Ilkley, West Yorkshire
Overall best place to live winner 2022.
The view from the craggy edge of Ilkley Moor is life-enhancing and expansive. To the left are the distant peaks of the Yorkshire Dales. To the right the gentle slope of Wharfedale and the rocky outline of Almscliffe Crag. Below, the real-life dramas are played out in the streets of stone houses, busy shops and cosy pubs, in our Best Place to Live 2022: Ilkley.
“We’ve always had the scenery, the schools and the trains, and there’s nothing better than a walk on the moor to sort your head out,” says Marcella Mullan, of the Ilkley Kitchen. “But people are now really supporting the independent businesses, and all the businesses support each other. It’s about community rather than competition here.”
The Yorkshire town rose to the challenges of the pandemic with a sense of solidarity. “Now you couldn’t get [people] them out with a stick of dynamite,” says John Oddy, an accountant. He believes what makes Ilkley really stand out are the opportunities it offers its young people.
Olivia Barlow, 20, who is Ilkley born and bred and a student at the University of Nottingham, says: “It’s a great place to grow up. It’s small, everywhere is walkable, everywhere is safe. You can go out at night and know that you’ll see someone you know.”
For Russell Tew, the owner of RoyaltyCloud, an accounting software company, who moved to Ilkley from southwest London with his family in August 2020, it is about finding the perfect balance. “There are all the amenities of a buzzy town with a cinema, shops and cafés, while I can get on my bike and within 15 minutes I’m in the Yorkshire Dales.”
The other thing that makes Ilkley special is a get-up-and-go spirit. The voluntary groups range from those landscaping the station plaza or keeping the Riverside Park spick and span to the not-for-profit Ilkley Chess Centre, and the inspiring charity Outside the Box, whose café provides training and support for adults with learning difficulties and serves the best coffee in town.
No cinema? No problem. Just raise the money to convert the unlamented Il Trovatore nightclub into one of the loveliest picture houses, as property consultant John Tate did in 2015. “Some 38 people bought shares, mostly my mates, their mates and people they met in the pub,” he says. The result is the Ilkley Cinema, where locals pack into comfy sofas to watch “well-scripted and well-acted stories” with no adverts, enjoying pizza and good wine.
Think the town could do with a market? Get together and start one. Real Food Ilkley was launched with 20 stalls in the car park of the Black Hat pub in 2016, and now more than 60 traders gather on the first Sunday of every month, selling everything from fruit and veg to goat’s milk soap.
The most recent success is the campaign to secure bathing water status for the River Wharfe — a milestone for the wild swimmers who like to take a dip under the flashing gaze of kingfishers and the occasional otter. It’s a sign of Ilkley’s environmental credentials: there’s an electric cargo bike hire scheme, and the council has pledged to hit net zero by 2030.
Check out what’s on next on the Ilkley Chat website or listen out for the town crier, Isabel Ashman, announcing yet another event in a packed social calendar that includes the May carnival parade and the June tennis tournament, plus Pride in July and the high-class literary festival in October, launched by WH Auden (among others).
Everyone comes together to sing On Ilkley Moor Baht ’At on Yorkshire Day on August 1 (the only time you’re encouraged to mention that old tune), while the half marathon and the beer festival — supported by the town’s three breweries — together raise £100,000 for local charities.
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Prices are correct as of April 2022.
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