No Hat Required

by Jim Coulson


With restrictions on foreign travel over the past year-and-a-half, we have had a chance to rediscover and fall back in love with the glorious destinations available on our doorstep. Forget Italy, Iceland and Ibiza – Ilkley has everything you need for your next break.

Breathtaking scenery, bountiful eateries, independent shops and a host of activities to keep the whole family entertained are all here, just half an hour outside of Leeds on the train. So, grab your hat (very important if you are considering heading up onto the moor) and let’s take a trip to the stunning West Yorkshire spa town where Alan Titchmarsh trimmed his first bush, Marco Pierre White finessed his filleting skills and Colin Montgomerie tamed his bogeys.

To say that there is sprawling, heather-clad countryside in all directions around the town as far as the eye can see, Ilkley is surprisingly well connected too. Head one way by rail or on the A65 and you have easy access to both Leeds and Bradford. The other way, you are out past Skipton and into the Yorkshire Dales within minutes by car or bus. Basing yourself in the town allows you to experience two exciting, bustling cities or the tranquility of one of the country’s most awe-inspiring national parks in addition to exploring this very special location itself.

“The unofficial Yorkshire national anthem, On Ilkla Moor Baht’at, is a tale of the dangers of heading out into the windswept heathland without appropriate headgear.”

With a quick skip up onto the moor, you arrive at the Cow and Calf Rocks, a truly recognisable symbol of Yorkshire’s innate beauty. These sandstone formations provide an ideal photo opportunity to document your break, as well as wide-ranging views of glorious Wharfedale and lungful’s of that cleansing Yorkshire air so beloved of the well-to-do of yore, including Charles Darwin and Madame Tussaud who came to Ilkley to take the waters in the 1800s.

Ilkley Moor was, of course, the inspiration for the unofficial Yorkshire national anthem On Ilkla Moor Baht’at, a tale of the dangers of heading out into the windswept heathland without appropriate headgear. As long as you heed that warning, the moor can provide you with a whole day out in itself, with fascinating natural and manmade features to discover to your heart’s content.

Image by Ilkley BID and Heidi Marfitt

Back down in town, there is plenty to keep you busy too. If you have kids, the excellent Ilkley Toy Museum is situated on Whitton Croft Road. It boasts a collection of toys and games from a period of time stretching all the way from 350BC to the modern day! It’s entertaining for kids, but is also a particular favourite for dads, who get to roll out the well-worn joke, “Toy museum? We’ve got one of those in our living room!” every time they walk past with the family.

The museum sits just behind the King’s Hall and Winter Gardens, a jewel in the crown of Ilkley life. The theatre and concert venue boasts an eclectic programme of upcoming performances, where there is guaranteed to be something for everyone to enjoy. From punk poems by John Cooper Clarke to the classic comedy of Tommy Cannon; a raucous night in the company of Showaddywaddy to a more genteel evening spent with Yorkshire royalty, Michael Parkinson, you will find an event to tickle your fancy rolling into town at the King’s Hall this autumn.

If the visual arts are more your thing then Ilkley can provide that in abundance too. It is no surprise that a town set in such beautiful countryside inspires so many artists to put brush to canvas, and one such painter who features elements of the local vistas in some of her work is Tania Tamara. You can see Tania’s work at the Tamara Lawson Gallery and Studio on South Hawksworth Street, along with sculpture, jewellery and more.

As well as the tourist attractions dotted around the town, you will find an abundance of independent shops selling all manner of goodies for you to take home with you. If you like the cut of the jib of the locals you see promenading up and down the wide pathways of the town centre, you should make a beeline for one of the town’s fantastic boutique stores.

Image by Ilkley BID and Heidi Marfitt

Porter’s is a local Yorkshire favourite, having opened initially down the road in Harrogate in 1996 before launching a branch on Ilkley’s premier retail space, The Grove. The shop prides itself on offering premium quality, luxury fashion from designer brands for men and women, helping you assimilate nicely amongst the well-to-do townsfolk.

One of Ilkley’s strengths is the variety of different types of retailers thriving in the area. The shopping experience is never dull when you wander the streets of the town. Another independent with bases in both spa towns of Ilkley and Harrogate is Games Crusade. With a huge selection of board games, puzzles, gadgets, toys and more, it is the ideal place to pick up a gift to take back home. Far more suitable than putting the task off until you are on the way home and panic-buying an overpriced, oversized chocolate bar from the motorway services!

“If you like the cut of the jib of the locals you should make a beeline for one of the town’s fantastic boutique stores.”

If all that shopping has brought a hunger on, you will not be disappointed in Ilkley. The only problem you will have is narrowing down the choices. One of the highlights of the town’s culinary scene is Sachi’s, an authentic fine dining Indian restaurant and bar. It is open for lunch and dinner (or ‘dinner’ and ‘tea’, as you’re in Yorkshire), and is the work of chef Sachi, who worked at some of the finest hotel restaurants in India before becoming head chef at Raymond Blanc’s Brasserie Blanc in Leeds and then settling in Ilkley to build his passion project.

Image by Jim Coulson

Around the corner from Sachi’s stands the Box Tree, Ilkley’s world-famous fine dining establishment, which has been frequented over the years by celebrities such as Johnny Mathis and Shirley Bassey. The eatery has been a part of the town for almost 60 years, once employing a 17-year-old Marco Pierre White who underwent intensive training at the Box Tree and considers it his spiritual home. The restaurant describes its fare thus: “cooking is refined and skillful, with a classical French base” and you will find it mentioned in glowing terms on the pages of Hardens UK Top 100 Restaurants.

Whether you come for the countryside, the shopping, the food or the entertainment, Ilkley has everything you need, so make sure you book your trip now and come say “how do?” soon?