So proud, so happy, ey up, I’m from Yorkshire.

Cote de Ripponden. Photo by Noel
Cote de Ripponden. Photo by Noel

I’m so proud, I think my heart is going to burst and leave a big mess of happiness splattering across the entire perimeter of God’s Chosen County.

This last weekend Yorkshire was the epicentre of the cycling world as the Tour de France and its huge entourage of media, cool gendarmes on their smooth Kawasakis, over-excited police on spluttering BMWs and bizarre publicity vehicles sporting giant French fries and huge pots of yoghurt each playing its own Europop tracks.

More than two million people lined the roads and hills of our wonderful county to welcome the world’s largest sporting event. Never mind the World Cup, forget the WImbledon finals, ignore the British Grand Prix, even if it was celebrating its golden jubilee, the Tour de France in Yorkshire was all that mattered and we were part of it.

It seemed almost like a dream when Yorkshire pipped our north-of-the-border cousins to the post in the race to host the start of Le Tour. Cheeky Welcome to Yorkshire Chief Executive Gary Verity charmed Le Tour’s bigwigs with Yorkshire hospitality which I understand included mucky fat sandwiches and a Betty’s Fat Rascal, washed down with a pint of Saltaire Blonde, then took them by helicopter to see our stunningly beautiful countryside. No contest, Yorkshire won the day and Le Tour.

Both Noel and I volunteered to be Tourmakers, helpers dressed in lime green and powder blue, carrying flags and whistles, all enthused and excited to be part of this great spectacle. Even the 3.30am start on Saturday wasn’t onerous, we were determined to enjoy every minute of the day.

I’d no idea what to expect, I’m not a follower of the Tour, so I was ready for anything. It started with all the cyclists who took advantage of the closed roads to have their own tour. The gathering crowds grew excited and cheered anything and everything, including the police bikes as they sped through. I ask you, when did you last cheer a police bike? Or the press cars come to that matter. By the time the caravan of publicity caravan went through,  the cheers were deafening, even I got loud applause as I retrieved a piece of metal from the road, by gum I lapped it up. The peleton came and went within minutes, but the experience went on and on.

The next day we were on one of the many Yorkshire hills waiting excitedly for a second glimpse of the Tour de France machine. We knew what was coming and it made us cheer all the more, a glorious, wonderful, moving experience. How we wept.

Watching the highlights later on the TV we cheered all over again. Not so much for the cyclists, brilliant though they are, but for our county. The hills and dales, dry stone walls, cobbled streets and big sky that we see every day, but were new and a delight to the rest of the world. Towns and villages had embraced the event, bunting was everywhere, yellow bikes were suspended from walls, houses and even churches and buildings were transformed with King of the Mountain red spots. It made me so proud.

It’s all over now, though the marks on the road remain, proclaiming the names of heroes, Froome, Contador, Cav and of course our Yorkshire saying ‘ey up’.

Once in a lifetime

One of the many Grand Depart spectator hubs
One of the many Grand Depart spectator hubs

I’m a middle-aged woman who should know better, but am squeaking with excitement like a kid in charge of portion control in an ice cream van. I can guarantee that the early night I was hoping to have so I can get up at stupid o’clock will go right out of the window because I’m cramming my eyes and ears with all things Tour de France related. The TV, radio and computers and blasting cycling stories and even the cat has donned a yellow jersey. For tomorrow, tomorrow will be my once-in-a-lifetime chance to be part of the biggest sporting event in the world, probably the universe and it’s happening on my doorstep here in Yorkshire. Say Hello to Anne the Tourmaker.

It’s a matter of great pride to me as a Tyke, that Yuggles, that’s non-Yorkshire folk, are flocking to God’s Chosen County from all corners of the world, with even a few from over the Pennines, but we don’t talk about them, to see this greatest of cycle races.

Not that I’m particularly a cyclist or even great fan of cycling, but to have the eyes of the world on my city, my county, well, I’m bursting with pride.

We took a ride out to Holme Moss last night to look at the highest climb in this Yorkshire stage of the Tour. Not a mountain by alpine standards, but a heck of a hike up a narrow, windy road. Most of the route through Huddersfield was festooned with bunting and cluttered with yellow bikes. Excitement was in the air and the local brewery’s Maillot Jaune pale ale was being knocked back at an impressive pace.

In just a few hours, I’ll be putting on a Tourmaker outfit that was definitely made for someone a different size and shape from me, packing my sandwiches and heading out to be part of this incredible spectacle. It’s not going to happen here again in my lifetime, so I’m going to make the most of every single minute!

You can call me ‘love’, love

Le grand Depart tourmakers queuing in the rain at the First Direct Leeds Arena.
Le grand Depart tourmakers queuing in the rain at the First Direct Leeds Arena.

The ether must have been hot with sithees and ee by gums after thousands of Yorkshire folk tackled the online training to become tourmakers for Le Grand Depart, the start of this year’s Tour de France.

Although sponsored by Leeds-based supermarket giant Asda, the training must have been put together by someone down south who minds their ps and qs and calls a spade a digging implement for use by a gardener. Why else would the rather patronising prose point out that those not local to the Chosen County may misinterpret our friendly banter when we call them ‘love’ and, err, well, what exactly? Fear they were being proposed to and dragged off to eat mucky fat sandwiches and very strong tea before having to shovel coal with a ferret down their trousers for the rest of their lives?

Fortunately sense has prevailed, as Gary Verity, Chief Executive of Welcome to Yorkshire,  the Tyke whose vision brought Le Tour to Leeds, told broadcaster Rob Bonnet ‘You can call me love anytime’. And we all heard it, all 7000 tourmakers gathered in the First Direct Leeds arena where we had gathered to get rather excited about volunteering. We did.

We’d all waited outside in the rain to acclimatise those not from Yorkshire to the weather and test waterproofs, before being treated to a Le Tour spectacle which included an interview with the wonderful Brian Robinson, the first Brit to win a Tour de France stage back in 1958. Of course he’s from Yorkshire, my home town of Mirfield even, and of course he’s modest and understated and of course he called us ‘love’. He did’t really, but he could well have!

Next steps are for us to have face-to-face training when we can call people ‘love’ for real. And we’ll get to pick up our uniforms which are bright green and soft blue, I just hope we get to wear a Yorkshire rose too!

I’d pay for that – and I’m from Yorkshire!

The Ghost Peleton - spooky!
The Ghost Peleton – spooky!

Tour de France fever is gripping Yorkshire. We’re getting quite giddy about the sporting spectacle but before they arrive, there’s a whole arts festival to celebrate all matters cycle and Yorkshire-related.

The latest arty goodness came in the form of bikes, lights and choreography. The wonderfully arty-farty Speed of Light teamed up with Phoenix Dance and a few dozen volunteer cyclists to produce the Ghost Peleton, a sport-light-art fusion with pulsating, music.

As darkness fell, and watched by 3000 people, the cyclists circled the huge Leeds city centre yard, making patterns with the lights on their bikes, their bodies and their helmets. It was hypnotic and soothing, they moved as one.

Amazingly, this wonderful performance was free, all we had to do was book, and we did in our thousands. But do you know what? It was so good, I’d have paid good money to see that – and I’m from Yorkshire!

The enyellowing of Leeds

 

This is where it all starts. In Yorkshire!
This is where it all starts. In Yorkshire!

My teeny tiny greehouse is bulging with pots and the windowsills are groaning under the weight of the seed trays. Any day now, they are going to burst into life as four different kinds of sunflowers start their journey to giantism. The enyellowing of our house, our village, our city and our county has begun as we prepare to welcome Le Tour de France to God’s Own County.

We had quite a giggle when the South of Watford lot threw a hissy fit into their tepid beer following the award of the prestigious start of the biggest sporting spectacular in the world to Yorkshire. There’s always been north/south rivalries, and we up here in the north, feel the south gets all the gain and none of the pain, but let’s not get political, we can sort that out next year at the ballot box.

When it comes to lung-busting English hills, spectacular scenery, a thriving cycle club network and Betty’s Yorkshire Fat Rascals, the flat, fairy-cake south has no answer. On July 5, the Tour de France starts here, the world will be watching and so will we, though we’re not quite sure where our vantage point will be yet!

Noel and I have been accepted as Tourmakers, for Le Grand Départ, We’ve no idea what we’ll be doing, but can be sure we’ll be surrounded by a lot of yellow, lots of cycling-related activities a 100-day Yorkshire Festival,  There is a fantastic choice of arty stuff on offer too,  including a Ghost Peleton of dancers, cyclists and LED lights, Tour de Cinema, a cycling answer to drive-in movies and starting with The Grand Departs, cyclists pulling a grand piano up Cragg Vale, one of our longer, steeper Yorkshire hills on Saturday.

In the meantime, the sunflowers are growing and Grand Départ Yellow is starting to appear everywhere. There’s even talk of changing the colour of Yorkshire rose from white, But some things are just too sacred.

Cake and cheese, it’s a Yorkshire thing

Christmas cake, cheese, a mug of coffee, perfect.
Christmas cake, cheese, a mug of coffee, perfect.

Right, then, you southern jessies, I said, but quietly and in my head. This is how we eat Christmas cake in Yorkshire, none of your fancy frilly ribbons, thick marzipan and sickly icing. It’s cake and cheese, sweet cake, savoury cheese, fuel for the body and mind, a match made in Wensleydale, God’s own country.

There was scepticism at first, colleagues at the Northampton office looked at the slab of cake, and wedge of Wensleydale I’d brought down from Yorkshire first with curiosity, then with horror as I took a bite from each.

Next it was the turn of anyone who wanted the Yorkshire Enlightenment, cake-eating as it should be done. Each approached with caution, nibbling, biting then chewing. Their faces were a picture as they gave the verdict. Yes, they said, it was rather odd, but it somehow worked. Of course it did, it’s from Yorkshire.

This week has seen a massive celebration of Yorkshireness with the announcement that the first two stages of the 2014 Tour de France will start from Leeds. By gum, we were chuffed, I can tell you, in fact Noel and I have already volunteered to make the mucky fat sandwiches for Bradley and co. And if they’re lucky they might get a slice of cake and cheese, that’ll fuel them for the climb up the one-in-four Sutton Bank!