You only have to pick up a copy of our magazine to be met with countless hot spots around Leeds, should you ever be undecided on what to do or even, where to start. The Corn Exchange and quirky Kirkgate Market are renowned historically, and arguably generate the majority of city visitors. The bustling Belgrave Music Hall, however, invites everyone for a culturally rich night out.
Student clubs or shopping chains won’t change that soon, thankfully- one only has to walk a few minutes in a new direction to be spoilt for choice for a new coffee, exhibition of the day (and they are constant) or music venue. These categories constitute Leeds and the offerings that extend to Headingley and Roundhay, so we know independent businesses here are secure and safe- but how does the quieter, less travelled Yorkshire town match up?
A moderate bus trip away (this accounts for the ‘less travelled’- The Harland Way cycle route from Spofforth is all that is left of the railway), Wetherby has been allowed to silently thrive. Like the city, it’s history is invaluable. First The River Wharfe, originating from 1233, marks the Cottage Coffee and Gift Shop. After some decadence, you can head downstream for the fulfilling walk you long for in the centre. Whilst the town may be small, its walks are not. Past the Georgian bath house, the countryside is so vast you are far removed from Leeds’s constant happenings and schedules.
Wetherby showcases independents without fearing competition or being overwhelming, which a place as diverse as the city easily feels to newcomers. It’s cinema, first screening to troops in 1915, is pivotal to our film tradition and makes the absent night scene less problematic. Fans of the Hyde Park Picture House will be encouraged by this quaint place. Residents and newcomers alike appreciate its intimacy, whilst a bar stocking sweets and ice creams fits into the refurbished, old fashioned cinemas characteristic of Leeds.
However, like a film to Leeds, the bars are more than adequate for socialising- even if they are competing with the likes of the Otley run, they have the bonus of charitable causes. Reintroducing the town craft after a century, The Wetherby Brew Company list Candelighters, an organisation that strives to restore some normality to children being treated for cancer in Leeds, as their yearly charity. Admirably, the team have offered up their location for other fundraising groups, are currently planning their own events and wish to donate from the sale of a specialised brew.
The Bottle and Bean, on the other hand, is a nod to the city’s Single Shot record shop. Like its predecessor (Single Shot itself only opened in 2016- it seems coffee and music will never go stale here), Bottle and Bean has, in just two months, become a hub for Wetherby’s cultural interests. Visitors are welcome to read in the shop and bring their own music to share, but their coffee suppliers distinguish them from the masses. Hyde Park’s Pump N Grind supply the roasts- and give 20% of their earnings to the homeless and addiction charity St George’s Crypt, alongside giving away spare coffee to The Real Junk Food Project of Leeds. If you love your beer and coffee, the town meets the demand.
Amongst the coffee spots, fine dining is still central to Wetherby’s identity, as their original steakhouse and bar Don’t Tell The Duke shows. Whilst the burgers and steaks are real luxuries, they still hone into their local ethos by sourcing all meat and dairy from Yorkshire farmers.
However, a little taste of the world shines through with the confectionery on offer. C’est Chocolat would feel more at home in France than Yorkshire. The shop may specialise in Belgian chocolates but still consider selling artisan produce; the town deserves credit alone just for boosting up other small businesses. It is practically impossible to go in and not lust after every piece.
Combining the best of both worlds, York-original restaurant Filmore and Union balances honest health food with their bakery, discouraging calorie counts (always a positive) in favour of good nutrition. Inspired by San Francisco’s health scene, the company has since opened up in Harrogate and Ilkley. In Wetherby, both the take away delicatessen and restaurant stock organic coffee, fresh rolls and even some brownies.
If you are trying to eat a little better or follow a vegan or gluten free diet, there’s alternatives to lull you in that taste just as wonderful. Wetherby is obviously a place that has its cake and eats it too- for good reason.
Wetherby has managed to excel in independents and reach out to the wider Leeds community. Only past Roundhay, it feels like a well-kept secret; peaceful and of significant historical interest, but sufficiently up to date with Leeds. The 800 year old market truly encapsulates an original Yorkshire.
Photography by 1 Man 1 Van