Le Tour de Yorkshire

Here we are in Calderdale, West Yorkshire.  The River Calder winds its way down excitedly from the Pennine uplands; the rather more stately and sensible Rochdale Canal glides alongside.   As lazy Yorkshire stereotype would suggest, there are indeed mills, and some quite majestic ones at that; built to harness the power of the Calder and its tributaries to manufacture cotton products.

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Gibson Mill. It was a cotton mill until 1890; then an “entertainment emporium” including an early 1900s roller disco; and nowadays National Trust museum and tea rooms, with the electric coming from a hydroelectric turbine still powered by the river.

 

These parts have plenty to offer the wandering canal boat captain.  Hebden Water, an excited tributary of the Calder, runs south from the tops, i.e. the Pennine uplands, with great energy and many a whirlpool, waterfall, weir and cataract; carving out a majestic V-shaped valley straight from a 3rd year Mr. Smith geography lesson.  This rather splendid landscape is Hardcastle Crags, where I went a-wandering this morning.  It’s just beautiful.

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Craggy!

 

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Stately woodland, plunging down into the river valley. Lots of tree creepers (I think) tweeting and being busy in the trees.

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Hebden Water flows down from the tops, brown with peat. It flows under my feet, down past that mill you saw earlier, to Hebden Bridge to join the Calder. Then east to Sowerby Bridge where it becomes navigable as the Calder & Hebble, recently infamous as having tested Emily to the limit. After that it’s down to Wakefield, confluences with the Aire and then the Yorkshire Ouse, and down to the Humber Estuary, under the Humber Bridge, and into the North Sea.

But that’s not the main reason we are here.  On Saturday, the world’s greatest bike race starts in Yorkshire:  the “Grand Depart” of Le Tour de France.  The Tour likes to start in foreign climes, and does every other year or so; last visiting Britain in 2007, where a short first day “prologue” was in Hyde Park, followed by an official first stage – London to Canterbury.  I can myself confirm this, having witnessed mayor Ken Livingstone waving the start flag on Tower Bridge.  And jolly good it was too, I got about a hundred colourful hats from the publicity caravan, all of which disintegrated within a week.

However, no wussy prologue for Yorkshire of course – none of these fairy southern habits for God’s Own County.  Instead, things kick off with a proper 190km stage from Leeds to Harrogate on Saturday, and a 200km stage on Sunday from York to Sheffield.  Hebden Bridge is halfway through the second stage, and is also on the Rochdale Canal…  So here we are!

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Handsome milestone

The riders will sweep into Hebden Bridge 7km after cresting the, er, “Cote d’Oxenhope Moor”, a category 3 hill with a pretty juicy descent leading down into the valley.  Here’s the road they’ll come down:  not very wide, no pavements, a stone wall on one side, and a stone wall and/or wooded precipice on the other.

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Scary hill. Even mountain bikers were tearing down here at 40mph earlier.

Then they’ll ride down into the town.  It’s a beautiful and charming place anyway, filled with great cafes, pubs, shops, street musicians, poets and general hippy bonhomie a la Brighton or similar.  Now Le Tour’s in town, albeit for perhaps 2 minutes, they’ve gone completely crazy.

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Tree getting into the spirit of things. Note also green, polka dot and yellow jersey bunting.

 

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Le Maillot Jaune makes a feed station stop in the square.

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Yellow bikes, yellow teddy bears, yellow bunting, yellow wheelbarrows. The lock keeper at Sowerby Bridge had painted his windlass yellow.

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Greengrocer!

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Jeweller!

This is my favourite one.  Funny, irreverent, etc.  But:  spot the deliberate mistake!

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False Messiah

Then there is an art festival, a big screen in the park, and lots of tours, events, and food stalls to keep the punters happy for the other 47 hours and 58 minutes of the weekend when the tour isn’t racing down the high street.

And last but not least there is a jolly boat festival, with umpteen pretty craft lined up through Hebden Bridge; and Felucca has joined the throng.

Vive le Tour; and va va Froome!

 

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Brewing boat. There is also a fudge boat, an antiques boat, and a horsedrawn boat, as well as hangers-on like us!

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One comment on “Le Tour de Yorkshire
  1. Martine says:

    Looks much nicer stretch than around Wakefield and beyond. I’ll be back!

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