Otley - a town for everyone

PUBLISHED: 00:01 13 June 2013 | UPDATED: 19:22 25 January 2018

View from the Chevin over Otley

View from the Chevin over Otley


Few places the size of Otley in West Yorkshire have such an active and varied arts and social scene or so much beautiful countryside to explore. Photographs by Kirsty Thompson and Joan Russell

Otley goes way back. When its near-neighbour Leeds was a one-road backwater, Otley was already thriving market town, gaining its Royal Charter in 1222.

It is also the place which revolutionised the printed word. For 400 years after Gutenberg printed his famous Bible on a wooden printing press in Germany, the process didn’t greatly change. But then a Victorian inventor from Otley called David Payne built a printing press which revolutionised the industry in the 1850s. His stop-cylinder machine allowed continuous printing, capable of producing 500 impressions per hour.

They’re obviously good with their hands in Otley, as another of its sons is the legendary furniture maker Thomas Chippendale. He was born here in 1718 and his statue stands outside the old grammar school.

The town sits amid the great natural beauty of Lower Wharfedale. Otley Chevin, a wooded escarpment, rises high above the houses and is criss-crossed with paths for walkers.

It has become a hugely popular visitor attraction. Otley Chevin Forest Park is a nature reserve which includes a site of special scientific interest in Great Dib Wood. It is here that a shell bed, containing well-preserved marine fossils, is exposed.

There is much to explore in the 440-acre park. Pick up one of the leaflets at the White House café and you can follow the heritage time trail, and find the eight timber sculptures each fashioned to represent a different time period in the Chevin’s history.

All ages and abilities are welcome at the annual Otley Walking Festival in the summer. Every day of the festival there’s a choice of walks, from gentle strolls to full-on yomps, to make the most of the amazing landscape.

But walkers aren’t the only ones drawn to Otley. It is also a mecca for cyclists. Each year in June, Britain’s racing cyclists hurtle through the streets for the Otley Town Centre Races.

Thousands lined the streets to see Olympic cyclist Lizzie Armistead return to her home town with her silver medal last summer – and next July the international cycling elite will speed through as part of The Grand Départ of the Tour de France.

Being a market town for a millennium or so, Otley knows how to put on a spread. There’s fresh food at the street market three times a week and more at the Farmers’ Market on the last Sunday in every month. This is an accredited Farma market, which means that all the produce sold there is sourced as locally as possible.

It also boasts several traditional food shops. Weegmann’s Butchers in the Market Place won the prize for finest black pudding at the Great Yorkshire Pork Pie, Sausage & Products Competition 2012. And there’s another award winning butcher’s in the town, George Middlemiss & Son, which has earned prizes for its pies.

Bondgate Bakery bakes bread the proper way, as well as making a mean Yorkshire curd tart, while Maypole Fisheries is a family run chip shop which enjoys rave reviews from locals and visitors.

In recent years, Otley has transformed from a quiet spot which minded its own business into a party town. There’s always something going on here. Coming up is Otley Carnival, a day given over to celebrating all that’s fun and fine in the town. Starting with a procession of colourful floats through the town centre, the carnival then moves on to the show field at Bridge End. It’s here you’ll see the coronation of the Carnival Queen as well as the funfair and sideshows.

At the start of the school summer holidays there’s Otley Street Festival. Every sort of busker and al fresco entertainer takes to the town, from stilt-walkers to living statues, belly dancers to Punch and Judy men. 

Few towns the size of Otley have such an active and varied arts and social scene. A lot of this is centred on Otley Courthouse, the unique arts centre which opened in a converted superintendent’s house, courtroom and cell block in 2004.

Run by and for local people, it is busy seven days a week with film shows, exhibitions, live music and other entertainment. June’s programme includes everything from burlesque to the blues, plus there’s a designer craft fair on the last Sunday of every month.

Getting there

Otley is on the A659 about ten miles north of Leeds and Bradford and south west of Harrogate. Menston is the nearest railway station, a couple of miles from the town centre.

Where to park

Try Courthouse Street or Beech Hill car parks in the town centre. There are five free car parks around Otley Chevin Forest Park.

What to do

Visit the markets. Go walking on the Chevin, or enjoy one of the various events and fayres held throughout the year.

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