Tour de France in Wensleydale

After months of preparation the cyclists in the Tour de France Grand Depart rushed through Aysgarth on July 5 – and left us all wondering where all the crowds were. Many communities like those in Bainbridge, Hawes, Muker, and Leyburn had worked hard to welcome this “once in a lifetime event” – as I saw when I went on a photographic tour a few days before the Grand Depart. This included seeing the new Hawes Post Office in operation, thanks to County Coun John Blackie.

Click on the first three photos to see the albums on Flickr:

Le Tour cyclists passing through Aysgarth:



Aysgarth on the day of Le Tour:


Carperby’s market cross was dressed for the occasion even though the village wasn’t on the Le Tour route.


Wednesday, July 2

Like many others I thought it would be fun to go and see how our villages were celebrating this big event – and also make sure I did my shopping before the weekend before all those expected hordes of visitors descend upon us.

I was impressed at Worton and at Bainbridge by some wood carvings. The residents of Bainbridge have definitely made a big effort to mark this “once in a lifetime” happening. There’s even a yellow “bike” on the Quaker Meeting House overlooking the Peace and Remembrance Wall.

On the A684 to Hawes I was soon confronted by yet more cyclists. These were trying to be considerate towards other road users which is more than I can say about several other groups I have had the misfortune to be on the road with in the past few weeks.  But on our narrow roads a long string of cyclists, even if in single file and well spaced, becomes an obstacle to other traffic. By the time I approached Hawes I was in an 11-car queue behind a cyclist.

The displays in Hawes were worth the effort. And it was also good to see the new community volunteer head postmaster, Coun John Blackie, at the post office which is now based in the community centre. Abbie Rhodes and Imogen Kirkbride were there, and so was the Post Office trainer, Ericka Williams.


And then I made the mistake of driving over the Buttertubs (the Cote de Buttertubs) to Swaledale. The steep hill climb had forced the cyclists into groups and many were not fit enough. One man nearly fell off his bike in front of me. I had to stop and pull the hand brake on hard to make sure I did not roll backwards into oncoming cyclists or motorists. And, of course, some cyclists overtook me on the inside. I decided I would not try and stop anywhere on that road because that would cause more chaos.

Once into Swaledale I did stop and take some photos in Muker but I noticed that local folks already looked pretty fed up with visiting photographers and all those cyclists. When I left Muker I got stuck behind a line of cyclists and realised that the situation was far worse in Upper Swaledale than in Wensleydale. I spent over ten minutes driving at 20mph or slower as it was impossible to overtake those cyclists in safety along most of that narrow, windy road.

And once I did get past them I didn’t want to lose my advantage and so drove through Gunnerside and Low Row without stopping. I made a brief stop at Reeth to witness residents putting up bunting before going on over the Moor Road to Leyburn. The Moor Road was dotted with blue temporary loos which definitely don’t blend in with the beautiful dales landscape (see my gallery)

In Leyburn I found that many other local residents had also decided to do their shopping early with some items either being out of stock or very low. It was also obvious that the cafes and pubs were doing a roaring trade thanks to all the cyclists needing refreshment after their long haul over the Buttertubs and along Moor Road. So at least some are benefitting from all this chaos.

By the time I reached Aysgarth the barriers had gone up. It’s a strange existence this with our lives and our beautiful villages are being so disrupted by this event. Will it be worth it?

Thursday, July 3

Like many others I was busy baking – both for the flower festival at Aysgarth church (June 4-6) and for the refreshment stalls being organised by Aysgarth Institute.  I did make a tour of Aysgarth to take some photographs – for as a friend pointed out to me in Hawes, I couldn’t leave my own village out.

The chocolate fudge cake I made was, in parts, too (gorgeously)  fudgy to cut up and take to either the church or the institute. We just had to eat much of it ourselves!

Friday, July 4

When I got up I found my son and Jade were already at work, with their cat, Simba, trying to catch their attention. Simba’s had a great time exploring my house. Eddie and Jade had come to Aysgarth early to miss all those crowds.


That morning I did a two-hour shift at Aysgarth church – welcoming anyone who came to see the floral displays that had been created to welcome Le Tour to Wensleydale.

On leaving the church I found the roads teeming with cyclists – they came from every direction on every road. And back at Aysgarth I found that a portaloo had been placed right in the centre of the village,  as planned by one of the parish councillors and originally with the approval of Aysgarth and District parish council. But not in accordance with the wishes of the villagers who very quickly took action to move it.

In the end it found a home beside another portaloo in the car park at the George and Dragon. Below: Unwanted of Aysgarth.


At 4pm many villagers converged on Aysgarth institute carrying bags of homemade cakes and cookies to join in a very happy communal event, expertly overseen by Karen. Within an hour or so 250 packed lunches had been prepared, with the sandwiches safely stored in fridges ready to be placed in the bags tomorrow, alongside bottled water, apples, and biscuits.

The big question was: just how many people would converge on the village before the roads closed at 7am the following morning.

Saturday, July 5

My first job was to check the secondary Community First Responder kit that had been delivered to me. Then I packed myself  some food that I could eat as I would be based at the institute as a community first responder for most of the day.

When I got into the centre of the village at 10am I found that all of those crowds of people we had been told to expect just hadn’t materialised. It certainly was easy to watch the Tour de France cyclists but sadly a lot of food did not get sold.

I was very grateful that there no medical emergencies and I could enjoy the spectacle. The ‘caravan’, however, was a big disappointment. The drivers may have honked their horns or blasted us with other unmelodious sounds, but they drove through our village as fast as they could and shared little with us. Just one police motorcyclist stopped to share a high five with a small girl. The  helicopters overhead as Le Tour cyclists passed through gave a better show than the caravan.

As a family we watched some of Le Tour on television that afternoon – and had a good laugh at the bad pronunciation of the names of Yorkshire towns and villages by the commentators who even confused the Yorkshire Dales with the North Yorkshire Moors. That, and the limited knowledge of Yorkshire revealed by the stewards brought in from southern England, said a lot about the North South divide in this country. Those poor stewards certainly did not expect it to be that much colder up in the hills of the North.

Jade and Eddie then set off for the drive back to York to see Le Tour there – and we went to Thornton Rust for an enjoyable barbecue meal at the institute.  The bring and share salads and desserts were as good as ever. Below – James and John busy barbecuing.


Sunday, July 6

David and I had a very enjoyable, restful day at the classic car rally at Corbridge, while Jade and Eddie battled through the crowds in York to get another view of Le Tour. Eddie commented later that it had been more enjoyable watching Le Tour in Aysgarth.

Monday, July 7:

My niece, Helen, and her son Jack, watched Le Tour as it left Cambridge – as a way of celebrating the memory of “Granddad Bob” , my brother who died at this time last year.

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