Otley is an enchanting town in Lower Wharfedale that holds a street market three days each week and is filled with attractive buildings from the 17th and 18th centuries.
The town centre is home to a mixture of family-run stores and established brands. It also has a large number of public houses, cafes and restaurants with at least two offering Indian food if you like things a little spicy.
Just outside the centre flows the River Wharfe and you may notice something peculiar with the bridge that runs over it. At first glance it is just a regular river crossing for cars and pedestrians, but when you get close up you will notice that the pathway’s wire mesh fence has dozens of padlocks attached to it.
These are known as ‘love locks’ and follow the trend you can see on the Pont des Arts in Paris. The idea is that people in love write a message to their sweetheart on the padlock and then attach it to the railings for others to see.
At the side of the river is a beautiful garden that has a walkway leading to Wharfe Meadows Park, which covers around two miles and offers a number of sporting activities including canoeing, bowls and tennis. It is also a great place for picnic in the summer and has a café that sells ice creams.
One of the more established walking areas in the area is Otley Chevin. Standing high on the hill overlooking the town, this nature reserve has numerous hiking tracks and is home to an abundance of wildlife.
At its summit is an area that has been give the very accurate name ‘Surprise View’. From the hill top road York Gate all you can see is a few trees and a small car park, but soon things open up to a spectacular view of the southern Dales. On clear days you can even see as far as the hills beyond Harrogate to the north-east.
Other than its sublime views, the Chevin has a couple of claims to fame. The first of these is the fact that the stone that was used to build the foundations for the Houses of Parliament in Westminster were quarried from the park in 1840s.
Secondly, the Chevin was the inspiration for one of JMW Turner’s most famous paintings. The much revered artist was a regular visitor to the area as he was a close friend of the Yorkshire MP Walter Fawkes, who lived at Farnley Hall just north of Otley.
One afternoon in 1810 Turner watched in awe as a heavy storm descended over the nature reserve and he quickly scribbled down what he saw before turning it to his famous work Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps. The finished painting now hangs at the Tate Gallery in London.
Another person who contributed to Otley’s fame was the world renowned furniture designer and maker Thomas Chippendale (1718-79), who was born and brought up in the town before heading for the bright lights of the capital.
Chippendale came from a long line of Otley joiners and served his apprenticeship with a company in the region. This gave him the expertise to craft his own pieces and more than 200 years after his death, Chippendale furniture is still regarded amongst the finest you can buy.
A good place to visit if you wish to learn more about local history is the Otley Museum as it features a large collection of artefacts that give an insight into the background of the town from prehistoric times right up to the 20th century.
Included in its collections are hundreds of stone tools that were gathered by the museum’s founder Eric Cowling. There are also hundreds of items from Otley’s period of industrial importance during the 19th century. Quite simply, everything you could wish to know about life in Lower Wharfedale can be found here.