The Sunday Times Best Places to Live Guide 2022: Ilkley named best place to live in the UK and three Yorkshire villages included for the first time

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The West Yorkshire spa town of Ilkley has been named the best place to live in the UK by The Sunday Times.

The 2022 edition of the annual Best Places to Live Guide published today includes three new entries from Yorkshire - all of them villages - but Ilkley impressed writers so much that it has topped the national list.

The town did not feature in the guide at all between 2014 and 2020, but made a return last year after editors realised its extensive list of attributes and strong sense of community cohesion.

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Ilkley residents have received national attention for their efforts in winning bathing water status for the River Wharfe while campaigning for Yorkshire Water to reduce sewage discharges to allow for safe wild swimming.

Ilkley is officially the UK's best place to liveIlkley is officially the UK's best place to live
Ilkley is officially the UK's best place to live

2022 also sees past winner York drop out of the publication entirely, despite the city scoring highly in the past for its transport links and excellent schools.

Harrogate has also returned to the guide for the first time since 2016, mainly due to its popularity with readers - though writers have previously failed to include it due to its high cost of living.

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This converted pump house on Ilkley Moor has had a stunning makeover

Seven of the top 10 entries for the north this year are in Yorkshire; the Barnsley village of Cawthorne, Captain Cook's birthplace of Great Ayton on the edge of the North York Moors, the Vale of York village of Hovingham, and Leeds city centre join Ilkley, Harrogate and Slaithwaite, the mill village near Huddersfield that made its debut last year.

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Cow and Calf, Ilkley MoorCow and Calf, Ilkley Moor
Cow and Calf, Ilkley Moor

Leeds is also now considered the 'top northern city' as Manchester and Liverpool do not feature this time round.

Writers have wanted to include a desirable South Yorkshire location for several years and settled on Cawthorne, which is part of the historic Cannon Hall estate.

Guide editor Tim Palmer said: "It's very villagey this year - partly because since Covid we have been able to travel to more places and look a bit harder at them.

"We haven't included East Yorkshire this time. We've had Beverley in so many times but we feel we've said everything there is to say.

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The pebble beaches on the River Wharfe, IlkleyThe pebble beaches on the River Wharfe, Ilkley
The pebble beaches on the River Wharfe, Ilkley

"Harrogate is just very popular so the weight of demand has brought it back. It's got a lot of things people want - good schools, transport, and it's very walkable.

"Ilkley is one of the few places where you can manage better without a car than with one. You can even walk to the supermarket. The town is really behind people like the bathing water campaigners.

"West Yorkshire has been getting better and better since we started the guide 10 years ago, especially compared to North Yorkshire."

The village church in Cawthorne, near Barnsley, which was part of the Cannon Hall estateThe village church in Cawthorne, near Barnsley, which was part of the Cannon Hall estate
The village church in Cawthorne, near Barnsley, which was part of the Cannon Hall estate

Why Ilkley? By Guide editor Tim Palmer

The scenery

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How many towns have a natural playground as wild and magical as Ilkley Moor on the doorstep? If that's not enough, there are glorious riverside and woodland walks too - and the landscapes of the Yorkshire Dales are just a short drive or bike ride away.

The schools

Lots of highly rated primaries, and Ilkley Grammar. It's rated outstanding by Ofsted, but the best thing is that most people go there, which means that so many people in the town know each other.

The sport

Slaithwaite on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal is popular with Leeds and Manchester commutersSlaithwaite on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal is popular with Leeds and Manchester commuters
Slaithwaite on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal is popular with Leeds and Manchester commuters

The opportunities offered by the rugby, football, cricket, tennis, cycling clubs and others make it a great place to grow up. For those who don't like sport, there's a brilliant drama group in The Upstagers.

Everything is within walking distance

It's a small town with everything you need - shops, supermarkets, cafes and restaurants. For anything else, you can hop on a train to Leeds. It's hard to imagine a place where it would be easier to manage without a car.

The community cares - and knows how to get things done

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From the campaign to secure bathing water status for the River Wharfe and the support groups set up during the pandemic, to the volunteers planting flowers in the station plaza or keeping the Riverside Gardens tidy, everyone gets involved to give their town a boost.

The cinema

Has anyone given the town a bigger gift than John Tate, when he turned Il Trovatore nightclub into a much-loved unique boutique cinema, complete with comfy sofas and excellent food and drink?

Real Food Ilkley

Another local project for local people, the vibrant street market set up in 2016 has gone from strength to strength and given the town's food culture a serious boost. Look out particularly for the delicious cakes, sausage rolls and salads from the Ilkley Kitchen.

Outside the Box

A brilliant cafe, serving some of the best coffee in town and an inspiring charity providing training, support and employment for adults with learning difficulties and helping them find work elsewhere.

Community Cutlery

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Why doesn't every town have a knife-sharpener? Anyone who's ever chopped an onion knows how essential a sharp knife is, and the lovely couple who run this quirky shop are real experts. It's a great example of the interesting independent shops springing up in the town. They also sell cook's knives that will last a lifetime and a selection of cool, useful homewares.

The Literary Festival

The oldest and best in the north - regularly featuring Nobel Prize winners and Poet Laureates - gives the town lots of intellectual credibility, not just in for its autumn run, but throughout the year, thanks to children's and community projects and the presence of the excellent Grove bookshop.


"The combination of countryside, connectivity and a community full of independence and imagination make this canalside mill village the perfect place to pursue post-pandemic happiness. Trains to Leeds and Manchester offer an easy escape route, there’s magical moorland scenery on the doorstep, and businesses such as the co-operative Handmade Bakery or the children’s concept store Acorn and Pip are an inspiring change from the usual chains. "


"This near-perfect spot is top of the wish list for most of South Yorkshire for good reason. It has all the best trappings of village life from a picturesque cricket pitch and outstanding primary school to a village hall that’s well used for everything from brass band practise to pilates. "

Great Ayton

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"With Teesside in one direction, the Yorkshire coast in the other and the mini-mountain of Roseberry Topping on the doorstep, there’s something for everyone in this often-overlooked village. It has a village green and a high street with a good choice of independent shops."


"All the fun and fresh air of Yorkshire without any of the gritty bits keep the once-stuffy spa town in high demand among young families, drawn by the lovely parks, excellent schools and the town centre’s shops, cafés and restaurants."


"There’s no more idyllic spot in the bucolic Howardian Hills than this chocolate-box village. There’s nothing sleepy about it - the village hall is home to groups and activities of all kinds, there’s a busy village shop and a delightful bakery that serves authentic Swedish cinnamon buns."

Leeds city centre

"Yorkshire’s powerhouse has one of the best city centres in the country. It’s all walkable and a shopper’s paradise, whether they’re picking up provisions in the down-to-earth Kirkgate Market or browsing on-trend brands in the Trinity Leeds shopping centre. "

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