With the exciting prospect of watching the world’s greatest bike race – the Tour de France – in the north of England this summer, Geoff and I felt compelled to hit the road and take a look at the route. Not only did we fancy checking out where would be best to watch the race, we were also inspired to revisit Yorkshire, a county we’ve adored since we met as students in Leeds.
Poring over the stage routes in North East England, we planned our own little ‘Tour’ of the region. Mirroring the cyclists’ two-day journey, we’d depart from Leeds and finish in Sheffield, taking in both the spectacular Dales and Pennine Yorkshire.
With the recent success of British cyclists – including Tour de France winners Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome – the popularity of cycling in the UK has never been higher. And when ‘Welcome to Yorkshire’ boss Gary Verity hired a jet to fly the Tour de France organisers over to Yorkshire, he knew what he was doing. Initially sceptical, the committee was soon wowed by all the best the county had to offer, pronouncing “Yorkshire is sexy!” The deal to take the Tour there – three stages, starting on 5 July 2014 – was sealed a few months later.
With our own bikes packed in the van, we set off from Leeds to follow the first stage route. As we passed Harewood House, it was fun to imagine the upcoming race – the peloton a mass of jelly-bean colours surging lava-like past one of England’s great stately homes. Stopping off in the pretty spa town of Ilkley for a walk to the Cow and Calf rocks, we bought delicious pies from posh butcher Lishman’s – they were perfect for lunch back at the campsite.
Then it was on to the historic market town of Skipton, gateway to the spectacular Yorkshire Dales and location of one of the many spectator hubs along the Tour de France Yorkshire route. We enjoyed a look at the castle and the canal before heading north into Wharfedale, a sweeping, green half-pipe of a dale embellished with stone walls and barns, while the fields were peppered with lone trees.
We’d booked a pitch at the tiny Causeway Caravan Site, set amid glorious scenery and right on the Tour de France Yorkshire route. Just as handily, the campsite is only a stone’s throw from two historic village pubs and is blessed with wonderful footpaths in all directions.
“There is a beauty in Kettlewell that is all its own,” wrote the Yorkshire-dialect poet F W Moorman nearly 100 years ago. We, too, were captivated by the gentle charms of this limestone village, set at a junction in the valley. Some of the best walking in the Dales was within striking distance, so we donned boots for a glorious stroll to Arncliffe.
Back at our peaceful campsite following the walk, we sat with a cuppa watching a lone cyclist whizz by, no doubt checking out the route in advance. After a rest, it was off to The Blue Bell Inn to sample real ale from Skipton’s Copper Dragon Brewery, a mission helped along by the option to have your pint served in thirds – a trio of different beers on a taster tray.
Bearing in mind the level of fitness required to complete the Tour de France, that our caravan tour in this area involved not only beer but also cheese, thanks to a trip to Hawes, home of Wensleydale cheese, where we planned a visit to the creamery, we thought it was time to get the bikes out and burn some of those tasty calories.
It was time to tackle Kidstones Pass, a category 4 climb in cycling and the first of three that the cyclists will tackle in Stage One. We didn’t attempt the Tour’s cycle sprints at Newbiggin, deciding that we’d leave them to the likes of Britain’s great Mark Cavendish! Instead, we took a break at beautiful Aysgarth Falls; the café here offers parking.
But that’s just the start. To read more about Ruth and Geoff’s tour of the north, taking in Brontë Country, Hebden Bridge, Holmfirth and much more, as well as how they got their fill while trying to resist a cream tea, buy a copy of the August 2014 edition of Practical Caravan, on sale now.
And don’t forget that after going from Leeds to Harrogate in stage one, then from York to Sheffield for the second stage, the Tour de France route heads to Cambridge for the start of stage three, winding through Essex in East England to London. There are plenty of places to catch the cyclists and lots of opportunities for caravan holidays with a difference. Bon voyage!
We’d booked a pitch at a tiny campsite set amid glorious scenery and right on the Tour de France Yorkshire route