind, hail and snow blowing like hell, thankfully keeping the place to ourselves! To get here, head up Cow Pasture Road from the train station and up to the Cow & Calf Hotel near the famous rocks.  Go past it a 100 yards or so and look up onto the moors from here. You’ll see a great over-hanging rock on the slope above you which looks as though its gonna fall off at any moment. That’s the one!

Archaeology & History

Pancake Stone on 1851 map
Pancake Stone on 1851 map

Highlighted on the first Ordnance Survey map of the region in 1851, this prehistoric carved stone had been known as the Pancake Stone by local people long before any of the antiquarians brought literary attention to the site.  Much has subsequently been written about this great petroglyph — more of a rocking stone than a boulder — seemingly hanging onto the edge of the geological ridge awaiting its fall down the slope; but I reckon it’s gonna be many more centuries before such a fate befalls it!

J. Thornton Dale's 1879 drawing of the cup-markings
J.T. Dale’s 1879 drawing of the cups & carving
Previously unpublished image by Mr J. Thornton Dale, 1879

Although a Mr J. Thornton Dale did a fine series of quite accurate drawings of this stone (and others on the moors) between 1878 and 1880, the first literary description of the Pancake rock carving appears to have been by the renowned J. Romilly Allen in 1882 (who evidently visited the stone on a cloudy or overcast day), saying that:

“On its upper surface are several cup-markings much obliterated by the actions of the weather, but some of them sufficiently distinct to prove their origin artificial, and to show that this rock was noticed in ancient times, and very possibly considered an object either of worship or superstition.”

Close-up of cups & rings
Close-up of cups & rings

This latter assumption is highly probable.  Strong animistic notions (moreso than usual) would be very evident here.  Its position on the land with its outward focus from here towards other notable points in the landscape (Almscliffe Crags is one obvious focus); as well as looking at the rock itself from other viewpoints, give the stone considerable ritual importance.  Sections of the moorland plain behind it—known as Green Crag—was the Land of the Dead in ancient times, and it is more than likely that death rites would have been enacted here — though we may never know what form they took.

Dale’s faded 1879 sketch of the Pancake Stone

The stone has what seems to be at least 54 cup-markings on its upper face, with numerous grooves meandering and connecting other points.  In J. Thornton Dale’s 1879 drawing of the upper surface, you will note that a couple of the rings he included have all-but faded away and are not included in the more recent surveys.  Of the primary design, rock art students Boughey & Vickerman (2003) described there being “six complete and five partial rings” amidst the morass, but much of the design is very worn and, originally, there was probably a bit more to it all.  The rock upon which the main Pancake Stone rests also has some worn cup-marks etched on its surface, a couple of which can be made out in the top photo.


Good old Nicholas Size (1934) added this site to his list as a place where he had visions of the old christian cult, upon whose bare face were enacted blood rites and sacrifice.  One Beltane Eve when he decided to amble up onto the moor edge, he could see a strange glow coming from behind the rock.  He continues:

“Then suddenly I noticed there was a figure dancing upon it.  The figure seemed to swirl round and round with floating draperies, grey or white, and I can only say that it looked very uncanny.  Stupidly, I wondered that anybody could be such a fool as to dance in the darkness upon that precarious footing…”

But such activities on these moors, at certain times of the year, have been enacted for many centuries.  It’s just kept quiet and, as more modern pagans (as they like to call ’emselves) keep coming up here and to other places, so the original folk move to their older and increasingly more secluded spots…  In the latter half of the 20th century the site was used as a focus by chaos magickians, shortly after the inception of that Current.


  1. Allen, J. Romilly, ‘The Prehistoric Rock Sculptures of Ilkley,’ in Journal of the British Archaeological Association, volume 35, 1879.
  2. Allen, J. Romilly, ‘Notice of Sculptured Rocks near Ilkley, with some Remarks on Rocking Stones,’ in Journal of the British Archaeological Association, volume 38, 1882.
  3. Boughey, Keith & Vickerman, E.A., Prehistoric Rock Art of the West Riding, West Yorkshire Archaeology Service 2003.
  4. Cowling, Eric T., Rombald’s Way, William Walker: Otley 1946.
  5. Hedges, John, The Carved Rocks on Rombalds Moor, WYMCC: Wakefield 1986.
  6. Jennings, Hargrave, Archaic Rock Inscriptions, A. Reader: London 1891.
  7. Size, Nicholas, The Haunted Moor, William Walker: Otley 1934.
  8. Speight, Harry, Upper Wharfedale, Elliott Stock: London 1900.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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