This walk featured in BBC Radio Leeds’s Secret Spaces with Andrew Edwards.
Route description and map
Distance: 2.1 miles (3.4 kilometres)
Time: 45 minutes
A circular walk beginning and ending at the entrance to the Billing opposite Jubilee Hall, Layton Avenue, Rawdon LS19 6QQ. Take the footpath signposted to the Billing, cross the stile and head straight up the hill to the plateau on top of the Billing. Turn left at the fence at the top and walk to the trig point. From there, head across the plateau to the copse of trees and enter via the gate. Take the footpath to the right and contour around the wood, passing the old air defences and down to the left.
As you reach the bottom of the wood, turn right onto the footpath which heads in the direction of Rawdon Cricket Club. Bear slight left straight down into Billing View, passing the fishing lake on your left, and then skirt round the back of the cricket club into Lakeside Chase and out onto Larkfield Road via Lakeside Gardens. Turn left onto Larkfield Road and head past the cricket club and turn left onto Town Street at the Emmot Arms.
Head down Town Street, passing Rawdon St Peter’s Primary School and then Rawdon St Peter’s Church. The road bends to the left opposite the junction with Layton Lane. Just as the road turns to the right, turn left onto Layton Avenue and back to Jubilee Hall.
1. The Billing
This area of high ground above Rawdon was almost certainly an area of some strategic significance in ancient times, with its panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. The name ‘Billing’ may derive from a Celtic British word for hill and the -don ending of Rawdon, Yeadon and Baildon comes from an Old English word for high ground.
In 1780, a Bronze Age gold torque was found on the Billing but subsequently lost. Further down the hill, in the Cragg Wood area of Rawdon, Bronze Age axe-heads have been found and there is a Bronze Age scheduled monument in a private garden nearby.
The Billing rises to a height of 758 feet (231 metres) above sea level and forms part of a ridge of high ground, ending at the BT Tower at Tinshill, which is the highest point until Moscow. If you don’t believe me, you can see my calculations here.
2. Trig point
From the trig point in the middle of the plateau on top the Billing, there is an almost 360-degree panoramic view taking in West, East and North Yorkshire. To the southwest, you can see up the Aire valley towards Baildon. Due south are Calverley and Pudsey and, on the horizon, Emley Moor Transmitter (about 17 miles/28 kilometres away). Moving further east, Leeds city centre is clearly visible, with the M62 corridor, and its power stations, beyond.
On a very clear day, it is possible to see York Minster to the north east, nestled beneath the Howardian Hills. The position of it on the horizon is indicated below.
To the north is Leeds-Bradford Airport and, moving round to the north-west are Guiseley, Rombald’s Moor and the Wharfe Valley.
3. World War Two air defences
Cross the plateau to the copse and enter via the gate. Bear right along the footpath which skirts the right-hand edge of the trees. You will pass several rocks strewn by the path, which are evidence of the Billing’s previous use as a quarry. Stone from here was used in the construction of a number of buildings in Leeds city centre, including the Town Hall which was built from stone from numerous local quarries.
As the path emerges from the trees, there are the concrete foundations of a World War Two air defence placement which used to protect the Yeadon Avro factory where Lancaster and Anson aircraft were constructed during the war in conditions of utmost secrecy.
Despite being the largest building in Europe at the time, the Germans never knew it was there thanks to an ingenious disguise. The roof was turfed over and model farm animals placed on top so that, from the air, it merged seamlessly into the surrounding countryside. As an added touch, the model animals were moved every day to recreate the real-life daily movements of livestock. Nearby Yeadon Tarn was also drained so that it could not be used as a navigational aid. The wartime boss of Avro was Sir Roy Hardy Dobson from Horsforth (who is a distant relative of mine). I have written about him here.
4. Larkfield Dam
The body of water at the foot of the hill beneath the air defences is Larkfield Dam (or Tarn) which is the home of the Rawdon Model Boat Club.
From the air defences, take the footpath down the hill through the woods, curving to the left. When you reach the bottom of the copse, turn right onto the footpath which heads down to Billing View, passing the fishing lake on your left, and then turn right onto the footpath which the skirts the perimeter of Rawdon Cricket Club.
5. Rawdon Cricket Club
The home of Yorkshire cricketing legends Hedley Verity, Brian Close and Bryan Stott who all played for the club in their formative years. Left-arm spinner Verity, who still holds the world record for the best-ever bowling figures (10 for 10 against Nottinghamshire in 1932), was one of the best bowlers in the world in the 1930s. He died of wounds sustained in an Allied assault in Sicily in 1943 while serving with the Green Howards.
Renowned hard man Close was England’s youngest ever cricketer and is best-remembered for two famous innings against the West Indies when he unflinchingly took several blows to the body. Stott played 190 times for Yorkshire as a dependable left-handed opener.
Make your way through the Lakeside estate and out onto to Larkfield Road. Turn left and walk downhill, past the cricket club and left onto Town Street at the Emmott Arms.
6. Emmott Arms
There has been a pub on Town Street since at least the 1660s. The Emmott was built in the 1700s on its present site at the top of Over Lane. The Emmotts owned extensive in land in Rawdon and the surrounding area from the 1740s.
7. Rawdon St Peter’s Primary School
Continue down Town Street, passing the primary school on your left. Note the school crest comprising two keys, representing the keys to heaven, and an inverted cross, symbolising St Peter’s upside-down crucifixion by the Romans – it is said that Peter considered himself unworthy of being crucified in the same way as Jesus so asked for his cross to be inverted.
8. St Peter’s Church
Francis Layton (see further below) commenced the building of Rawdon’s first church in 1645 and the work was completed by his son after his death. It was consecrated by the Archbishop of York, John Dolben, in 1684. Dolben, like Layton, was a Royalist and had been the King’s standard bearer at the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, preached at the church in 1778. His sermon was entitled “Repent ye and believe the Gospel”.
The current church building dates to 1864. The architect was Alexander Crawford of Leeds, a former pupil of Cuthbert Brodrick, who designed Leeds Town Hall and other notable civic buildings in Leeds.
The stocks in the churchyard were removed in the 1860s but put back in 1925.
9. Layton Hall
Across the road from the church is Layton Hall, the former seat of the Layton family, referred to above. Before the outbreak of the English Civil War, Francis Layton was Yeoman of the Jewel House to King Charles I and an unpopular lord of the manor. A combination of his unpopularity and the presence of a number of religious dissenters in the area meant that there was strong support for the Parliamentarian cause locally.
On 23 January 1643, Sir Thomas Fairfax led a Parliamentarian army through Rawdon on his way to dislodge a Royalist garrison from Leeds. Locals came out to cheer Fairfax’s men but they left Layton Hall unmolested as they hurried on towards Leeds. The full story of that day can be found here.
Having passed the junction with Layton Lane on your right, turn left into Layton Avenue and return to the starting point of the walk.