Monday, November 14, 2016

UK Adventure part 3: Otley!

We had originally planned to spend the weekend in London, visiting a few friends and some old haunts. But then we heard that Miles Hunt and Erika Nockalls were playing in a small town in Yorkshire on the Friday night, we decided we should go there and make our way south on Saturday.

Otley is, in a word, lovely. It's a market town that dates back to Saxon times and ... unlike a lot of small towns, doesn't appear to be dying. The thrice-weekly market continues to do well, despite the presence of three national supermarket chains in the town. With a central core that dates mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries, its architecture handsome -- and the surrounding countryside is beautiful, too. And did I mention that Otley is famous for its pubs?

Otley is also known for cycling, having been on the route of the Tour de France in 2014 (which does make me giggle, a little, because those cyclists must have been VERY LOST...). It's also a "Walkers are Welcome" town -- one of 100 in the UK -- and hosts an annual walking festival every summer. Oh, and there's even a nice independent running store there, Yorkshire Runner. Essentially, Otley is heaven.

We dropped off the car at the Black Horse Hotel, a former coaching inn housed in a 17th-century building at the corner of Kirkgate and Westgate, just steps from the market square. With a handsome pub below and spic-and-span rooms upstairs, it was the perfect place to stay.

We went into town for a little walk, mainly to spot the that night's venue. As we walked, we passed the market, the running store, saw flyers for the local bonfire, and saw ALL THE PUBS and decided to stay another night. Yes, it meant changing plans, and a long drive on Sunday, but it seemed to be -- and, indeed, was -- the perfect thing to do. That, my friends, is the power of Otley.

That settled, we went back to exploring the town, poking around in charity shops (there's a CAT charity shop!!!), visiting a few pubs, wandering through the market and the narrow lanes, and falling a little more in love with Otley with every step. Why? I'm not really sure. But here's one reason.

When was asked at the hotel about the bonfire, and whether we could walk there from the hotel, they said, "Oh, yes, it's just down that road past the maypole." So we walked along, spotting a cafe called the Maypole. Okay, that makes sense then. Got it. And then, across the street and a little farther along... there's a maypole in the square. An actual maypole.

This is a replacement maypole -- the previous one was quickly chopped down in 2014, amid concerns that the base was rotting and it was on the route of the Tour de France. Cue public outcry! A replacement pole was made by yacht mast makers in Portsmouth and, luckily, was installed in March 2015 -- in plenty of time for May Day. The pole stands at 75 feet high and is believed to be the tallest permanent maypole in Britain. And, yes, they dance around it.

We had made dinner reservations at Korks. The food was excellent -- I had a fish pie that, if anything, was too rich and too large. What did Wil have? I don't know -- I was seriously obsessed with my dinner.

Miles and Erica were playing in the back room, a good-sized venue with a low stage, a few tables, and a bunch of chairs. When the doors opened, Wil grabbed a table up front while I settled the bill, and then we were joined by Nomis and Liz.

It was nice to see Miles and Erica again -- for the first time in 8 years, I think. The crowd was mainly seated, but we did eventually get up and dance for the last few numbers.

After the show we chatted with old friends, made new friends, visited briefly with Miles and Erica, and closed the venue down. It was a good f*ckin' night, though!

The next morning we had a HUGE breakfast at the hotel -- full English with veggie sausages! -- and then set off on a ramble.

We had picked up this pamphlet the day before -- and decided on "Walk 4", a "strenuous" 6.5-mile walk through fields, then up to the Chevin, along the ridge, and back down through the woods to town.

Given that we struggled, a bit, with our Anglesey ramble ... I was happy to have a more detailed map for this walk. (Note: the picture below is not the map we followed, but it shows the basic route.)

We set off past the maypole, but then quickly turned down some small streets and, suddenly, were in the countryside.

Walk 4 overview map

Things started off well -- we saw ponies (PONIES!), were on obvious paths, and there were plenty of fingerposts.

We traveled alongside fields through autumnal splendor ...

We crossed a field with an old "bull in field" sign ... a slight cause for alarm, but the field looked deserted.

Then we came to another field... with a "bull in field" sign ... and a small gaggle of ... gulp ... bulls.

photo credit: Bj√∂rn Olsson/Flickr

They seemed to be "teenage" bulls ... sweet shaggy highland cattle teenage bulls. Bulls who, as a group, swiveled their heads around to look at us when we got near the fence. Sure, maybe they were just interested... but ... we didn't want to cross that field.

This was problematic ... if we couldn't cross that field, where would we be able to rejoin the route? We followed the lane next to the field, turning at the top as best we could. And while we could see the path, we were on the other side of a wall... and a large mechanical fence...

I didn't want to give up on our walk so early on ... so, as we stood at a low rock wall, looking at the path running through a farm ... on the other side of the wall... we determined to hop over the wall and hustle through the farmyard. Some quick, quiet walking and we were back on track!

We passed under the old railway line, through more fields, and up a steep climb to the Chevin.

The Chevin Forest Park was particularly pretty -- though as you can see by now the weather had turned, a cold wind had sprung up, and drizzle started. And we weren't even half way done!

The Chevin is the ridge that towers above the town. Turner came up here to draw when he used to visit the town. From the top there are some pretty spectacular views.

As we reached the "top", and a spot called Surprise View, we met this paved path:


And then, this: Surprise View!

We took a teensy detour to the Royalty, a handsome old pub at the top of the ridge. I had a half of cider, Wil had a half of Hobgoblin Ale ... "the unofficial beer of Halloween". An excellent mid-ramble break!

Then back into the woods for the trip back to town:

Back in town, and hungry, we tried to decide where to eat. All we knew was that our guilty pleasure, fish and chips, seemed to be what we wanted... and that it was too cold to consider getting a takeaway and sitting outside. We decided upon Maypole Fisheries, a family-run business near, you guessed it, the maypole. They claim to be the best fish and chips in Otley and, though we don't have anything to compare it with, we could happily agree.

We split their "Special" haddock fillet and chips ... and when it arrived, there was almost too much to eat. Thank goodness we didn't attempt the "Monster" ... it's nearly twice as big. Nice chips, really nice batter, and a rainbow of available sauce sachets:

(and, no, I didn't manage to take a picture of the actual food ... when it arrived I was solely focused on putting it in my belly....)

Next up: UK Adventure part 4: Bonfire Night, and A Farewell to Blighty

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