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      June 2014 > Places of interest along the first stage of the Tour de France

Places of interest along the first stage of the Tour de France

Leeds, Harewood, Otley, Ilkley, Skipton, Grassington, Hawes, Aysgarth, Reeth, Middleham, Masham, Ripon, Harrogate...

Places of interest along the Yorkshire stage of the Tour de FranceYou have to hand it to them: the organisers have picked a great route through the Yorkshire Dales for the initial stage of the 2014 Tour de France. As a Yorkshire woman born and bred, I found myself nodding in approval as I read the list of towns and villages through which the peloton will head on the first day of the race. I can’t wait to watch the coverage on TV, looking out for glimpses of familiar places.

But therein lies a problem. They will just be fleeting shots. I dare say that the cyclists won’t even notice that they’re passing through Hawes, home of Wensleydale cheese (though the burning in their calves may hint at the fact that they are in the highest market town in England), and they’ll probably be too tired after the biggest climb of the stage to admire the natural amphitheatre which protects the Saxon settlement of Reeth, once a major player in the lead mining industry, no less. Similarly, not for them the chance to picnic on the riverbank next to photogenic Aysgarth Falls or to detour while in attractive Grassington to the limestone pavement at Malham or the underground caves of Stump Cross Caverns.

Places of interest along the Yorkshire stage of the Tour de FranceWith a little more time (make that several days) the first stage of the Tour de France would make a great touring holiday. Starting amid the Victorian architecture of cosmopolitan central Leeds, you could visit the Royal Armouries (home to the national collection of arms and armour) or the Henry Moore Institute, before a change of pace at Harewood House, a grand 18th-century stately home, where you can admire the Robert Adam interiors and then stroll through the gardens laid out by Capability Brown. There’s even a bird garden with penguins, flamingos, owls and more.

Once you reach the market town of Otley, you’ll need to don walking boots – the big attraction here is the Otley Chevin country park. If you like art, you can follow the Turner Trail to discover views that inspired this famous painter. Keep your walking boots on for the next stop, as Ilkley is surrounded by beautiful moorland and it’s well worth climbing up to the Cow and Calf Rocks for sweeping views. Take your hat with you if you are to avoid the fate of the reckless protagonist of the famous song.

Places of interest along the Yorkshire stage of the Tour de FranceAt Skipton, the main attraction is the imposing 11th-century castle. It’s also the gateway to the Dales, and the route that the Tour de France takes north from here leads through classic Dales scenery, including Buttertubs Pass. I’ve already mentioned the cascades and the culinary delights of Aysgarth and Hawes, by which time you’ll be ready for another castle – this route is nothing if not varied. Middleham (starting point for our Classic Yorkshire Dales walking holiday) was the favourite residence of Richard III, and, although it is not as well preserved as Skipton Castle, it is still very impressive in its scale – the keep is huge.

So far we’ve had museums, a stately home, great scenery, castles, waterfalls, a limestone pavement and stalagmite-strewn caves. Masham delivers something entirely different: beer, as both Theakston and Black Sheep have their breweries here. Next comes Ripon, where we can add to the mix not only a magnificent cathedral but also a UNESCO World Heritage Site – Fountains Abbey is just a stone’s throw away, so it would be remiss not to visit the romantic ruins along the way.

Places of interest along the Yorkshire stage of the Tour de FranceBy my reckoning, you’ll reach the finishing point of the first stage after five or six days (more if you make the most of all the walking opportunities). Harrogate is a fitting place to wind down – this elegant town has recently been named the happiest place to live in the UK. Stroll through the flower-filled Valley Gardens before settling down for tea and cake at Betty’s famous tea rooms, an indulgence that I suspect is off-limits to the cyclists, but very much de rigueur for mere mortals like you and me.

Posted: 04/06/2014 12:18:54 by Beth Hancock | with 0 comments
Filed under: culture, UK, Yorkshire

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