The prospect of Wharfedale from Surprise View at Otley Chevin is breathtaking even on a misty morning.

Stand there looking out over the edge on such a day and you can barely see the skyline on the far side of the wide valley. But down below in the dim light are the fields and woods and farms, the streets and gravel-pit lakes, the roads and the river...broad acres stretching away in all directions.

It's a glorious dale, and this walk was to head steeply down into one of its busiest towns: Otley, birthplace of furniture maker Thomas Chippendale and home of the small riverside area of seats and shrubs known to older locals as Tittybottle Park because of its shape when seen from above.

There weren't many people about up there on that October midweek morning who weren't dog walkers or, indeed, multiple dog walkers. However, they were all well-controlled, sensible dogs so it was no problem to share the wide footpath with them as it took us westwards along the edge of the escarpment, skimming above the trees for a while then converging with the wood. Here the path narrowed and for a while virtually vanished under the autumn leaves.

But according to the map it stuck close to the top of the wood. Eventually we came to the crossing path we were looking for, descending from a stile at the top past a waymark post and heading steeply downwards through mature oak woodland.

We followed it down the hill, picking our way carefully over the damp grass and earth down wide steps and narrow green paths until we heard the sound of traffic ahead.

It was West Chevin Road, carrying vehicles from Menston into Otley via the quiet back route rather than the busy A6038. Through the stile, we headed down the pavement to cross above the much noisier A660 Otley bypass.

Our stroll into the centre of town took us through a pleasant residential area (Barras Road) and past the back of the supermarket to the rear gate of All Saints Church, dating from the Norman period. It's an attractive church, famed for the memorial to the navvies who died during the construction between 1845 and 1849 of the Bramhope Tunnel in the days when the railway was coming to the town.

Now that railway lingers on only in the name of a street we were to walk along later.

We walked down through the town, past the market square, past the venerable building bearing a blue plaque marking the honour Thomas Chippendale did the town by being born there, past the Catholic Church and the Methodist Church and finally past Tittybottle Park to the bridge over the wide, deep River Wharfe.

Our route lay through the large, linear park on the far side of the river, where ducks, geese and swans swam and a fine, wide weir carried the thundering waters downstream. There's an excellent children's playground in this park, and an area for skateboarders.

At the far end of it we recrossed the river via a footbridge and found ourselves in something of a wasteland on the far bank. Faced with three choices of path, we took the middle one and came to a substantial pipeline across it. We ducked under the pipe and kept on until eventually we found ourselves climbing an embankment into Otley Cemetery.

In the main road, we turned to head back into Otley, admiring its stately buildings on our route back to All Saints Church.

It was from here that we began our return route up Station Road to reach a level stretch which was once home to the station and the trackbed but now leads to a footbridge over the by-pass. On the other side we began the steep climb up the steps that lead to the top of the escarpment, virtually straight back up to the car park.

It's a long way up, a slog broken halfway by a detour to look at the White House Visitor Centre where a group of youngsters were learning about the wildlife of the Chevin.

Climbing again, we decided to duck out of the direct assault and instead proceed by more meandering paths, zigzagging our way up through the autumn trees until we met the crossing route that makes its way from east to west parallel to the top of the escarpment and the Roman road beyond.

There were still only the dog walkers and us as we strolled along this, past a long line of flat, upended stones serving as a boundary, before taking a hairpin turn to return to the rocky outcrop at the top and the car park behind it.

The mist across the valley had now thinned and the view, though hazy, was even more impressive.

Step by Step

  1. Walk out of back of Chevin car park, study information board and admire view. Then turn left and follow broad, well-trodden track along edge of ridge to eventually enter woodland. Stick with path, fainter now, through top end of wood until it meets a crossing path descending from a stile in wall.
  2. Go right down this path and stay with it to a fork. Go with right-hand branch, down broad steps at first and then winding steeply down through new-ish woodland to eventually emerge via more steps and stone stile into West Chevin Road.
  3. Cross with care, turn right and walk down pavement, crossing by-pass and soon turning right on Barras Road. Continue along Barras Road, passing supermarket on left, to go through gate into churchyard, taking path left halfway down to emerge into narrow lane. Go right down this, passing on left memorial to Bramhope Tunnel navvies. Continue down to emerge on to pavement by church gate and turn left.
  4. Keep ahead past shops into town, crossing road at pedestrian crossing towards market square and immediately turning left to cross road again. Keep along pavement past gable-end of shops and swing right with it, passing old building with Chippendale plaque on it. Go left with pavement, passing between Catholic and Methodist churches and heading down to cross river.
  5. Immediately across river, turn right and walk through park, following river downstream to iron footbridge. Cross river and take narrow path ahead, ducking under large pipe and continuing to junction of paths, one of which climbs steeply ahead to graveyard. Go up this path and walk ahead through arch between buildings to gate into road.
  6. Turn right and walk back into Otley centre, crossing road towards Argos and going right through market square to main road. Cross road here and retrace steps past church, keeping ahead from there up handsomely-cobbled Station Road. At top, cross by-pass by footbridge.
  7. Go up paved, enclosed path and keep climbing. Where it crosses a narrow road, continue upwards in same line and eventually arrive at a wide path with White House visitor centre to right. Continue directly upwards for a short stretch then either stick with steep, straight route or meander left and eventually right to come to cross track near top of slope.
  8. However you get there, go right along this, passing a load of upright boundary stones on right to come to a point where a well-trodden path veers left off main path. Take this to arrive at top of slope and follow it back to start.
Fact File

  • Start: Car park off the Roman road known as York Gate, Otley Chevin, near Royalty pub. Or if travelling to Otley by bus start and finish in centre of town
  • Time for six-mile walk: 2-3 hours
  • Going: steep pull up from Otley on return leg, potentially slippery descent after rain
  • Map: OS Explorer 27, Lower Wharfedale & Washburn Valley
  • Getting to start by car: drive up past airport and at traffic lights go left, soon forking left on to York Gate.
  • Parking: free in car park
  • Toilets: in middle of Otley (20p charge) or at White House visitor centre
  • Refreshments: tearooms and pubs galore in Otley, Royalty pub at start and finish (it was up for sale when I did this walk)