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Bridge over the Wharfe, Otley
Bridge over the Wharfe, Otley

Otley is a town of 14,301 people (2017 estimate). It is on the river Wharfe, part of the Metropolitan Borough of Leeds, and in the county of West Yorkshire. It has featured as a location on TV, in Emmerdale, Heartbeat, and The Chase.

Name and history of Otley

The name Otley comes from the Saxon name of a person, Otho (or similar), combined with 'leah', meaning a woodland clearing in old English. The town was referred to as Otelai in the Domesday Book in 1086.

The banks of the Wharfe here have been settled since the Bronze Age (2,500 to 800BC), and Roman coins have been found in the locality. Development here really began in Saxon times, when the Archbishops of York were Lords of the Manor, and had a residence in Otley. 

The first documentary evidence of Otley dates from 1222, when King Henry III granted a Royal Charter for a market. 

The Industrial Revolution came to Otley, as a cotton mill was built by the river in the late 1700s, then worsted mills, a paper mill, and a tannery. (Worsted is woollen yarn of a particular weight, and the cloth made from it; it's named after the village of Worstead in Norfolk). 

The development of the Wharfedale Printing Machine in Otley led to a thriving printing machinery trade in the late 1800s and into the following century. The specific advance made by the Wharfedale printer was the use of cylinders, instead of two flat surfaces. The Wharfedale is referred to as a stop-cylinder machine:

The town of Otley

Otley market place

The busy A659 runs through the centre of Otley, and it is often a bottleneck, with queues of traffic. It passes the market square, where a market is held every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday. There's a farmers' market on the last Sunday of every month. 

Beyond the market square, to the south of the A659, are narrow streets, some pedestrianised, with cafes and tearooms, independent shops, and even an old-fashioned garage. Go further, and the road climbs steeply up an escarpment to Otley Chevin.

View from Otley Chevin
View from Otley Chevin

Sports clubs in Otley

Otley rugby ground, from the Chevin
Otley rugby ground

Otley has several sports clubs, including an Angling Club, Football Club, Cricket Club, and an Athletic Club. Otley Rugby Union Club has its ground at Cross Green - the venue of a win for the North of England against the New Zealand All Blacks in 1979.  

The Otley Cycle Club has been going since 1927, and has around 500 members. There are club runs, cycle coaching for young riders aged 6-16, parent and child rides, and social events; and they organise races, including the Triangle club time trials. 

Lizzie Deignan is the patron of the Cycle Club. She won the first British medal at the London 2012 Oympic Games, a silver in the women's road race, and she has been road World Champion.

The Otley cycle races take place each summer on a town centre circuit.

Otley cycle races 2018
Otley cycle races 2018

There's a big bicycle shop in Otley, Chevin cycles.

Pubs in Otley

Otley has a lot of pubs, some next door to each other, and at one time claimed to have more per head of population than anywhere else in England. The largest one is the Black Horse; the Black Bull, in the market place, is a historic pub, which reputedly played host to Oliver Cromwell's troops before the battle of Marston Moor, during the English Civil War; and the Junction Inn has won awards for its real ales.

Junction Inn, Otley

Otley Chevin

It is said that Otley Chevin was used as the backdrop for JMW Turner's painting of Hannibal Crossing the Alps. (Turner was a regular visitor to nearby Farnley Hall, to see his friend Walter Ramsden Fawkes). 

The Chevin is a wooded ridge or escarpment, overlooking Otley. The rocks here were laid down in the Upper Carboniferous period (315 million years ago). They were tilted at the end of this period, due to a collision of tectonic plates. Towards the end of the last glacial period, about 17,000 years ago, the Wharfedale glacier persisted in the valley, whilst the higher ground of the Chevin was free of ice. Landslips at this time helped create the steep slope of the Chevin.

Stone quarried on the Chevin was used for foundation stones of the Houses of Parliament.

Thomas Chippendale

Thomas Chippendale plaque on the old Prince Henry's Grammar School building, Otley
Thomas Chippendale plaque

Thomas Chippendale (1717-1779) was born in Otley, and attended Prince Henry's Grammar school there. He moved to London, where he carried on business as a cabinet-maker (making wooden furniture). His clients were aristocrats, and other wealthy people, and Chippendale's business employed forty or fifty artisans.  He published a book of his designs, titled 'The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker's Director.'

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UCI 2019 Harrogate circuit

Parliament Street, Harrogate

The Harrogate circuit is central to the 2019 UCI Road World Championships. The mixed team time trial is exclusively on it, and most of the other races will ride it after a route from elsewhere in Yorkshire. For example, the women's road race does three laps, and the men's road race does seven.

Discover the Harrogate circuit at the 2019 UCI road World Championships.

Bike lane, Manchester Parliament Street, HarrogateCote de Lofthouse