Meet Terry Ford, the bellman of Otley
- Credit: Joan Russell
If you want to know what’s going on, ask the loudest man in this special West Yorkshire town
Meet bellman Terry Ford who has been shouting at and about the people of Otley for three years. He’s what others might call a town crier, with similar tasks including keeping the town up to date with news, mainly about the many special events taking place. He won the job – one that dates back to the Middle Ages - after bumping into the town clerk in a pub. ‘I auditioned for the council in the pouring rain where I read a proclamation and managed to shout down a rock band playing nearby who came out to see what the commotion was about,’ said Terry, who has lived in Otley for 20 years.
He’s originally from Tyneside but quickly settled after finding Otley to be one of the most welcoming towns he has known. He’s shouted about events including Olympic silver medal-winning cyclist Lizzie Armitage’s homecoming to Otley after the London 2012 Games, and of course the Tour de France which swept by in July, but you’ll also find him at annual celebrations such as the Otley Carnival.
‘Otley has a wonderful vibrant community and the folk are really decent. It is one of the friendliest places I have known and I love this job of shouting at them.’ And what’s their reaction to him? ‘Boys and girls say “Look there’s a pirate (because I wear a three-corner hat). Where’s your parrot?” No one has ever told me to tone it down.’
Terry, perhaps not surprisingly a keen am-dram supporter, says Otley has so much going for it, not least the much-loved Chevin, a magnificent wooded escarpment which rises high above the town and is explored by many thousands of visitors each year who trek its country paths. ‘The Chevin is wonderful but I think it’s a bit like the Tower of London is to Londoners. It’s always there and people don’t always see it.’
And in case it’s been a while since you’ve appreciated this precious asset check out The Friends of Otley Chevin Forest Park website chevinforest.co.uk, run by a group of volunteers who care about the Chevin and aim to help everyone to enjoy it. You’ll discover there is a great deal going on there.
Otley Chevin Forest Park is a nature reserve which includes a site of special scientific interest in Great Dib Wood. It is here that a shell bed containing well-preserved marine fossils is exposed.
There is much to explore in the 440-acre park, which is owned and managed by Leeds Council’s parks and countryside service. Pick up one of the leaflets at the White House café and you can follow the heritage time trail and find the eight timber sculptures each fashioned to represent a different time period in the Chevin’s history. The River Wharfe runs through the heart of the town, and its Riverside Park is a peaceful place to walk – another reason not to take for granted the natural beauty that makes Otley so special.
The town’s history is well documented. It’s been a thriving market town for many centuries; its Royal Charter was granted in 1222. Today Otley has a street market three times a week and a monthly farmers’ market. The centre also has a wide range of specialist shops, award-winning bakeries and butchers as well as high street chains and supermarkets. The many traditional pubs and inns offer good food and a range of beers. ‘There are plenty of coffee shops, cafes and restaurants,’ added Terry.
The town has attracted the television and film industry too. Television series including Emmerdale, Heartbeat and The Chase have been filmed here.
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There’s an event almost every month of the year including walking and cycling festivals, folk and beer festivals as well as a science festival and not forgetting Otley Victorian Fayre in December.
Few towns the size of Otley have such an active and varied arts and social scene. A lot of this is centred on Otley Courthouse, the unique arts centre which opened in a converted superintendent’s house, courtroom and cell block which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
It’s run by and for local people and is busy seven days a week with film shows, exhibitions, live music and other entertainment. The arts centre manager, Chloe Perry, said they’ve always tried hard to provide something for everyone. She added: ‘The enthusiasm of everyone working here, from the board to the office staff to our team of over a 100 volunteers, is essential in keeping us open and welcoming to our community.’
Go to visitotley.co.uk for the latest information about the many events that keep Otley buzzing.