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A Cycle on the Celtic Fringe … Part 13



Twenty per cent of the population of Ilkley are retired. A further 14% are involved in education. And the town is in Yorkshire. Was there ever a stronger recipe for a town that knows it’s right and is going to point out why you are wrong? It’s also one of those strangely wealthy towns that Yorkshire keeps quiet about. Yes, it boasts about Harrogate and its splendours. This is where the Bradford millionaires hung those silk hats. Ilkley though, like Otley, Malton and Northallerton is dripping with cash and the secret is largely kept in-house.


Cars used to be an indication of wealth but the boom in over sized vehicles has now added the prestige motor to the growing list, Burberry and Pringle have long been victims, of status symbols that no longer confer status. The polished pride and joy outside the average Ilkley house is as likely to be a Fiat 500 as a Mercedes. Mini Coopers are popular but there are still plenty of lane blocking four by fours which give drivers such advantages on the well ironed Yorkshire roads; especially on the four days when it snows.


Shops are what separates Ilkley from its poorer neighbours. As the crow flies, we’re only a few miles from Bradford and Keighley. In terms of living standards, and what middle class people like to call quality of life; there is no comparison. Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons may clamber for space to trade to the south but here in Wealthyville we’ve got Booths. I don’t have a problem with this. I come from Cumbria (taking a 1974 boundary change into the reckoning) and we’ve got lots of Booths up there and a very fine supermarket it is. Booths outshines Waitrose when it comes to quality and provenance. You cannot go in and not buy something rather special and probably quite local.



Lishman’s is a butcher of some renown, but when you consider that much of that renown was conferred by the self-proclaimed food hero, Rick Stein, I’d give it a go before you make up your own mind. I did; it’s very good. Betty’s only have tearooms in five towns and Ilkley is one of them. Of course, in a town with so many current and retired teachers, there’s a bookshop, and an independent one at that. Groves should survive the threat of Amazon better than most. This is a town to be seen with a book in a tearoom or coffee shop.

I may sound mocking. I’m not. I don’t much care for the snobbery that is rife around town but, as far as being a centre of independent shops, I’d not only praise Ilkley, I’d go as far as to recommend people go there and have a very nice day out. Duttons for Buttons makes the journey worthwhile on its own.


I have some tea and cake at a nice tearoom a little out of the centre. Make a note that Darwin is celebrated as belonging to the town, though I can find no record of him doing more than staying in the local spa at Ben Rhyding for a few days. Grantham keeps quiet about a similar link with Tom Paine but Ilkley pushes the Darwin link quite hard.

The cycle shop is another of the new wave emporia where fashion seems to outweigh matters mechanical. I want brake blocks. The assistant tries to sell me designer blocks for £12. Who on earth cares what their brake blocks look like. He eventually sells me some without a prominent brand name. I crave a cycle shop where you get served by someone who knows about bicycles and who sells you what you need rather than what they want to convince you you need. I crave Edison’s Cycles back in Clowne.


I’ve enjoyed my stay but I’m more than happy to leave. There’s a cycle route past the golf club. This means having to avoid a mixture of large cars being driven by small men in diamond pattern jumpers who can barely see over the steering wheels, and the spandex and lycra squad balancing their over sized backsides on ultra lightweight mountain bikes. It’s the start of Wharfdale and I’m accompanied by them for the rest of the day.

Bolton Abbey is a real treat. Coming over the moor has been enough serious exercise after yesterday’s exertions. The man on the car park is getting real pleasure out of charging every passenger and every driver. He seems an awkward customer but is actually just anti-car. He waves me through and tells me a good place to fasten my bike.


The next two hours are among the best I’ve spent all year. I let the shop sell me an ice cream and then I wander dutifully around the ruins before laying myself out on the grass and reading sixty pages of The Old Wive’s Tale. It seems a very Alan Bennett place to be, and Arnold Bennett would probably be his choice of novel for the location. I’ve been reading the odd chapter but this proper read introduces me to Constance and Sofia and they’ve been with me ever since. If I recommend a day out in Ilkley, I definitely recommend reading as much Arnold Bennett as you can manage. Treat yourself to one of his excellent smoked haddock omelettes sometime as well.


Reluctantly I drag myself away from the idyllic riverside location. Despite its popularity with tourists and trippers, there’s still a sense of serenity and peace here. I know I’m following the Wharf for the rest of the day. That generally means gentle climbs, flattish sections and occasional rises. And that is what I get. My legs though have stiffened up while reading on the grass and though I can mange the gentle climbs, with some difficulty, the rises cause me to get off and push. Signposts warn motorist to watch out for cyclists. They do, but not always in the manner intended. “I’m a gentle fellow,” I tell them as they rev past, “You want to harass the fellows in the proper cycling gear.”

The one peculiarity of the cars in the dale is their travelling in convoy. They are obviously locals, in that they live in the valley. They have chosen to leave their native land to find peace and quiet, rest and repose in the countryside. To discover a slower way of life that taps into the centuries old traditions of the dale. And then they drive as fast as they can on the bumper of the car in front of them. For me, it gets cars though in clumps and then leaves a few minutes of having the road to myself. It seems a fair pay off.


I want to detour to Appletreewick because I haven’t been there before and, as well as Mark Wallington setting part of his wonderful Missing Postman, there, it’s also called Appletreewick and ought to be visited for that reason alone. I decide to stay on the main drag and tick off the miles to Kettlewell. I rather regret the decision. The road was fine and increasingly brought back memories of a week looking after a hostel up here. It could be a while though, before I get another chance to say I’ve been to Appletreewick. The locals call it Appletrethick. I think this a mistake. The town does have the strange claim to fame of being the place in Britain you’re most likely to receive a friendly gesture from a motorist. I wonder if these are the same motorists who are giving me all of two feet clearance as they fizz past.