Ilkley is a town located in the Wharfe Valley (more often called Wharfedale). It is one of the most touristic places in Yorkshire because of its gorgeous moorland, which inspired the county’s anthem (On Ilkla Moor Baht ‘at). Ilkley Moor is one of the best places in West Yorkshire to enjoy nature and a wonderful scenery. Ilkley is not too far from the Yorkshire Dales National Park and it can be a gateway to the area when coming from Leeds or Bradford.
Ilkley was originally a small market town, but in Victorian times it grew as a spa town, attracting some famous visitors such as Charles Darwin. Although the spas have now closed, Ilkley remains a quiet, upmarket town. The town centre is dotted with old Victorian shops and there is even a Bettys Tea Room, Yorkshire’s most elegant institution. There is also a Booths supermarket, a high-end supermarket which has a great choice of teas, wines and delicatessen.
Ilkley is very easy to reach on public transport, with a train station on the Wharfedale line with regular train to and from Leeds and Bradord, and a bus station.
Most of the town centre dates from the Victorian era, a time when Ilkley was a fashionable spa town. There are two nice parks, one near the Wharfe, the other on the way to the moorland. The local church is quite interesting because it contains three Saxon crosses dating from the 9th century. Next to the church is the Manor House, a 16th-century building which used to be a museum until recently. It was built on the site of a Roman fort, Verbeia, and some remains can be seen behind it.
Outside of the centre, there are some lavish residential areas. A few villas, built in Victorian or Edwardian times, are of interest. Among these is Heathcote, a huge house built by Lutyens in 1906. It is on King’s Road. Near the Darwin Gardens, there is a large building, called Wells House, which is the former local hydropatic establishment. It is now converted into flats.
Ilkley Moor covers a part of Rombalds Moor, a large hill which is 1319ft high. It lies between the Wharfedale, to the North, and the Airedale to the South. From the summit, it is possible to see Bingley and Keighley in the valley, but also the tall hills of the Yorkshire Dales when looking towards the North-West. Rombalds Moor is not as impressive as these taller hills, but it offers stunning views and great walking opportunities. The barren landscape is covered with heather, bracken, some pine woods and peat bogs.
What makes Ilkley Moor interesting is also the many historical sights that can be seen across the land. There are the 12 Apostles which is a group of twelve standing stones, as well as a stone marked with a Prehistoric swastika. The most famous sight is probably The Cow and Calf, which is a group of tall boulders.
Closer to town, there is also White Wells Spa, a café located in a house which used to be the oldest spa in Ilkley. Inside, there is a 18th-century pool in which people used to bathe. Originally the pool was in the open air, and the house was built afterwards. Courageous locals still plunge in the pool on New Year’s Day.
Ilkley Moor is the perfect place to enjoy Yorkshire landscapes, with moorland and views over the Wharfedale and dry stone walls enclosing fields. There is a huge quantity of sheep grazing and it is easy to spot wildlife – grouse, red kites and many other birds.
Many walks can be done. The local council offers this one, which goes around the western part, from the Swastika Stone to White Wells Spa (7mi), and the AA provides another one in the eastern part, around The Cow and Calf and the 12 Apostles (4.5mi).