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Built as a fashionable spa town for Victorian England's aristocrats

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Ilkley, which is just a few kilometres north of Bradford, came to prominence as a fashionable spa town for Victorian England's aristocrats. Much of the town centre was therefore developed with these well-to-do visitors in mind, and this explains its unusual attractiveness. The streets are particularly wide and roomy, with pretty surrounding buildings. There are hundreds of trees, plants, and flowers scattered everywhere, leading to Ilkley's recent victories in the "Britain in Bloom" competition, which recognises the country's greenest places.

Cottages in Ilkley
Photo Tim Green aka atoach
It's no wonder, then, that this shopping centre is the town's main attraction. There are Victorian arcades, with stylish fountains, and hanging baskets full of colourful flowers. The shops themselves are good places to treat yourself, especially at one of the unique independent stores. If the shopping tires you out, then a good place to catch your breath is at Betty's. This cafe and tea room is part of a small, family-owned business, which has become something of a Yorkshire institution.

Bettys Tea Room
Photo Chris Heaton
Ilkley is arguably as pleasant and attractive a destination now as it was in Victorian times. But if you look back a bit further in the town's history, things become a little different. This was the site of an important Roman fort called Olicana, which was built sometime in the 1st century. The structure has long since fallen into ruins, but even today, two millennia later, a person from Ilkley is still referred to as an "Olicanian".
Amazingly, a small section of the fort's defensive walls are still standing. To see for yourself, make your way to Manor House, a 13th century building that was built in the exact same spot as Olicana. The old Roman fort is to the rear, within the house's grounds. But before you skip past Manor House completely, please remember that it's an impressive piece of architecture in its own right! It's worth going inside, too, as the building hosts Ilkley's main museum and art gallery. The exhibits use a range or historical artefacts to illustrate the town's journey from a Roman defensive outpost, to a sophisticated Victorian spa town.

The Manor House and Museum
Photo Tagishsimon
Another comprehensive collection of historical objects can be found at the Toy Museum, which displays one of the greatest private collections in the country. The various dolls, jigsaws, teddy bears, and models date back to as far as 350BC! There are also plenty of examples from more recent times, so whatever decade you were born in, there'll be something to make you feel nostalgic.
Ilkley becomes most crowded every autumn, during its annual literature festival. This event is both the oldest and biggest in the North of England, featuring well over 100 acts and events, spread out over a period of two weeks. As well as readings from famous authors and poets, the festival also features a wide variety of competitions, workshops, and performances.
Just outside of the town, barely 300 metres from its main street, are the moors. The closest of these is the logically-named Ilkley Moor, which is a great place for hiking, and rock climbing. It's most well known for its "Cow and Calf" rocks, which are so named because there's one big rock sitting next to a smaller one, like a parent and child. According to legend, these were created when an ancient giant called Rombald accidentally trod on them, as he was fleeing from his angry wife! Thankfully, there haven't been any giants around for some time, and so today the rocks are more well known for the fabulous view they provide, back over the roofs and chimneys of Ilkley.

Climbing the Cow n Calf Rocks
Photo Tim Green aka atoach
Visitor Information
Manor House Art Gallery and Museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 11am to 5pm (reduced hours on Sunday and Tuesday). Entry is FREE. Castle Yard, Ilkley, LS29 9DT. Tel: 01943 600 066

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