Whether it’s some form of initiation, an end-of-exams celebration or a stag or hen do, the Otley Run is a bucket list item for any young Leeds citizen with a penchant for cross-dressing, and a scene of utter devastation for innocent bystanders.
Undoubtedly, Leeds’ most famous pub crawl is a staple ingredient of student life and over the years it has seen thousands of inexplicably-garbed carousers quite literally fall under its bewitching spell.
Originally known as the ‘Headingley Mile’, which embraced simply the Tetley pubs that ran into the city centre, early versions were also known to have started at Weetwood, Devonshire and Bodington Halls, attracting the dense population of students in the locality.
Leeds Becketts Uni Bar is listed as the official end, though various bars in the city centre compete over this, and with a student card being required to gain entry, many cite the Dry Dock as a more suitable end point. Excluding any venturing on to ill-advised club visits and kebab shops, of course.
Currently, the official site lists the participating pubs as Woodies, Three Horsehoes, New Inn, Headingley Taps, Arc, The Box, Skyrack, Original Oak, Hyde Park, The Library, Packhorse, The Eldon, Old Bar, The Terrace, The Fenton, Strawberry Fields, Dry Dock and the Becketts Uni Bar.
Traditionalists argue over some of the stop-offs, sticking strictly to the Otley Road/Headingley Lane/Woodhouse Lane route into town, and any casual observer agrees it is unwise to make the route any more convoluted than it needs to be. Therefore, many forego diversions to Headingley Taps, Arc, Old Bar and The Terrace for this reason, as they can appear labyrinthine after eight pints on an empty stomach.
Hence, the itinerary you choose is flexible, and ticking-off approximately ten of the 18 landmarks can be considered an achievement (of sorts).
An early-mid afternoon start and some strict rules are imperative if you seriously intend to complete the task. Otherwise the day will grow hazy, confusing and essentially abandoned before you leave Far Headingley.
Someone in your party with a vague concept of time is advisable, eating is not cheating but absolutely paramount to your physical wellbeing and fancy dress is not obligatory. Although you’d be excused for thinking otherwise, and dressing as a Smurf on a Tuesday does seem fundamentally wrong.
One drink per pub is the general rule, but pints should be swapped for halves, bottles, shorts or (whisper it) a soft drink at varying points because time is of the essence, plus the simple liquid volume to bodyweight ratio becomes a tangible issue very quickly.
Mobile phones are essential after the fourth pub and the photo outside each stop-off soon gets forgotten, as time, pubs, drinks and people merge into something you try to piece together the next morning.
Almost every establishment is dripping in history and boozy tales and the quality of pubs varies, with probably one of the best being the first. Woodies has a local feel to it and serves a fine array of ales. Naturally, enthusiasm and thirst is unquenchable at this point, and like many of the more traditional pubs on the route – including the New Inn, Packhorse, Eldon and Fenton – the no-nonsense clientele are perhaps only tolerant of the Otley Runners and their questionable attire because they know they will soon be off.
It is therefore advisable not to outstay your welcome, and note that one of Otley Road’s more respectable bars, Arcadia, is omitted from the official route because it refuses anyone in fancy dress.
Strawberry Fields on the other hand – a long-established independent bar bang next door to the Fenton on the cusp of the city centre – positively encourages participants, with its website promoting the upstairs bar as somewhere for parties split up on the hazardous journey to reconvene in an 'emotional' reunion.
The Hyde Park is possibly the most-visited pub en route. It acts as a kind of mirage, standing as it does at the end of a half-mile pub-light wilderness from the Original Oak. Fortunately, in a beery haze, its vast interior opens like Caesar’s Palace to welcome dishevelled hedonists by now feeling the pace.
Of course sensible drinking is to be encouraged, but naturally there are casualties. Even England rugby star Danny Cipriani fell victim to the Otley Run’s deceptive might in April 2013, when he was hit by a bus outside the Eldon. One thing is for certain; you will lose, injure or damage something during the day and as you stare blankly at your phone the next morning, hopefully it will just be your dignity.
The Otley Run is something of a rites of passage for anyone with an interest in Leeds nightlife, and while its’ simple nature has stood the test of time, if you’ve done it once, that tends to be enough.
If you need to find yet more good places to have a drink, take a look at some of our favourite bars in Leeds.