There is nowhere quite like Brimham Rocks.

The strange collection of rock formations, covering 50 acres of moorland, is a fabulous natural playground where visitors are free to roam and climb without the usual restraints of 21st century health and safety.

Some like to believe the rocks were man-made, a kind of Yorkshire Stonehenge carved by ancient dancing tribes, but the geologists’ version is more likely. They say the rocks, in a variety of odd shapes, were formed millions of years ago through erosion of millstone grit sandstone by wind and rain.

The sandblasting effect wore down the layers of rock, creating weird shapes given names like the Sphinx, the Eagle, the Turtle and the Dancing Bear. Idol Rock – a giant curved rock balancing precariously on top of a tiny plinth – is particularly striking.

Linked to druids and Old Mother Shipton, the rocks also have a place in popular culture; used as a backdrop to children’s TV drama The Rottentrolls and the video for Bee Gees’ song You Win Again.

Looking out over 40 miles of splendid Nidderdale views, rocks of various sizes and heights are nestled amid a labyrinth of paths leading off to lovely moorland and woodland walks.

It’s a perfect landscape for walkers, families, climbers and anyone else who fancies losing themselves in the great outdoors for an afternoon.

As a child I used to love clambering over the rocks, which seemed to go on forever. That was back in the Seventies, before the days of soft playground surfaces, when children played out with a sense of freedom. We were allowed to make up own our minds whether something looked dangerous or not – and if we fell off, we made sure we were more careful next time.

So it was lovely to see my nephews, Sam and Jack, who have grown up in an age of Xbox, crash mats and sanitised indoor play dens, enjoying the same kind of freedom at Brimham Rocks.

I was pleased to see that the site was refreshingly free of “Danger” signs or patronising instructions on how to behave around rocks.

The boys seemed to relish the sense of being unleashed and couldn’t get enough of climbing, crawling, running and hiding among the cracks and crevices. Before long they’d joined forces with another group of children for a mass game that had something to do with firing imaginary bows and arrows behind, and from the top of, rocks.

Of course you have to be careful on the rocks, and I kept an eye on the boys, but I welcomed the notion that it was up to visitors to be responsible for their own safety.

Some of the bigger rocks were crawling with experienced climbers, armed with ropes and harnesses, who didn’t seem to mind the chaos of children racing around them. It all contributed to a lovely sense of ownership of the site.

We enjoyed a picnic lunch before the boys raced off again, scrambling across more rocks and exploring new nooks and crannies. I couldn’t resist a bit of a climb too; there is something quite primal about clambouring up the side of a rock and leaping across to the next one.

Home to a variety of wildlife and plantlife, the landscape is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and is managed by the National Trust. While it has the feel of a wild, rocky moorland, it’s a well looked after site with a carefully maintained eco-system.

A network of footpaths weaves from the car park through the rocks – it’s just a short walk to the first cluster – and on to Brimham House where there’s a visitor centre and a shop selling gifts and refreshments.

Thousands of people visit Brimham Rocks each year and it was pretty busy during our visit, mostly with young families. Back at the car park, we headed for the ice-cream van.

“It’s brilliant here. Can we come back soon?” asked Jack, ten, with flushed cheeks, a broad grin and chocolate sauce dripping onto his T-shirt.

The boys could have stayed there all day. Forget expensive theme parks – all you need is a few quid for the car park and an ice-cream, and you’ve got one of the best playgrounds nature has to offer.


  • Brimham Rocks is at Summerbridge, near Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire, off the B6265. It is open throughout the year.
  • The site includes a visitor centre, shop and picnic tables.
  • Parking is pay and display: £4 for up to three hours and £5 thereafter.
  • For more information, call (01423) 780688 or visit brimham-rocks.