Wetherby - there is more to this busy West Yorkshire market town than its famous racecourse
PUBLISHED: 00:31 09 May 2013 | UPDATED: 21:01 19 November 2017
Words by Jenny Green
Photographs by Kirsty Thompson
‘There is always something different to do in Wetherby,’ say Chris and Dorothy Atkinson as they treat their grandchildren at C’est Chocolate in Church Street, specialists in handmade Belgium chocolate. ‘We moved here two and a half years a go to be closer to our grandchildren and we are always doing something, there’s always something going on.’
The Atkinson family helped us to choose five favourite places in and around the town so we could get to know what makes Wetherby a great day-trip destination.
1 Down by the riverside Wetherby stands on the River Wharfe. The riverside is a great attraction for locals and visitors alike. Park in the Wilderness car park and take a riverside walk, ideal after Sunday lunch and perhaps stop for a while to listen to a brass band at the bandstand built by volunteers and public subscription in 2000. Concerts are promoted by a charitable trust set up to manage the bandstand. Concerts begin at 2.30 and finish at 4.30pm. Wetherby Bridge spans the Wharfe and is the town’s only Ancient Monument, a Grade II listed building and another good reason to go exploring. Wetherby also has an angling club.
2 Historic town trail You don’t have to be a history buff to enjoy this ‘walk through the centuries’. Pick up a small booklet (50p from tourist information in Wetherby Library on Westgate) originally compiled by Caroline Green with help from many local residents and refreshed over the years by the Wetherby Civic Society. It begins with more detailed information about Wetherby Bridge but then the trail takes you through the town past its various landmarks allowing you to discover nuggets of Wetherby’s history such as the disastrous fire of 1723 believed to have been caused by tallow boiling over in a chandler’s shop. Almost 40 houses, half of the total dwellings, were destroyed. Dip in and out of this trail at any time between coffee and shopping breaks – mix Wetherby of yesteryear with the town as it is today.
3 Blue plaque trail The trail is another way of learning about Wetherby’s history again with the help of the town’s civic society. Volunteers feature strongly in ensuring the wellbeing of the town. For example the weir on the River Wharfe was in urgent need of repair in 1980s but no official body would take responsibility. Local people came to the rescue and the Wetherby Weir Preservation Trust was formed. It’s not often you hear mention of Wetherby Castle built – without permission in 1140 - to fight off raids by Scottish armies. It was demolished in 1155 by order of Henry II. More historic nuggets are dotted around the town which soon reveal how important Wetherby was for centuries as a stopping place for travellers, mid-way between London and Edinburgh on the A1 Great North Road.
4 Wetherby in Bloom The town never looks as lovely as it does when the team of volunteers are at work planting hanging baskets, window boxes and flower beds as part of Wetherby in Bloom. The town is recognised as a champion of floral display in Yorkshire, the UK and Europe after winning various Britain in Bloom awards. Wetherby’s green-fingered volunteers also brought home the coveted European Entente Florale Gold Award in 1999 and won the small town category of the Communities in Bloom International Challenge in 2005. The group is always looking for fresh blood so if the chance to plant for Wetherby interests you contact Geoff Humber on 01937 583708 or Margaret Dabell on 01937 581234.
5 Specialist shopping Wetherby is blessed with a range of independent shops including C’est Chocolate which has been in Wetherby for 12 years, a beautiful shop with tempting treats for everyone who loves fine chocolates. Look for the specialist food shops too including an independent fishmonger and a delicatessen that also does outside catering. There are fashion stores with really appealing ranges of casual and formal wear, different enough to spend the time exploring to discover what’s on offer.
6 Wetherby Cinema This is the cosy way to go to the cinema – the one-screen picture house on Crossley Street has changed very little since it first opened its doors in 1915. The small team of volunteers, (there’s that word again, Wetherby is all about helping each other), do teas, coffees and hot chocolate and if people want an ice cream half way through they will bring it to them during the film. And according to the Atkinsons you can also grab a decent glass of wine at cinema too.