The smell of money carries on the cold winds of Ilkley Moor

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The Independent Online

Since the legendary song reveals that taking a stroll on Ilkley Moor "baht'at" can leave a man six feet under, it is safe to assume that buying a house there "baht'roof" has serious risks attached.

But risks evidently mean nothing to the new owner of Silver Well Cottage, one of only two houses standing on the moor, who has just paid £375,000 at auction for the 200-year-old stone dwelling despite the absence of roof tiles, electricity or gas.

The purchase of the cottage is the most eye-catching property deal yet in the seismic growth of Ilkley, which has become one of Yorkshire's most desirable locations, with itsaverage house price of £300,574 surpassing any rivals in the North, according to Halifax bank's annual survey.

The Silver Well sale price surprised no one in the nearby town, where £1.5m properties abound and, in the words of one estate agent, £1m deals are "not that exciting". A four-bed house with garden now goes for £800-900,000.

But the new boom on the moors has come at a price. The clamour for both Ilkley and its green expanses is making the upkeep of the moor increasingly difficult, with more than 250,000 people now tramping its paths each year.

It was the need to address and pay for the moor's upkeep that led Bradford council to sell Silver Well - empty for 10 years since it was last used by rangers who looked after the surrounding land. Walkers are scarring the landscape and cutting new footpaths as old ones erode, picnic debris is polluting the tarns, and the roadside verges are being churned up by motorists unable to find space in the overflowing car parks.

To compound matters, Ilkley's spectacular August flush of purple heather is also being smothered by rampant bracken. Bradford council admitted last year it cannot control the bracken because it has just £18,000 to maintain all the moorland in its care. Severe moorland fires damaged the area last year.

Fearing for the future of their moor amid this growing popularity, the people of Ilkley have demanded the chance to take control of it. In the wake of the Ilkley boom, many locals are now calling for an independent trust, run on similar lines to the Malvern Hills Conservators in Worcestershire, established 120 years ago to fight quarrying. Locals pay a £25 annual levy. The creation of such a trust would see control returned to the local Ilkley village, as it was before Bradford took over under local government reorganisation in 1974.

Others advocate a friends of Ilkley moor pressure group, on the lines of the Friends of the Lake District, who fight to preserve environmental beauty in the face of rampant tourism.

Dawn Hermes, of the Dale Eddison estate agents, said the prices of properties in Ilkley were at an "enviable level".

She said: "Ilkley is the perfect town in many ways - beautiful countryside, the River Wharfe and the famous moor."

For the new owner of Silver Well Cottage, Nick Hunt, Ilkley's popularity means the presence of hundreds of ramblers in his garden, since there is a public right of way in the summer. But he has no regrets about his purchase. "I wanted to buy, but didn't think that properties like this existed," he said. "They don't, most of the time."