Spend a day shopping in Ilkley
PUBLISHED: 00:00 18 January 2018 | UPDATED: 15:12 18 January 2018
The bustling town is just the place to enjoy some new year retail therapy, as Martin Pilkington discovers
For some hardy souls a winter visit to Ilkley will take in the great walking country that surrounds it, but surely more of us will be tempted to enjoy the very civilised amenities within the town. Ilkley punches well above its weight as a visitor destination, making the most of its setting and the best the area has to offer, meaning it is able to provide facilities well beyond what most towns of 15,000 people can dream of.
‘It’s a cultured town,’ says Mike Sansbury, manager of The Grove Bookshop on the town’s principal shopping street from which it takes its name. ‘We have the annual literature festival and there are many retired academics living in Ilkley, so we have lots of traditional readers who like to browse here.’
The shop first opened 40 years ago, one of many established businesses that give a sense of comfortable continuity to the town – places like Bettys Café and Restaurant, a fixture since 1964, and the celebrated (and Michelin-starred) Box Tree Restaurant, two years older than Bettys.
Another such at the western end of The Grove is independent vintner and gin and wine bar Martinez Wines. ‘We’ve been around for 35 years so the market here is clearly good,’ says manager John Trobridge. ‘Being independent, our focus is on niche wines sourced from small, high-quality makers, offering something different to the supermarkets. The wine bar encourages people here to try things, with more than 45 different wines sold by the glass.’
As gin has become ever more popular of late there is a fine selection on offer in the bar too, including plenty of Yorkshire offerings from Harrogate, Bedale, Holmfirth and Leeds among others.
The retail scene in Ilkley is not static, however, as the imminent arrival of high-end fragrance and skin-care boutique The Bath House illustrates. Susannah Rogers, the chain’s Retail Development Manager says: ‘We’ll be opening our new shop on West Street at the end of January or in February. We already have five shops in upmarket locations in the region, and we’re adding Ilkley and York to that in 2018, selling the natural products that we make in our base in Sedbergh.’
Products sourced nearby are likewise important to one of Ilkley’s newer foodie businesses, bar and charcuterie Friends of Ham on Wells Road. Manager Nathan Kane says: ‘We really push the local side, so for example we have bread from Leeds Bread Co-op, which is hugely popular. And we stock Green Hut Chutneys, made right here in Ilkley, plus we buy meats from the brilliant butcher’s Lishman’s.’
The drinks side of the business has the same leaning, with beers available including York’s Half Moon, Magic Rock from Huddersfield, and of course several from Ilkley Brewery. ‘That’s the best thing about Ilkley,’ says Nathan. ‘If you are part of the community and you invest in the community you get a lot out of it – we have a lot of local partnerships and it works well for us.’
It’s a philosophy that seems to pervade the town. And Ilkley’s community working for the local good is demonstrated perfectly by the way The King’s Hall and Winter Gardens, the town’s main theatrical venue, has been saved by local activists The Friends of King’s Hall.
‘Bradford Theatres have been working with the Friends of King’s Hall for the last 10 years,’ says Adam Renton, General Manager of Bradford Theatres. ‘This has been the most fantastic relationship where everyone has a common goal in seeing this wonderful building restored to its former glory.’
Friends committee member John Thirlwell adds: ‘The Friends were formed 16 or so years ago, when Bradford Council was strapped for cash and unable to do much to look after the hall. We raised money, and the place was saved from further decline, and the fantastic cupola in the Winter Gardens part which was in a poor state is now looking fantastic.’
The Friends organise fund-raising concerts, other local organisations like the Airedale Symphony Orchestra and Ilkley Concert Club use it – January sees the Ruisi String Quartet performing – and Bradford Theatres bring a diverse range of performers too – such as Michael Portillo’s one-man-show on January 15.
Along with its use for theatrical productions, the venue is one of the major hubs for the literature festival, which in 2018 runs from September 28 to October 14. ‘During the festival, business in Ilkley goes mad,’ says Mike Sansbury of Grove Bookshop. ‘We’re the official bookseller to the festival and run bookstalls at every mainstream event – this year we did 140! Like the tourist industry the festival brings a lot of trade to Ilkley.’
Like Ilkley itself, however, he doesn’t lose sight of the need to look after the local side. ‘We love being part of Ilkley’s life, having been here for so long. And we love catering for local people.’
A Roman fort dominated the site in the first century AD.
In the 17th and 18th and into the 19th centuries, Ilkley grew as a spa town, and there’s still a reminder of those days at White Wells Spa Cottage Visitor Centre on the moor.
In November 1859 Charles Darwin conveniently spent time out of the public gaze at one of the spas as his bombshell tome On the Origin of Species was published.
On Ilkla Moor Baht’at was first published in 1916, though it originated at least 30 years earlier – according to legend, when a Halifax church choir visited the Moor.
The first Ilkley Literature Festival was held in 1973. It is now one of the country’s most significant.