10 things to do in Otley
PUBLISHED: 02:21 16 January 2010 | UPDATED: 19:19 25 January 2018
Explore this West Yorkshire market town
Otley is one of many towns which bills itself as the gateway to the Dales but there are scores of reasons to make Otley your destination. The Chevin Country Park on the long tree-lined hill which overlooks the town, Gallows Hill Nature Reserve and the park beside the river Wharfe are all great places to begin exploring Otley. Type LS21 1HD into your satnav to find the town centre.
Even first time visitors to Otley will be familiar with the town. Emmerdale fans will recognise it as the town of Hotton and Heartbeat viewers will feel at home here too. Although most of the scenes are filmed in Goathland, the old police station is actually Otley’s Courthouse. Otley has also had mentions in classic sitcom Porridge and the more recent comedy The League of Gentlemen.
In the mid-1990s a group of people got together with the idea of transforming a 19th century magistrates court into a contemporary community arts centre. Eight years after they launched the project with a play involving 350 locals, Otley Brass Band played a fanfare as the doors opened on the Courthouse. It’s a unique venue in West Yorkshire which is now busy seven days a week with people of all ages enjoying music, drama, exhibitions and films.
There is no doubting Yorkshire’s contribution to British political life – we have produced Prime Ministers, statesmen and world-renowned politicians. And while other counties could make similar claims, we hold a trump card – Otley provided the very stones on which our parliament was built. They were hewn from a quarry on The Chevin.
The town itself pre-dates the Romans – there is evidence that the first church was built here in the seventh century and markets were already being held regularly when King Henry III granted a charter in 1222. An ancestor of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is buried in the church, as is Thomas Fairfax, commander of the Parliamentary forces at the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644. On the night before the battle Cromwell’s troops drank the Black Bull dry. They went on to win an important victory. Who says beer is bad for you?
They don’t need much excuse to party in Otley. The annual carnival is the highlight of the events programme but there’s also the Victorian Fayre and festivals celebrating beer, science and folk music as well as the country’s oldest one-day agricultural show. The Otley Show was first staged in 1796 and now attracts about 15,000 people to the showground beside the river.
Otley’s busy contemporary arts scene is impressive enough – there’s a choral society, two amateur theatrical groups and a gallery load of talented local artists as well as five, yes five, Morris dancing troupes – but consider its heritage: this is the town which gave the work Thomas Chippendale and JMW Turner made repeated visits to paint the scenery. Chippendale was born here in 1718 and his statue now looks down from outside the old grammar school. He was baptised in All Saints Church which dates from the 11th century and features a stunning stained glass East Window, created in 1851.
On the ground floor of the lovely old civic centre building, which used to house the Mechanics Institute. Founded by Eric Cowling in 1961, the museum houses collections of prehistoric artefacts he collected in the Wharfe Valley as well as finds from an archaeological dig on the site of the prehistoric palace of the Archbishop of York at Otley. Among other permanent and temporary displays, the museum tells the story of Otley’s role in the development of printing and the invention of the Wharfedale printing machine.
Otley is a great place to shop, with a range of stores, large and small, big name and independent and a farmers’ market which is held from 9am-1pm on the last Sunday of the month in the market place. Contact 0113 214 5162 for more information. The weekly market has been held here since 1222 and markets are now held on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with about 100 stalls on each day.
Eat and drink
Until recently Otley was among the English towns with the highest concentration of pubs per head of the population. That’s no longer the case but there are still some great places to eat and drink – whether you want real ale in a real old pub, fine food in a classy restaurant or a quick lunch before you hit the shops again.
Explore the countryside
Otley is the perfect base to explore some of our finest countryside. Follow the meandering River Wharfe out of the town into the countryside which provides a glorious greenbelt and hides the fact that you’re just a few miles from the hustle and noise of Leeds city centre. The moors which surround the town (including nearby Ilkley Moor, don’t forget your hat) provide a beautiful back drop to the town.
What have we missed? Tell us what you love about Otley in the comments section below