Ilkley & Wharfedale

Ilkley is the town immortalised by Yorkshire's national anthem, the words of which were composed - according to tradition - by a church choir from Halifax during a jocular picnic beneath the Cow and Calf Rocks.

Known as the Heather Spa, Ilkley is a moorland town which lies on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park among some of the most spectacular and unspoilt scenery in the country.

In and around the town various buildings and landmarks provide evidence of Ilkley's early history.

The Roman fort of Olicana once guarded this strategic crossing of the Wharfe, on the legion's road to Boroughbridge.

The story of present day Ilkley really begins in the mid 18th century when Squire Middleton created two open-air spa baths at White Wells. The waters of the miner spring which filled the baths 'at a rate of 100 gallons per minute' were particularly cold, and it was thought that the tingling sensations they produced had curative effects.

Visitors came to plunge themselves into the ice-cold moorland springs. Within a century, Ilkley had become the Malvern of the North, buzzing with imposing hotels and fashionable hydros.

Soon the wool magnates of Bradford moved up the scale to Ilkley. They built villas on the hillside and poured their wealth into the elegant Ilkley that is seen today.

Towards the end of the 19th century the fashion for cold water cures waned, and the Heather Spa became instead a holiday town. It is now established as a popular centre for fresh air and healthy exercise, an ideal base from which to explore the famous moor and the lovely countryside beyond.

How to get there: Ilkley is approximately 13 miles north of Bradford. Follow the A650 signs for Keighley, then A6038 to Shipley and then A6038 to Otley.


Ilkley Tourist information Centre, Station Road, Ilkley, LS29 8HB. Tel: 01943 602319; fax: 01943 436235; e-mail:; website:


The Manor House - Castle Yard, Ilkley, LS29 9DT. Tel: 01943 600066. Opening times: Tue 1pm to 5pm, Wed - Sat 11am to 5pm, Sun 1pm to 4pm. Closed Mondays (except Bank Holidays), Good friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day. Admission free. Dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, the house stands on the site of the Roman Fort established in about 1879. It is thought to have been a Yeoman farmer's house, or perhaps the Vicarage. Notable features include the 17th century king-post roof and 17th century wall privy. The museum and art gallery has exhibition of furniture typical of yeoman farmer's house of the 17th-18th centuries. Displays trace the history of Ilkley from prehistoric times to its prominence as a Victorian spa resort. There is a varied changing programme of arts and crafts in the two galleries.

White Wells Spa Cottage - Wells Road, Ilkley Moor, LS29 9RF. Tel 01943 608035. Opening times: Fri 2pm to 5pm, Sat - Sun 10am to 5pm. Boxing Day, New Year's Day, Good Friday, Easter Sat, Easter Sun, Easter Mon, Bank Holidays 10am to 5pm. Closed Christmas Day. Additionally White Wells opens weekends 2pm - 5pm during school holidays, particularly the summer holidays. However, White Wells is always open when the flags are flying and always closed when the flags are not flying. Admission free. Built by Squire Middleton in 1756, White Wells consisted of two open-air baths. In 1865 the Wells House Hydropathic Co added roofs and various extensions. White Wells is now a museum featuring the stone plunge pool filled with icy green water, and information on Victorian cures from gout to melancholia. It also includes countryside displays, nature and trail maps.

Cow and Calf Rocks - Gristone crag on the edge of the moor which forms Ilkley's most famous landmark. It is often busy with sightseers and climbers. The Cow is a sheer rock face of 50', and nearby is the smaller Calf rock.

The Old Bridge - Riverside Gardens. Packhorse bridge built in 1675, close to the ford by which the Roman road to Boroughbridge crossed the River Wharfe.

The Saxon Crosses - All Saints Parish Church. Three dark age crosses. The shorter bears the figure of a saint on one side, and animals on the other. The most complete shows St Matthew with the symbolic head of a man. St Mark with the head of a lion. St Luke with the head of an ox. St John with the head of an eagle on the reverse. Christ in Majesty; the third has a stylised vine-scroll pattern and intertwining animals. Originally the eyes may have been of glass or semi-precious stones.

The Swastika Stone - Near Hebers Ghyll. Thought to be Yorkshire's oldest rock carving. This boulder on the edge of the moor bears the symbol of a curved swastika resembling others found in Italy and Sweden. Its meaning is not known but the design looks ahead to the scroll designs of Celtic, Saxon and Viking crosses and grave slabs. Hebers Ghyll itself is a popular beauty spot.

The Cup-and-Ring Marked Rocks - The term 'cup-and-ring' denotes a circular hollow, 3-10cms across, surrounded by a ring or rings. Many prehistoric rocks carved in this way are found on Ilkley Moor. They are sometimes associated with Bronze Age burials. The most accessible is the Panorama Stone in the public gardens opposite St Margaret's Church.

All Saints Parish Church - Church Street. The building has a 13th century south doorway, 16th century knave and isles, a chancel of 1860 and north chapel and vestry of 1927. It also houses Ilkley's famous Saxon crosses and two Roman altars.

Riverside Gardens - Spacious green gardens on the banks of the River Wharfe. There is a children's playground and boating on the river.

Mill Ghyll - Running from Brook Street/The Grove, it is a steep valley of winding paths, flowers and rustic bridges that runs up to the moors. It's fast-flowing stream once powered the local corn mill.

Middleton Woods - 90 acres of woodland well known for its bluebells in May and for plant and wildlife all year round. Within the woods is an ancient stone bridge and 'Jacobs Ladder' steps.

The Tarn - The peaceful banks of this pretty moorland lake or 'tarn' offer an attractive walk within easy reach of the town centre.

The Dales Way - The 72-miles Dales Way from Ilkley to Lake Windermere begins at the Old Bridge in Riverside Gardens. The route passes through the Yorkshire Dales National Park and joins the Pennine Way before crossing East Cumbria and entering the Lake District National Park.

Shopping - Ilkley is a stylish shopping town selling everything from game to fine wine, and expensive fashions and fine art. The Victorian parades of The Grove and Brook Street have smart collections of speciality shops. The town's original Victorian arcade has been restored as a charming indoor shopping walkway, complete with fountain and hanging baskets. Early closing is on Wednesday.
Few other towns can beat Ilkley's choice for eating out. Betty's is the renowned Yorkshire tea room and the award-winning Box Tree is one of Britain's finest restaurants.

Ilkley Toy Museum - Whitton Croft Road, Ilkley, LS29 9HR. Tel: 01943 602043; e-mail:; website: Opening times: Sat - Sun noon to 4pm. Closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year's Day. Open extra days in main school holidays, ring for details. Open other days by appointment for school groups. Admission: Adults £3, children £2, family £8, under 5s free. The many exhibits feature dolls, dolls houses, teddy bears, tin plate toys, lead figures and a selection of games together with wooden and paper toys. Dating from 350 BC to the present day the exhibits include a 1940s working model fairground.

Kings Hall and Winter Gardens - Station Road, Ilkley, LS29 8HB. Tel: 01274 431576; e-mail:

Ilkley Lido - Denton Road, Ilkley, LS29 0BZ. Tel: 01943 600453; website: Ring for opening times and admission prices. Take the plunge at one of the country's few remaining outdoor pools. Soak up a seaside atmosphere, enjoy a picnic in the tranquil setting and take in the fantastic views over Ilkley Moor. Indoor pool with spectator accommodation. Baby changing facility.


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