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