The Tour comes to Yorkshire

The Tour de France is coming to Yorkshire in 2014, and will speed through some of the county’s best spots for hillwalking. We pick a few of the highlights

Illustration photo of The Tour comes to Yorkshire

The people who organised the two Yorkshire stages of the 2014 Tour de France will probably tell you the routes were chosen after a detailed consideration of gradient, distance, ascent, descent, and so forth. But we know the real truth. They clearly did it on the basis of scenic splendour.

While the likes of Bradford and Hull are understandably miffed about being bypassed by the Tour’s route, there’s little faulting the organisers’ taste in grand landscapes. The first stage, after the grand depart in Leeds, goes on to complete a spectacular loop through the Yorkshire Dales which ropes in some of the best places for natural spectacle in the north of England. The second starts in York, heads west across Blubberhouses Moor, then swings down into West Yorkshire, where industrial heritage sits side by side with bleakly beautiful moorland grandeur.

Of course, we already knew Yorkshire was beautiful, but it provides a handy excuse to revisit some of the finest locations the Tour will pass through on its excursion into Yorkshire. Unlike the cyclists, who will be shooting through at improbable speeds, we have the luxury of being able to take our time to properly soak up these beautiful places. Who needs sporting glory when you have a long weekend in Upper Wharfedale, using only your legs for propulsion? C’est Magnifique, or as they say in Yorkshire, bloody brilliant.

OTLEY AND ILKLEY
After the start in Leeds, the riders will descend past the noble Harewood house into Wharfedale, where they will pass through Otley (birthplace of Olympic silver medal-winning cyclist Lizzie Armitstead, and, less famously, TGO’s Assistant Editor.) A magnificent forested ridge called the Chevin looms above, purportedly the inspiration for Turner’s painting Hannibal Crosses the Alps. Next up is Ilkley, famous for the ocean of gritstone and heather that is Ilkley Moor.

SWALEDALE
Described by one of Yorkshire’s least celebrated sons, Jeremy Clarkson, as “the only truly spectacular road in England,” the riders will have a stiff but very scenic climb up the Buttertubs Pass, before descending to Swaledale. Among the quietest of
the Dales, Swaledale is haunted by the atmospheric ruins of its industrial past, but in spring, its wild flower meadows burst into colour in a spectacular display of rejuvenation and life.

UPPER WHARFEDALE
The peloton will then arrive in the stunning surroundings of Upper Wharfedale, passing under the famous overhanging Kilnsey Crag, beloved of climbers, before speeding through Kettlewell and Buckden. Some of the most satisfying hillwalking in the Dales can be found atop the hulking masses of Great Whernside and Buckden Pike. Fans of the movie Calendar Girls will recognise the many filming locations hereabouts, although whether there are any among the cyclists – or if they would ever admit to it – is unknown. Neighbouring Littondale is a hidden gem.

HEBDEN BRIDGE
The second stage of the Tour de Yorkshire will take the riders into West Yorkshire, en route to Sheffield. A one-time industrial mill town turned into something of a hippie refuge, Hebden Bridge is surrounded by the sort of desolately beautiful landscapes that famously inspired Emily Bronte. Millions of people will watch the peloton pass through, but as Ted Hughes, born in nearby Mytholmroyd, wrote: “Moors are a stage for the performance of heaven/Any audience is incidental.”

Photo: Carey Davies