From the magnificent Chevin to a relaxing riverside…
Otley’s position in the Lower Wharfe valley in the Yorkshire Dales means it is perfectly places for all sorts of fun opportunities in the great outdoors: cycling in the tracks of Le Tour de France, walking in the Chevin forest above Otley, along the river with the family or on a longer trail, or even bouldering on the rocky outcrops that overlook the town.
Otley Chevin is a prominent natural feature rising steeply above the town, carved by Ice Age glaciers millennia ago. The 180 hectares of the Chevin Forest Park are crisscrossed by paths and offer spectacular views across the Wharfe Valley.
The stunning views over the town and the glorious surrounding countryside are a wonderful sight. Open all year, the park is a unique countryside experience with facilities for walking, mountain biking, picnicking or simply enjoying the great outdoors.
The Friends of Chevin Forest Park offer a number of downloadable guides and trails, as well as a geocaching experience.
Looking up at the Chevin, the White House is a stand-out structure overlooking the town. It is home to the team that take care of the Chevin, as well as a visitor centre and cafe that is run by adults with learning difficulties and supported by Leeds City Council’s Adult Services team. Other places for refreshment include the Cheerful Chilli Tea Rooms opposite Shawfield car parks and The Royalty pub on York Gate.
The Chevin is easily accessed from the town by a short albeit steep walk, but there is parking at on East Chevin Road and on York Gate.
Wharfemeadows Park, one of the most well-known sights in Otley, lies alongside the River Wharfe and has beautiful gardens where you can take a leisurely walk, go on the river on a boat or pedalo, or just sit and watch the world – and the river – go by. For family groups there is nothing better than letting the children enjoy themselves at the extensive playground in a fun and safe environment while enjoying an ice cream from the cafe that overlooks the river. For older children there are the added attractions of a skateboard park and the recently installed outdoor gym.
Opposite Wharfemeadows Park is the quaintly named Tittybottle Park, where mothers and nannies would nurse their babies in a relaxed setting by the river in Victorian times. Look out for the beautiful mosaic depicting Otley history and designed by local schoolchildren
Gallows Hill Nature Area
Otley’s popular Gallows Hill Nature Area is an incredible story of regeneration. Once a sewage treatment works, the 14-acre site was taken over by the town council and turned into a wonderful riverside park where the fertile ground helps provide a peaceful habitat for frogs, insects and birds. Look out for the pond where you may see a flash of blue as a kingfisher flies over the water.
The Friends of Gallows Hill help maintain the area, keeping the pushchair friendly riverside path from overgrowth and planting numerous trees over the years, including cherry, ash, hawthorn and hazel. There are regular family-based activities held at the site, and parking is available. While Gallows Hill certainly has a chequered history, perhaps its name is an indicator of the fact it is best not to delve too deep into its past!
Otley was one of the first nationally accredited Walkers are Welcome towns when it received the designation in 2009. Thanks to the varied landscapes around the town, it is perfect for walkers with different interests and fitness levels.
Visitors can take leisurely strolls by the river to challenging hikes over the Chevin or across the wider Wharfedale Valley.
The local Walkers are Welcome group has developed and published a number of walks which start and finish in Otley. These include Otley Four Walks (3-6 miles); Otley Four More Walks (6-9 miles); The Six Dales Trail – a 38 mile route from Otley to Middleham in Wensleydale – and the 28-mile Welcome Way which takes in Otley, Burley in Wharfedale, Baildon and Bingley. Maps can be bought in local shops.
Otley is also home to a number of outdoors shops selling hiking and running gear if there’s anything you have forgotten to pack. Check out Chevin Trek on Gay Lane for any walking or camping items.
Visit Otley at any time and you are sure to see groups of cyclists taking in the challenging terrain around the town – Yorkshire has, after all, become the Britain’s cycling capital, while the town is the birthplace of World Champion cyclist Lizzie Deignan who is backed by the whole of Otley when racing.
Much of the credit for cycling capital title lies in the county’s hosting of the Grand Depart of Le Tour de France in 2014, as well as the legacy Tour de Yorkshire event that runs annually over the Spring Bank Holiday Weekend.
Both of those events have graced the streets of Otley, while there are annual cycling races, a local cycle club that is more than 90 years old, and one of Yorkshire’s premier cycling shops, Chevin Cycles, that can help with last-minute repairs such as punctures or missing bits of kit.
The Tour de France route can be easily followed as it is signposted from the start (in Leeds) and provides a stirling challenge for even the fittest of riders. Shorter routes are often followed by leisure cyclists and these can be a combination of cycling parallel to the river or going over the hill tops…
This year is the 300th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Chippendale in Otley and to commemorate this event, the Yorkshire Post has published a 19 mile circular route, starting at Golden Acre Park in Leeds through Otley, Weeton and Harewood, highlighting Chippendale. Click Chippendale Cycle Route for a description of the route.
Mountain biking is also possible on marked routes on bridleways on Otley Chevin.