Le Tour of God’s Own Country.
In 2014 the Tour de France started in the mighty, magnificent English region of Yorkshire, and came right through the middle of our small town on the second day.
I would find it difficult to identify individual competitors and say much about them. But what I do know is that this is a great sporting event of endurance, guts and stamina – and was one that shook our peaceful community in a positive way and gave us and our region something to be proud of.
Read about how le Tour came to our town – Silsden – in West Yorkshire.
Images: all photographs taken by me
The Town Gets In The Mood
Over a year ago we heard that le Tour de France cycle race would start in Yorkshire, and that our small town would be on the route. It didn’t mean that much at the time, but as each month passed the town woke up to the reality: thousands of people would come into the district; the greatest cycle race in the world would be coming through town – and that the locals would have a free show – free – for nowt – on their doorstep.
The local churches took the lead and started to work out a plan to celebrate the event and offer information and hospitality to guests from all over the world.
Slowly, in our cautious Yorkshire way, we got in the mood. The British Legion was one of the first off the mark with their typically Yorkshire display of daft humour on the church wall (see photo).
Yellow was the main theme colour for the race, so we began to discard our grey cardigans to think yellow. We began to think ‘bicycle’, too, and rusting cycles were rediscovered in sheds and dusted down.
We noticed a big increase in professional and keen amateur cyclists passing through town testing out the route for themselves and the local highways department began to mend potholes and paint bollards bright colours, including in polka dots.
What t’ ‘eck!
Painting the town yellow
With a week to go before the race local folk had decorated the town. Bunting hung from every shop. Hundreds of teeshirts had been knitted or sewn in tour colours and hung from railings, in shop windows and on trees. Bicycles painted or decorated yellow began to appear outside shops, on top of shops, inside shops. Everywhere.
The candle-stick maker has long gone, but the butcher, the baker set an example, along with the newsagents, bank, travel agent, everyone.
Paul, at the hardware shop, dug out as many yellow packets of nails, tins with yellow labels, and yellow brushes as he could find to decorate his window. Shopkeepers and local residents hung hanging baskets of yellow flowers outside their property – and it was rumoured one local farmer had even sprayed his flock of sheep yellow. I began to search charity shops for a sun coloured tee shirt to wear on the day. I found one, a real bargain for two pounds.
But this is Yorkshire – so would it rain on our parade?
Sunday 6th July.
At 8.00am, five hours before the race is due, there are already several hundred people milling around. In the centre of the town and people have already staked their pavement claims with garden chairs.
The local cafes are in full swing serving breakfasts; there’s a tang of local bacon and sausage butties, mingling with the aroma of filter coffee. The highways department make their final checks of the road and police confer with each other. Everyone is in a good mood. There’s a buzz in the air. This is our big day.
9.45am – the church bells peal, calling villagers and visitors to the Sunday service. It is always a joyful sound, but today especially so.
The first leg of the tour on the previous day, in a more northerly part of Yorkshire, had been a roaring success, with hundreds of thousands lining the route. But what that Leeds and Harrogate crowd can do, we can do better.
And, so far, no rain – but those dark clouds rolling in from Lancashire look dodgy. Trust that lot to b***** things up for good Yorkshire folk!
Here They Come!
The dark clouds had rolled over and away. Our prayers had been answered; the sun is shining.
The town centre is packed – around 5,000 people jammed into a small space – so my wife and I walk away from town in the direction the tour is expected. We find a quieter spot and wait.
Everything on two or four wheels that comes along is applauded. Police outriders give us high fives; we wave crazily back. The people in the house opposite are in party mood; disco music belts out and they bop and sway to the tune in their front garden. One energetic dancer is in danger of spilling his beer.
Someone is following the tour on his Iphone. ‘They’re at Bolton Abbey’, he shouts and a cheer goes up. They are close: about 6 miles way. It is nearly 1.00 pm.
A helicopter goes over, everyone waves; their chance to be spotted on television. A group of French Gendarmes on motor cycles appear – they are coming! This is real.
‘Here they come!’ A great cheer ripples down the hill into the town centre and echoes back to us.
The leaders – a pack of six appear over the brow of the hill and speed toward us. They zip by in a flash of blue, black, yellow and red lycra. A few seconds later the main body of the cyclists arrives, packed in close, heads down concentrating on the road ahead. People on both sides of the road, shout, wave, cheer , jump up and down. They are urged on, ‘Go ON, you can do it!’ I’m too busy concentrating on my photographs to do any of these things. But later I will review them and give my own three cheers to the fleeting images.
In ten seconds the tour has passed. Gone. We wonder if anything else would happen. It doesn’t, so the crowd around me drift back into town. We saunter leisurely in the middle of the road; it feels good to have banished the car from our roads for a few hours.
Back in the town centre, people cluster around the ‘King’s Arms’, the local churches, and the cafes in the side streets. If the town businesses don’t make a small fortune today, they are not true sons and daughters of Yorkshire. And good luck to them. They struggle all year to survive.
My wife and I go to the local church to see the exhibition of decorated cycles and follow the progress of the tour on a live feed in the hall for a while. There is a humming sense of excitement still in the air.
I don’t know much about the individual competitors – but what I do recognise is their courage, tenacity, and sheer persistence, so that was good enough for me to be out on the street celebrating the occasion.
It has been a good day, a special day, a day I’m not likely to see again. I feel good to be alive; good to be part of this peaceful community; and proud that Yorkshire had made this day so special for everyone.