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Ilkley is a long-established spa town, on the River Wharfe and in the county of West Yorkshire just outside the southern edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Up above Ilkley is the magnificent Ilkley Moor and the 'Cow and Calf' rocks.
Ilkley has a history stretching back far beyond the 19th century - it was a Roman settlement 2000 years ago, and occupied as ar back as the Bronze Age (4000 years ago) before that, as can be seen at various locations where stone has been engraved with various marks and patterns (eg at Hangingstone Quarry above the town).
More recently, Ilkley was an early site for Christian worship, and three 8th century Anglo-Saxon crosses can be seen in the Church of All Saints (the church itself is mostly 19th century, although on the site of much earlier churches).
In the 19th century two particular events shaped the future of Ilkley: (1) much of the village was expanded and rebuilt, and (2) the benefits of the loca spa water were discovered and made popular. From that time onwards tourism has played a significant role in Ilkley's economy.
The town has an attractive centre, with many buildings dating from the Victorian era. The broad tree-lined streets of the centre contain a good variety of shops, restaurants and other facilities. It is home to one of only four of the prestigious Bettys Tea Rooms, the others being two in Harrogate and one in York. If you are looking for fine dining then the Michelin starred Box Tree restaurant may be what you are looking for though there is a good range of restaurants at all prices.
One particular highlight is the Ilkley Manor House, next to the All Saint's church. It is a rather grand Elizabethan stone manor which now contains a local museum and art gallery with an impressive range of artefacts celebrating the rich history of the town and region. The building itself dates from the 14th-16th centuries, although it is built on the site of a Roman fort, of which traces can still be seen. The town also has a popular Toy Museum. Another imposing building is the Town Hall built in the early 1900s.
Other local landmarks include a pretty stone bridge dating from the 16th century across the river. A nearby riverside pub proves to be a popular spot on a sunny day as do the Riverside Gardens.
It is of course the chance to enjoy the scenery of the region that attracts many visitors to Ilkley. The most popular local highlight is on Ilkley Moor which looms up behind the town. The large rocks that are called the 'Cow and Calf' because of their claimed resemblance to those animals (rather optimistically perhaps) are particularly popular.
Another important group of rocks are the carved rocks known as cup and ring carved rocks. Dating back to about 1800 the carvings were probably made in the early Bronze Age and are one of 400 cup and ring stones across Rombalds Moor of which Ilkley Moor is a part. The meaning of the carvings is not known. One of them is a Swastika carved on a slab on Woodhouse Crag.
Ilkley Moor offers numerous other opportunities to hikers. As well as the Moors there are walks along the River Wharfe and through Middleton Woods. Long distance walks such as the Dales Way and the Dales High Way are also popular.
Ilkley is very popular with cyclists too and has been part of the 'Tour de Yorkshire' route in 2015 and 2017 and is a host town in 2018. The nearby steep 'Old Pool Bank' being a popular part of the route. The 'Tour de France' also swept through Ilkley in 2014.
Note: perhaps Ilkley's greatest claim to fame is as the town in the song 'On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at', a traditional Yorkshire folk song very well known all across the region.
Bathing began in Ilkley in the White Wells. One of the two wells is still open today and is still used as a plunge bath. It is situated in the White Wells Spa Cottage. A New Year tradition sees over a hundred take the plunge at New Year. The baths have a limited mineral content but the cold water stimulates circulation.
The Wells led to Ilkley becoming a Spa Town in the 19th century when various hydros were built. Charles Darwin was one of the town's visitors and is thought to have visited White Wells.
Places to visit nearby
Denton Hall and Bolton Abbey are also close to hand, with the castle and town of Skipton about 10 miles away. The village of Saltaire that was built by Sir Titus Salt to provide decent housing for his workers is nearby and very interesting.
Another Spa Town in the area is Harrogate and is a beautiful town well worth a visit.
Photos of Ilkley
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