After seven years of living in France, we reckoned we were old hands at le Tour de France. It had gone past our house twice – once west-east, once east-west, and jolly exciting too, for roughly 30 seconds, which is all it takes for the competitors to go whizzing past… though there’s the no-small-matter of the caravan, and all its extraordinary vehicles full of excitable young women (only gorgeous young females and the occasional hunk need apply) flinging forth key rings, baseball caps, sweets and so on to the crowds scrabbling around for these souvenirs of the day.
And this year, for the third time in our lives, the Tour is going past our house again: because in 2014, for one year only, the Tour de France begins in Yorkshire, aka God’s Own Country. It’s quite a coup for Yorkshire tourism, as it’s an opportunity to showcase this wonderfully scenic area as a tourist destination to a world glued to its TV sets for the duration of the Tour.
Yorkshire has been going Tour mad for weeks – no, months. One of the earliest signs was last November, when the Harrogate Advertiser asked readers to knit little TdF jerseys to be strung as bunting in local streets. 3,000 jerseys should cover it, they reckoned. We now known that there are well over 10, 000 of them – yellow, green, white-with-red-spots, in Harrogate District alone, and who knows how many in the county as a whole, or down south when the riders complete the Cambridge to London stage? You can see them strung in shop windows, along house railings, swagged along churches, between public buildings or threaded through the branches of trees.
Then there are the yellow bikes. There are town trails to discover the dozens of yellow-painted bikes deposited round towns, in gardens, along country roads, in shop windows…. I’m sure many will be around months after the event, but many more will have been cleaned up and shipped off to various projects in Africa.
Our own community, North Stainley, has had Rural Arts working with the children at the Primary School to produce their own interpretations of impressionist paintings, and these are now on display round the village. The pond has got its own Monet style bridge with LED waterlilies for the duration. There are two new sculptures inspired by the Tour, and there’s a whole programme of social events. Every village and town along the route is involved in providing fun for residents and visitors alike on the weekend of the Tour. The description of choice seems to be ‘Le Grand Départy’. Please groan if you want to….
Roads along the route have been repaired and revamped, presumably to the detriment of the road maintenance programme of all highways not on the TdF course. Traffic islands in towns have been replaced by moveable versions, so they can be shifted from the road for The Big Day. Anyone with open land and the means to provide sanitary and other arrangements, from farmers to schools with big playgrounds, is offering camping or parking facilities for the duration. The French may well look askance at this degree of organisation, because over there it’s fine to turn up and park your camper van on any spare bit of mountainside that you can find. Here however thousands and thousands of would-be spectators all have to cram themselves along some 400 km. of route, as opposed to the 3,500 km available in France. Our village alone has been told to expect up to 7,000 spectators, the next village along, 10,000. The logistics are a nightmare, and forward planning essential.
And there are three weeks to go…..