Why Otley is the best pub place this side of Prague

I WROTE this for Issue 2 of Barmcake magazine: In the tussle to be crowned the top real ale town in West Yorkshire; there’s only one serious contender, and that’s Otley.

What you’re about to read is not a list of its pubs, or a BuzzFeed-style 7 Best Boozers To Visit In Otley Before You Die; it’s a manifesto, it’s a lonely hearts ad, it’s an invite to the sample the best pub place this side of Prague.

And here’s why; it’s no johnny-cum-lately to the pub town party, it’s overflowing with beer credentials and packs a well-hopped punch in its bid for the top spot – it’s even given its name to the country’s most famous pub crawl, the Otley Run.

Although this takes place a few miles down the road in Leeds, its origins are said to have started in Otley when Leeds University students, probably in the 1950s and 60s, would go there on Friday afternoons so they could drink all day at a time when pubs closed between 3:00pm and 7:00pm.

Old licensing laws permitted market towns to stay open on Fridays, presumably because pubs were traditionally used as ad hoc offices to conduct business; and Otley had both a cattle market and a street market.

Students would jump on the bus outside the university and about 30 minutes later they’d be in Otley.

Those original scholars arriving from the grime of Leeds would be greeted by 20 to 30 pubs (mostly serving Tetley mild and bitter); a far cry from what was on offer at the University’s Old Bar!

Otley still does have a lot of pubs for its size plus it’s an attractive stone built Victorian town overlooked by the stunning Chevin ridge – there’s even a pub at the top of it, and another at the western end.

Five years ago I wrote a blog post asking where the town’s pubs had gone? It was looking bleak, with several closures but very slowly Otley has bounced back thanks to small independent pub cos and one or two entrepreneurs being able to see what the pub companies couldn’t.

Depending on how you define/separate the terms pub and bar, there are now around 17 hostelries offering craft beer from at least 90 hand pumps.

And that’s my case for the defence. Feeling thirsty yet?

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