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Ilkley, Travel Britain

Known throughout England for that tale of tertiary cannibalism the folk-song “On Ilkley Moor Baht ‘at”, the Wharfedale spa-town of Ilkley plays two parts these days, as a rather genteel dormitory town for Leeds and Bradford, and as a tourist centre.

Some aspects of the place suit both roles. It has the celebrated Box Tree restaurant. The shopping is excellent for a settlement with a population of 13,828 per the 2001 census. And it offers a very pleasant environment with the River Wharfe running through the northern part of it, crossed by four bridges including an appealing ancient stone one, and solid Victorian architecture recalling the era when the town’s waters drew visitors as famous as Darwin to seek hydrotherapy there. A winner of the town section of the Britain in Bloom contest in 2004, Ilkley is a place aware of its advantages and able to make the best of them.

Residents of Ilkley are known as Olicanians, a word derived from Olicana, thought to be the name of the Roman fort in the town built in AD79, though there is some dispute about that name. Habitation in the wide river valley goes back much further, with stone arrow-tips found from perhaps 13,000 years ago. Other ancient remains include swastikas carved into a rock during the early Bronze Age, 4,000 years ago, and a Druid Circle from a period just before the Roman invasion.

The church of All Saints can claim antecedents from 627, though the church as it now stands is a medieval one much renovated and altered in the 19th century. Kept within the church for protection from the elements are some 8th century stone crosses previously to be found in the churchyard.

Beyond the town there is of course its eponymous moor, open land for walkers to enjoy, and Rombald’s Moor too. Those of a superstitious disposition may want to keep an eye out for the Barguest here, a huge black dog of myth said to be a portent of doom.

There is even some rock-climbing on a large millstone-grit feature called The Cow, which has a boulder nearby referred to as The Calf. For visitors wanting more adventurous treks the Ebor Way and the Dales Way both start in Ilkley. And whether taking a short stroll or setting out on a long hike, don’t forget your hat in bad weather – otherwise as the song has it: “Then shalt tha catch thy death of cold.”

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Anne Boleyn Beheaded - 1536, Cromwell Declares England a Commonwealth - 1649, Kew Gardens Opens - 1759, Lawrence of Arabia dies - 1935, Speaker Announces Resignation - 2009
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