10 things to do in Wetherby
There's plenty to keep you occupied in the beautiful West Yorkshire town, as Paul Mackenzie reveals
Roving by the river
Wetherby Bridge is a Grade II listed ancient monument which has spanned the river Wharfe at Wetherby for more than 700 years. The river, which forms part of the boundary between West and North Yorkshire, has a name of Celtic origin which means twisting or winding. It’s not hard to see why. It has more wiggles than a Come Dancing contestant. Just upstream from the bridge is the weir which was restored by volunteers in the early 1980s. The Wetherby Weir preservation Trust have since built the bandstand in the Wilderness Car Park where performances take place in summer.
A racy kind of town
They have been racing horses in Wetherby since the Romans arrived. They raced in straight lines – it’s what the Romans did best – but these days the course, which has been based on the current site since 1891 is a neat and picturesque circuit. The racecourse, which only stages jump races, is now considered to be one of the country’s finest jumping tracks. Race days will be held on December 5th, 26th and 27th – check www.wetherbyracing.co.uk for full details. Wetherby is also home to an attractive golf course an amateur football, athletics and cricket clubs and sides playing both codes of rugby.
Coming up roses
‘Welcome to Wetherby, award winning floral town’, that’s the sign that greets drivers on their entry to the town. And even in the supposedly bleak mid-winter months it’s easy to see why they have attracted so many medals and trophies. It’s now 20 years since Wetherby first entered Yorkshire in Bloom and they have since won awards at local, national and international levels. Volunteer groups, local businesses and councils work together to provide hanging baskets, tubs and window boxes which add colour to the town centre and well-tended gardens around the town are planted with attractive evergreens.
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You’ve missed this year’s Wetherby Festival but now is the perfect time to arrange accommodation for October 2010 before everywhere is booked up. Crowds come from across the county and further afield for a month-long feast of culture at venues all over the town. This year’s programme included music, theatre, comedy, poetry, literature, history, talks, walks, concerts, shows, performances… and most things in-between. The event was conceived – by the then vicar of Wetherby Jonathan Bailey who went on to serve as Bishop of Derby – in 1977 and has grown steadily since then.
Shop till you drop
Wetherby is a shopper’s paradise. The narrow town centre streets are lined with arguably the finest selection of independent boutique shops you’ll find anywhere in Yorkshire. Old stone terraced buildings now house delightful contemporary shops selling everything you’re likely to need, from designer clothes to beautiful gifts. And in a town as compact as Wetherby it’s all within easy walking distance. There’s also a pedestrianised shopping centre, superstores, major chains and a weekly market – the market charter dates back more than 750 years – as well as a popular farmers’ market which launched in 2001 and now has about 30 regular stalls in the Market Place on the second Sunday of each month.
In the age of the blockbuster movie and out of town multiplex, quaint old fashioned picture houses have closed their often art-deco doors faster than Clint Eastwood could reach for his gun. But hurrah for Wetherby’s Cinema which has provided a happy ending to the tear-jerker story of these beautiful old buildings. Built as a cinema during World War One, it has also been used as a bingo hall but closed in the early-1990s. But it’s back for a sequel and it hosts screenings every night in a cosy room which can seat about 150 people, but rarely does. The seats are comfier than at a multiplex and they even serve hot drinks.
A foodie’s fantasy
Yorkshire has a deserved and growing reputation for its food, from classic traditional dishes to classy contemporary meals and Wetherby has it all within walking distance. Whether you want a quick snack, fast food, healthy lunch or fine dining, you’ll be able to find something to suit your taste and your wallet in the cafes, delis, take-aways and restaurants. Wetherby’s positing halfway between London and Edinburgh made it an important staging post and in the late 18th century there were 40 inns. About three quarters have gone now but blue plaques mark some of the more historic sites, placed there by the Civic Society who marked their 15th anniversary this year.
Wonderful walking country
In a town as compact as Wetherby you’re never far from the surrounding beautiful countryside. There are some lovely walks beside the river Wharfe which winds its way up through the town up from Collingham and down towards Boston Spa and out into the hills beyond. The town centre’s irregular streets are packed with fascinating architecture and there’s wonderful scenery and natural beauty all around. The Wetherby Lions group – www.wetherbylions.org/walks – organise a programme of walks and details of some of the routes are available in a range of leaflets which are available from the Tourist Information Office and library at a cost of 30p.
Admire the architecture
Wetherby has been inhabited from at least Neolithic times, was an important Roman site and a busy staging post on the north-south road. Evidence of much of this early activity survives in buildings around the town. The Shambles was built in 1811 as ten butchers’ shops. Realising that was probably overkill, they were converted to a covered market about 70 years later. St James Church, built in the mid-19th century and enlarged a generation or so later and Wetherby Town Hall, which stands in the Market Place, is another notable historic building. It is Grade Two listed and is now run as a charitable trust by the town council, which hires out some rooms there. For more information, call 01937 583584.
Christmas in Wetherby features traditional carol concerts, twinkling lights around the town and the popular Christmas Adventure at the 2,000-acre Stockeld Park estate just north of the town, www.thechristmasadventure.com. The attraction brings thousands of people to the area and now has a giant snowflake-shaped maze, an Enchanted Wood, skating rink and Santa’s grotto. The Wetherby silver Band, formed more than 130 years ago play a town centre concert and perform as the Lions escort Santa to a grotto in the Market Place.