PHOTO: Ilkley, below the famous ‘Cow and Calf’ Rocks

Besides being the home of the Yorkshire Anthem ‘On Ilkley Moor Bah Tat’, Ilkley has a long and interesting history from its Roman occupation through to becoming a thriving Victorian Spa Town.

Local Blue Badge Guide, Tim Barber led the Yorkshire Association on a Tour of the town then a walk up on the misty moors to explore its pre-history, where thousands of years before the Romans, Neolithic cup and ring marked stones were carved by the locals. Ilkley has one of the highest concentrations of this ancient rock art in Europe!

Our tour started at White Wells, the original spring and bathhouse, which has attracted people to bathe in the icy cold waters since the 1600’s due to the supposed healing properties of the water. The owner of the baths advertised in 1791 that“ the spaw could heal bad eyes, tumours, scrophula and all cases where the spine was affected”. None of us took the plunge, but we were told that a New Year’s Day dip is increasingly popular! We took the alternative option of coffee and cake in the adjoining café!

With the arrival of the railway, more people came to take fashionable water treatments and Ilkley became an upmarket Victorian spa town known as “ the Malvern of the North”. Grand hotels and hydrotherapy centres were built to accommodate the popularity of visitors. We passed the Wells House hotel where both Charles Darwin and Madam Toussaud had come for treatments, as well as other Victorian grand buildings like Wells Terrace and The Crescent Hotel.

An extra nostalgic treat was a visit to Ilkley’s Toy Museum, a hidden gem which takes you back to your childhood and is often missed by visitors. With collections of toys and games that many of us had, or coveted, as children it really is a magical place. There is even a doll dating back to 350 years BC!

Next we saw the grand Edwardian civic architecture of the Railway Station, Town Hall, Library and Assembly Rooms (The Kings Hall), home to Ilkley’s world renowned literature festival, held every autumn. A stroll to see the Roman Walls of the fort of Olicana was next on the agenda, before heading into All Saint’s Parish Church with its beautifully preserved Saxon preaching crosses and wonderful Victorian stained glass windows.

We had a quick look at the Box Tree, one of Yorkshire’s six Michelin Starred restaurants, before we retired to the Flying Duck pub with its microbrewery for some hearty food. The building itself dates back to 1709, which added to the experience before the more foolhardy headed off for our magical and exhilarating walk up the Moor.

You’ll be pleased to hear that we had a rousing version of Ilkley Moor Bah Tat in thick fog on top of the Cow and Calf before rounding the day off.

If you’d like to experience Ilkley and these ancient hills for yourself, let a Yorkshire Blue Badge Guide organise you a great day out.

Tim Barber, Real Yorkshire Tours

Discover Ilkley Website