Ilkley - a festival town in the making
PUBLISHED: 22:25 15 September 2012 | UPDATED: 18:04 15 April 2016
Like everyone on Earth - and beyond - Chris Titley can't get enough of Ilkley and its moor<br/>Photographs by Joan Russell
Everyone loves Ilkley. Walkers, birdwatchers, writers, poets, gourmands, musicians, soap stars, little green men from outer space… But more of them later.
Such universal approval ratings stem partly from the surroundings but also because there’s always something going on in the town. Whatever time of year it is, you’re never far from a festival.
This year’s Ilkley Literature Festival, which kicks off on September 28, has attracted the usual stellar line-up of scribblers. Michael Portillo, Michael Palin, Sandi Toksvig, Paddy Ashdown, Jeremy Vine, Clare Balding – they’re queuing up to meet Yorkshire’s book-buying public and grab a few cubic litres of Ilkley air to shake the London soot from their lungs.
That follows hot on the heels of the town’s summer festival in August, which boasted everything from brass bands to Bernie Clifton.
No wonder chairman of Ilkley Parish Council Heathcliffe Bowen describes it as a festival town. ‘It brings in tremendous numbers of visitors,’ he said. ‘And it brings considerable kudos to the town, particularly the literature festival.’
He was born and brought up in Ilkley, and although he went away to university he soon came back, finding nowhere to match it. ‘It’s the quality of life in the town. It is an idyllic place to live,’ he said. A colleague’s son, visiting Ilkley by rail for the first time, said that ‘journey into the town was almost like coming in to heaven’.
Heathcliffe has seen many changes in his lifetime. Industrial Ilkley has largely been tidied away. And the many incomers who have settled here changed the demographic. ‘We have quite a diverse population now which is a very positive thing. It means you’re not set in aspic.’
The parish council and others must perform an unenviable balancing act, preserving the best of the town while not allowing it to stagnate. A high-profile and ultimately doomed campaign to keep out Tesco showed what they were up against.
‘The debates that are going on at the moment are along the lines of how can we manage development. I’m sure there will come a point when people say we can’t take any more without infringing on the green belt and so forth,’ he said.
In five years’ time he’d like to ‘see more enhancements to the town and possibly some of the assets come back into the ownership of the town’. Heathcliffe mentions the Manor House, the lido and the King’s Hall and Winter Garden as some of the heritage treasures which might come back under community control.
The community would certainly be up for it. Ilkley probably has more friends’ groups than any town in Yorkshire: Friends of the King’s Hall,
Friends of the Ilkley Lido, Friends of the Manor House. And five years ago the town came together to create the Friends of Ilkley Moor. Astonishingly, it now has nearly 500 members and has raised £180,000 to help look after this very special parcel of open space.
‘Our remit is to protect and conserve the moor. We have in Ilkley Moor one of the most iconic open spaces in the country,’ said Owen Wells, chairman of the friends.
‘Heather moorland, which we think of as quite ordinary, is one of the world’s rarest habitats.’
Ilkley Moor is a fragile environment. Its soil is peat, easily eroded by the boots of countless walkers. So they’ve put in new, solid pathways which will keep people on the straight and narrow, and away from fragile wildlife like curlews and other ground-nesting birds.
Getting there: Ilkley is on the A65 between Leeds and Skipton. There are train services from Leeds to the town every half hour during the day
Where to park: Try South Hawksworth Street Car Park in the centre of town
What to do: Enjoy a meal at one of the many excellent restaurants, including The Box Tree where Marco Pierre White learned to cook. Go for a walk on the moor (but stick to the paths) or enjoy one of the regular town festivals