Home to one of Yorkshire’s most famous landmarks and the subject of its unofficial anthem, Ilkley Moor provides panoramic views of Lower Wharfedale as well as a beautiful backdrop to the elegant spa town below.
Take a walk ‘On Ilkla Moor Baht’at’, with or without a hat, to discover the Swastika Stone, one of many neolithic cup-and-ring marked rocks on the moor, or clamber up the distinctive Cow and Calf Rocks – a favourite spot amongst dog walkers, picnickers and rock climbers alike.
Ilkley’s original spa plunge pool at White Wells is still open for the very brave to take a cold dip, although swimmers may prefer the more appealing surroundings of Ilkley Lido with its spectacular views of the moor.
The popularity of ‘taking the waters’ in Victorian Ilkley left the town with some handsome buildings and although the original hydro hotels have gone, the elegant shops along The Grove, the well-tended parks and the century-old Town Hall and King’s Hall complex retain Ilkley’s refined atmosphere.
The oldest building in Ilkley, the Manor House, is built on the site of the AD79 Roman fort of Olicana and now houses the town’s museum collection and art exhibitions. Book lovers should visit during the autumn when The Ilkley Literature Festival, the largest in the North, attracts many top-class writers. Previous contributors have included PD James, Louis Theroux, Iain Banks and Alan Bennett.
The Old Bridge, that has straddled the River Wharfe since 1675, marks the official starting point of the 84-mile Dales Way walking trail that continues up Wharfedale and ends on the shores of Lake Windermere in the Lake District.
Further downstream, the market town of Otley sits between the imposing wooded ridge of the Chevin and the Wharfe. It retains a host of historic buildings from an 11th century church to some fine Victorian and Georgian houses. Markets have been held here since Saxon times, with a Royal Charter being granted in 1222.
Otley has long been a favourite with artists and musicians so there are plenty of events to attract visitors. The Otley Folk Festival, held every September, makes good use of the town’s many highly-regarded pubs.
The artist JWM Turner made many visits to Farnley Hall to commit the area’s beauty to canvas. The famous painting Hannibal and His Army Crossing the Alps, which hangs in the Tate Gallery, is thought to have been inspired by a view of a stormy sky above the Chevin. Thomas Chippendale, master cabinet maker and Otley’s most famous son, served his apprenticeship in the town. Some of his work can be seen at nearby Harewood House, which itself is well worth a visit for its grand architecture, beautiful gardens, aviary, the new Yorkshire Planetarium and first-class events.