France may be one of the UK's nearest neighbours, but how does one of the country's greatest and most famous sporting events translate on the other side of The Channel? We could not wait to find out.
Bicycles are big in the UK, our world class cyclists hitting the headlines with their two-wheeled success stories. And as fans, when we heard that the world's most famous cycle race, Le Tour de France, was coming to Yorkshire, we were not going to miss out. It was time to pack the 'van and get out there.
We'd recently taken our Carthago motorhome to Yorkshire to check out where some of the world's best cyclists would be put through their paces. Of course, in France, Le Tour, as it is called, and 'camping-cars', as they call motorhomes, are inseparable. But in the UK, would we find the Tour de France experience as enthralling, the atmosphere as enticing? We soon found out.
On Thursday 3 July, two days before the Tour de France route was due to pass through Yorkshire, we were in Kettlewell. A picture perfect village in Upper Wharfedale, North Yorkshire, it was still very photogenic but for quite a different reason – now it was a sea of yellow! Kettlewell is famous for its annual scarecrow festival, so as well as yellow bunting, yellow knitted baubles and yellow sheep (yes, really!), here we saw a scarecrow on a bicycle wearing a yellow shirt!
We pitched our motorhome at Causeway Croft (also known as Causeway Caravan Site) in Kettlewell. It is right on the Tour de France route so we had booked well in advance, but we found a lot of temporary camping pitches still available here and in the surrounding area, mostly at very reasonable prices.
It was then time to dress the 'van! We used bunting in the colours of the jerseys worn by Le Tour de France leaders (yellow, green and white and red polka dot) to adorn our Carthago, and dug out our Welcome to Yorkshire t-shirts. Chatting to locals and others staying on site was great fun and there was a real party spirit.
On Friday, with one day to go, once we'd cycled as much as we could manage, we toured the wider area on our motorbike, to see how other communities were welcoming Le Tour de France Yorkshire. Particularly eye-catching were the hay bales wrapped in white instead of black, labelled as huge truckles of Wensleydale cheese.
We also visited Hawes which turned red and white in honour of the climb of Buttertubs above. In this small, North Yorkshire market town, it was lovely to see that every business had devised its own fun, quirky display to welcome the race, white with red polka dots covering the town. It was a lot of fun and as well as ramping up our excitement levels it made us feel proud of how these towns and villages were welcoming Le Tour, embracing this once in a life event.
High on the pass of Buttertubs (of course charmingly renamed Côte de Buttertubs by the French organisers!) we chat with Peter, a fellow motorcaravanner who has been parked since Tuesday, and has now been joined by a handful of other 'vans. Like us he’s a Tour nut and has often watched the race from his ‘van in France, but unlike us he was brave enough to chance wild camping on the pass in the manner so welcomed in France. We’d previously eyed up the same spot, but weren’t brave enough to venture there as the chances of this being tolerated in Yorkshire were pretty much an unknown quantity.
Then Saturday dawned, the day we had all been eagerly waiting for. Throughout the morning, bicycles zipped by our campsite off to find somewhere to watch from, while in the village, everyone was getting very excited. On roofs and at windows, locals took their places to watch, visitors and campers settling on chairs by the side of the road, yellow and patriotic clothing worn by many – it was a real party atmosphere.
And of course this only increased as the publicity carnival, known as La Caravane, passed by, flags waving, cowbells ringing, the crowd going wild. Even the police enjoyed a day in the limelight – celebrities for a day, waving at and sharing high fives with the crowd.
Of course, Le Tour's cyclists whizzed by us in an instant, the peloton a dazzling mass of colourful lycra, everyone in the crowd looking to spot their favourites, cheering and waving as they sailed past.
Jumping on our motorbike, Geoff and I ride via a steep back road to Middleham, meaning we got to see Le Tour twice in one day. This would have been impossible in a motorhome due to its size and congestion – it might just be possible on a bike, but only if you were nearly as fit as the competitors on the Tour de France!
Back in Kettlewell, we learn that British rider Mark Cavendish is, unfortunately, out of the race having crashed. Nevertheless, a fun night lies ahead – the sun is shining and there are even fireworks. The first stage is over and we have had a terrific day.
The following day, Sunday, we were ready for stage two. In France, of course, we’d have driven the ‘van over after stage one, but this is England and huge crowds were expected at the more southerly, Pennine climbs including Oxenhope and Holme Moss, resulting in access problems for us at such a late point in time.
Many of our fellow campsite residents were happy to just enjoy the party in the village, basking in the glorious sunshine, but we wanted more! Getting back on the (motor)bike, we headed for the Moors near Addingham. Big crowds had gathered, we were all enjoying Mexican waves and picnies and, again, the route and those lining it had been dressed for the occasion.
On the third time of asking it was still such a thrill to see these world class cyclists pass. It's different each time, every community welcoming Le Tour in its own style, the change of atmosphere and the new setting charging the experience with its own charm.
So I say, hats off to Yorkshire – and thanks for the party! I hope Le Tour de France comes back to our shores before too long. Based on our experience, I'd say the Tour de Yorkshire is indeed a dream spectator sport for motorcaravanners, and I am sure that as the route wound its way from Cambridge, through Essex and to London, others felt just the same. We would not have missed this Grand Départ for the world!
And if you want to find out how two first timers got on, please click here.