Ilkley, Yorkshire was once a renowned spa town that has historically attracted famous names such as Charles Darwin who underwent hydrotherapy in Ilkley upon completion of his notorious book On the Origin of the Species. The popularity of the town at this time brought with it a certain degree of wealth, and as a result the fine Victorian architecture that sprang up during this period can still be seen today. The town is still a popular destination for those seeking more modern spa treatments, with health centres set up around the town.
Ilkley history comes to life at the Manor House Art Gallery and Museum in Ilkley town, a throwback to the historical roots of the area which also exhibits the work of local artists as well as that of artists from around the North of England. Ilkley Toy Museum also exhibits one of the finest private collections of toys in the country, representing a valuable addition to the rich cultural tapestry of the area. The town comes to life on May Day every year for the Ilkley Carnival, a themed celebration of local talent and, traditionally, a much-valued charity fund raiser. The Ilkley Moor Festival is another important date in the region's calendar, having been described as "a mini-Glastonbury" with revellers travelling from all corners of the country to be a part of the action. This event should not be confused with the Ilkley Literature Festival, a major event which spreads into neighbouring towns and villages and has attracted household names from the fields of literature, comedy and entertainment since its inception in 1973.
In 2006 the town was awarded Fair Trade Town status thanks to a conscious effort by local businesses to support fair trade products. As well as being an ethical area, Ilkley, West Yorkshire is a picturesque area and the locals have done a fantastic job of preserving the beautiful environment of the town. The River Wharf runs through the town and under several bridges including the impressive Ilkley suspension bridge, while Ilkley Lido is one of few remaining outdoor swimming pools in the country with great views of the surrounding hills. Rock climbing areas such as Ilkley Quarry and Rocky Valley are the perfect places to appreciate the natural beauty of this rural area of Yorkshire.
Ilkley is a town blessed with striking natural features and this has not gone unnoticed by the country's walking community who travel from miles around to experience the Ilkley Moor walks. The best Ilkley Moors walks include the three-mile Riverside Circuit, ideal for families with young children as it is relatively short at around two-and-a-half hours and is accessible to pushchairs.
The Ilkley Moor prehistory walk takes a similar time to complete and features bronze age monuments, as well as the Neolithic stone circle of the twelve apostles. Other Ilkley Moor landmarks include the Cow and Calf at Ilkley Quarry, a large rock formation resembling the animals from which it takes its name, with one smaller rock representing the calf.
Neolithic stones featuring strange markings also characterise the area, such as the infamous Swastika Stone, the name of which derives from the appearance of the pattern carved into its surface. Ilkley Quarry is also a great spot for climbing, as well as the more remote Rocky Valley.
The idea that print media is a dying art form clearly hasn't registered with the people of Ilkley, where the annual Ilkley Literature Festival is a major date in the calendar of the town.
Reaching out to the surrounding area, there are now around 150 events to choose from ranging from theatre-based attractions to guest speakers who have previously included Ted Hughes, Jo Brand and Greg Dyke. The fringe festival extends into neighbouring villages and local schools, associations and communities are actively encouraged to contribute.
Supporting the first festival in 1973, writer J. B. Priestley wrote: "Ilkley is the right size for a Festival town...large enough to provide various amenities and small enough to stroll around and run into everybody."
The legend of the Ilkley Moor alien is one of the most fascinating and controversial stories ever to originate from the North of England. Famous across the world for providing what some believe to be evidence of extra-terrestrial life, Ilkley Moor shot into the headlines in December 1987 when former police officer Phillip Spencer was allegedly taken aboard an alien spacecraft where he was the subject of alien experiments.
The story suggests that Spencer, looking to photograph the mysterious lights that were rumoured to appear in the sky over the moor, saw a figure running away from him on the moor and when he pursued the creature, found he had mysteriously 'lost' an hour, with no memory of a blackout or explanation as to how the town clock ended up one hour ahead of his, or how his compass ended up pointing South. Later, under regression therapy, Spencer divulged the details of his close encounter with the alien and the events aboard the Ilkley Moor UFO.
The only evidence he provided was a photograph he had managed to take of the supposed alien, although having intended to take pictures of lights in the sky he had used a special film and the quality could only be described as grainy at best. Spencer's account nevertheless became legendary and remains one of the major arguments for extra-terrestrial activity the world over.
Ilkley Moor is famous for many reasons, not least the celebrated Yorkshire folk song 'On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at' - translated from local Yorkshire dialect as 'On Ilkley Moor Without a Hat'. The Ilkley Moor Bar Tat is said to have been written by a Halifax-based Church choir during a visit to the area and dates back to the mid-1800s.
Set to the tune of the hymn 'Cranbrook', the song asks where the subject has been since the protagonist of the lyrics last saw them on Ilkley Moor without a hat, and goes on to reproach the person for their lack of protection from the bitter cold of the Moors.
Commonly mis-spelled several different ways due to its origins in non-standard dialect, the song was first published in 1916 and has become the unofficial anthem of Yorkshire. The Ilkley Moor Bar Tat lyrics, in both traditional dialect and standard English, are available online.