Saturday, 28 June 2014

Yorkshire's yellow bicycles

This time next week, for the first time ever, the world's greatest, most famous bicycle race, the Tour de France starts - in Yorkshire. For two days (5-6 July), Yorkshire will see the tremendous spectacle on its doorstep. And the county is celebrating this event in a unique and memorable way.

For the past three days I've been in Yorkshire, flying into Leeds Bradford Airport, travelling on to Harrogate and thence to Ripon (a city, on account of its cathedral). Ripon is a charming place, and will see Le Tour passing through next Saturday. All along the route, yellow bicycles have been popping up.

Yorkshire has always been mad keen on cycling since Victorian days. The Yorkshire Dales are best seen from the saddle rather than from inside a car, and you can cover more ground on than on foot. Cycle culture and scenery made Yorkshire a natural venue for an English start for the race.

Below: just outside Harrogate - a town that will see the Tour go through it on both days. Yellow is the colour of the race leader's jersey (the King of the Mountains wears a red-on-white polka dot jersey, the green jersey is for the Tour's best sprinter). Rows of knitted small yellow, green and polka-dot decorate premises along the route.

Left: printing on a yellow T-shirt - the route of the first stage of the Tour de France 2014. The second stage starts in York and ends in Sheffield.

Below: 'Watch England live here' - I'm sure the cycling will prove more interesting for the locals than the football was. With two British cyclists winning the Tour de France in the last two races, hopes for a hat-trick run high.

Below: the roof of The Navigation, a charming Victorian pub at the end of the Ripon Canal. Bricktorian Britain at its best. The bike did the trick - I popped in for a pint of Theakston's.

Below: bricks, slate, chimney pots and drizzle - and a ray of sunshine. Life is made brighter by the arrival of Le Tour.

Below: the entrance to Ripon race course, a third yellow bicycle out of site. The race course's green acres are being turned over to camping and caravans for the weekend. The bike in the foreground is a lovely 1950s Raleigh roadster with drop handlebars and a three-speed Sturmey Archer hub. I hope this bike finds an owner willing to bring it back to its former glory.

Below: the hotel I'm staying at gets into the Tour spirit. Note to my Polish readers - the word 'Spa' is a word, not an acronym, so 'SPA' in all upper-case is incorrect usage.

The road between Harrogate and Ripon will be closed next weekend. French flags are already flying - despite Britain's inability to stop the federaliser Juncker becoming the EU's next president, there's a sense of a welcoming, friendly Euro-enthusiasm around at odds with Yorkshire's famed insularity.

In Ripon itself, shops have been vying with one another as to who has the most inventive display. A crocheted bike, a crepe paper bike - but my vote goes for this skeletal cyclist in the window of a Ripon osteopathist (below). Note the yellow, polka-dot and green jerseys.

Below: a hipster's Amsterdamka with lovely period chainguard - again, I hope this bike finds a new user after the Tour has moved on.

Below: not just bicycles - a little tricycle with flower-basket adorns the front of a house on the Harrogate-Ripon road.

Below: frog and yellow scooter. Is there no end to the inventiveness of Yorkshire folk? One I didn't manage to snap from the bus from Harrogate was a yellow bike with its front forks replaced with a lawnmower.

Left: Brewery Timothy Taylors's has produced a special ale for the occasion, Le Champion. I tried a pint at the Royal Oak - I must say, I prefer the brewery's Landlord (Le Champion being a bit too sweet for my taste). The 'Cask Marque' concept is about getting smaller breweries' products into the bars of mainstream pubs. Poland could do with something like this - there are still too many bars where the choice of beers is limited to the big brewers' products (Tyskie, Lech and Żywiec).

If like me, you crave the taste of hops in your beer, try the locally brewed Shankar from Great Heck Brewery. Outstanding - gives my currrent British fave Brew Dog's Punk IPA a run for its money.

Below: another pub, another yellow bicycle: the King William IV.

Left: another two yellow bikes in Ripon. The Tour shows just how much sporting events can enliven an entire region. Not a stadium-based event, the Tour will bring an estimated three million people spread over hundreds of miles of public roads to see the three English stages. This is great for Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex and London, for the businesses along the route, and for Europe. This quintessentially French sporting event will don an English flavour this year from the start, a century after the outbreak of WWI. And fingers crossed for another British victory!

This time last year:
Cramp in the night

This time two years ago:
Football goes home

This time three years ago:
Birds of Omen

This time four years ago:
Yes, it does matter who you vote for

This time five years ago:
Poland could do with some more mountains

This time six years ago:
Warmth of the Sun
- the Beach Boys and Noctilucence

This time seven years ago:
Polish roads that look like America

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