WELCOME TO OTLEY
Welcome to the historic market town of Otley in West Yorkshire, one of the four “Walkers are Welcome” towns where you may start or finish the WELCOME WAY walk. Otley is a thriving town with a population of fourteen thousand plus. It has a beautiful setting beside the River Wharfe, below the wooded escarpment known as the Chevin. It has grown up at an important bridging point on the river.
At its heart are the cobbled market square, the “Buttercross” and the historic town clock. It lies at the centre of an important agricultural area.
The town has been a location for the film and TV industry for many years. As you wander the streets don’t be surprised if you recognise scenes from Emmerdale, Heartbeat, the Chase and other programmes. Otley is surrounded by spectacular countryside. In the valley, an attractive riverside park leads on to paths and meadows. Above, the wooded slopes of the Chevin form a Country Park, which was donated to the people of Otley by the Fawkes family of nearby Farnley Hall. It is popular with walkers, strollers, and climbers. There are many paths and rights of way leading out of Otley. It links to several long-distance walks, being the starting point for the 38-mile Six Dales Trail from Otley to Middleham, and a stage on the new North East Leeds and Country Parks Greenways Trail. The Ebor Way and a Dales Way Link cross the Chevin. At the end of June each year there is a highly popular nine-day Walking Festival with a wide choice of guided walks, [www.otleywalkingfestival.co.uk].
Otley is a flourishing shopping location. The traditional street market takes place in the square and along Kirkgate on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with fruit and vegetables, plants and clothes stalls amongst others. In addition, there is a farmers market on the last Sunday of each month selling locally sourced produce, including plants, preserves, meats and baked goods. Otley has a good range of shops, pubs and cafes. There are many local independent businesses as well as some national and regional chains. There are three supermarkets.
Otley is noted for its number of traditional pubs serving both food and drink, including an excellent range of real ales [www.otleypubclub.co.uk]. There is also an excellent selection of daytime cafes, evening restaurants and takeaways. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, teas and coffees are all catered for. There is high-quality accommodation in pubs and B&Bs in the town centre, with further accommodation a short drive or bus ride away. There is a local hospital north of the river with a minor injuries clinic.
Otley grew up as a river crossing point, probably in Saxon times, although there are earlier (Bronze Age) traces of settlement in the area. The Archbishops of York were medieval Lords of the Manor and had a palace in Otley, the remains of which have been found near the site of the present “manor house” overlooking the river. One of the most noteworthy historic buildings in the town is the seven span stone bridge across the River Wharfe, which has its origins at least as far back as the 13th century. The Parish Church stands on high ground above Kirkgate. There are Anglo Saxon foundations on the site and the remains of two ancient crosses. An 11th century Norman church forms the present chancel. A wide nave, transepts and simple tower were added in the 13th century and further additions and alterations over the centuries have resulted in the present, attractive stone building.
The market began with a charter granted by Henry III in 1222 and Otley was a significant medieval town as demonstrated by the way routes radiate from it. Otley went on to expand during the 19th-century industrial revolution when initially the river and later coal and steam were used to power mills. Only a few of these are still standing, mainly to the west of the town. The waters of the river still flow over the weirs used to pond back and divert the water for the mills and a tannery. Papermaking and printing machinery manufacture was important alongside the usual Yorkshire woollen and worsted mills. The Wharfedale printing machine was developed and made in Otley. It revolutionised printing. Otley’s street pattern, centred on the market square, has hints of its medieval origin with some visible burgage plots, closes, and crofts. Further out are the terraced cottages of the industrial workers. Today the town has many newer housing estates with expansion north of the river. Many people now work in Leeds. The modern-day shops are built onto much older buildings some of which are better seen by exploring the narrow cobbled streets and alleys that lead off the main thoroughfares. Thomas Chippendale the famous furniture maker was born in the town in 1718 and his statue stands outside the attractive building that was the original Grammar School. Examples of his work can be found in nearby country houses. The artist JMW Turner was a frequent visitor to nearby Farnley Hall and Otley’s countryside is believed to have inspired several of his paintings including “Hannibal crossing the Alps”. In the cobbled alley next to the church, there is a memorial to twenty-three “navvies” who died in the building of the nearby Bramhope railway tunnel in the 1840s
Find out more about Otley
Otley public library and tourist information centre: