A Breath of Fresh Air

How I'm getting back out into the countryside whilst living with MS

Archive for the tag “Tour de France”

Getting My Hands Dirty

Last night, I lay on the settee, utterly exhausted, my legs lying useless in front of me. However, I felt totally content: I had spent the weekend gardening. Obviously, I hadn’t been ‘gardening’ to the extent that most people mean by the term but it had sure jiggered me probably more than it does most people – and I’ll bet I got at least as much pleasure out of it!

I love geraniums!

I love geraniums!

This summer, Pete and I have been around more than usual for one reason or another and we have turned our eye to the garden, or the jungle that it had rather become. We were lucky to have more time at the same time that there has been less rain (unlike two years ago when it never stopped) and Pete’s Knee wasn’t playing up (unlike much of last summer).

more geraniums

more geraniums

So, armed with new tools, we have been able to fight back the brambles, grass and next-door’s ever-encroaching hedge, and parts of the garden that I’ve not seen for three summers have now reappeared! It’s been marvellous, and we’ve even had sun to enjoy it with.

I content myself with smaller amounts of clipping but have many bramble scratches to attest to my efforts! I’ve also been eyeing up a space close to the back door that has now appeared thanks to Pete’s major attack on a particularly virulent section of hedge.

This weekend I had the chance to go to the garden centre with a friend and I went armed with a list and plans for the new corner! It was lovely to be able to buy some plants again and work out what would work where. (I have learnt through trial and much error over the years but am very much still learning!) Once home, I set out my wares on the garden table.

my purchases

my purchases

Then I sat for a while in the lovely shade, deciding whether I could brave the sun and do some digging. Eventually, I broke cover and managed to dig one hole and plant one plant before retreating, beaten by the heat. I did manage to find a home for the owl I’d not been able to resist though!

garden owl

garden owl

On day two, I was in the garden before the sun and made the most of the actually rather fresh and breezy (and rather pleasant) day, and got all the other plants bedded in before allowing myself to take any notice of my body’s loud complaints. When I did sit down on the garden chair I couldn’t move from it for a considerable time. It didn’t matter though, as I had no desire to do so: I had a cup of tea in my hand and was in a good position to appreciate the extra splashes of colour that had appeared.

Verbena and Diascia

Verbena

Veronica

Veronica

Later, having shuffled inside to the settee, I watched the conclusion of the Tour de France. Since all those riders had made the effort to cycle round Yorkshire, I thought I’d make the effort to watch them on the television as they continued their Tour in France. It was crazy to keep on thinking, after one week, after two weeks, after three weeks, that these were the same riders who had cycled down our local roads – and were still cycling in the same race! Madmen! It was good to see Vincenzo Nibali on the winner’s rostrum, having first won the yellow jersey at the end of the day on which we saw him (I use the word ‘saw’ very loosely!).

As a bonus, when I woke up this morning I discovered that it had rained in the night so I reckon I don’t need to water my new lovelies today … possibly! Which is fortunate as my legs are still refusing to play ball. Now that’s not allowed – I’m much less keen on another day of immobility! I’ll just have to take another cup of tea outside and remind myself that it will be worth it: this will pass and the flowers will stay.

Diascia

Diascia

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Le Tour Arrives in Yorkshire

The day arrived at last! Le Tour de France was going to pass along our very own Yorkshire roads! Roads that I drive along on a regular basis – through the places I live and work – c’etait incroyable!

After many changes of mind, and much consideration of how we could get there, we decided to make our way to Côte d’Oxenhope Moor, a hill climb above the village of Oxenhope and just beyond Haworth, the place made famous by the Brontes.

helicopter hovering over Oxenhope Moor

helicopter hovering over Oxenhope Moor

Our expedition required a frighteningly early alarm call – 4.30am! This was because our daughter was a Tour Maker and we had to drop her off at her gathering point half an hour away and get safely back over the roads before they closed at 6.30am.

constructing summit race finishing point

constructing summit race finishing point

We then made the most of our early start by cycling along the unusually empty moorland road until we reached the summit itself. Men were busy building the signage showing the finish for the summit race but there was scarcely anyone else there. Still, it was still only 7am. It was hours before the race would pass by.

relaxing by the roadside

relaxing by the roadside

We set about selecting our viewing spot from pretty much anywhere we wanted to along the roadside. It was all very relaxed. We chatted to the dozen or so other early risers. One chap had cycled over from Bradford, about 15 miles away. He had been at Leeds the day before for the Grand Depart, and had also managed to catch the race again that day, in Skipton. Not content with that, he was then going down to London for the following day’s racing!

We leant our bike against the fence and put up our tent – we were very well prepared! And then we got serious: time for bacon and mugs of tea using our stove. Perfect! Getting up at a ridiculous hour was starting to have its advantages!

camping on Oxenhope Moor

camping on Oxenhope Moor

We enjoyed the early sunshine and beautiful views, marvelling at the unexpected possibility of camping out on moors that we usually simply drive through. We also took the opportunity to catch up on a little sleep!

the endless row of bikes

the endless row of bikes

Gradually people started to gather. Nearly everyone seemed to have cycled, and the line of bikes leaning against the fence grew impressively throughout the day. Some people walked up and a few made the short journey up from the temporary campsites that nearby farmers had set up. People picnicked by the roadside and chatted companionably. There was a real feeling of everyone coming for a relaxed summer’s day out.

the crowd begins to grow

the crowd begins to grow

We wandered up to the summit finish line to photograph ourselves. A friendly policeman took a photo of us together.  I tried some road graffiti but it was a total failure; I didn’t have enough chalk and I started writing “Allez!” too far to the right and ran out of road – my exclamation mark ended up on the kerb. Ah well, I tried!

at the summit of Côte d'Oxenhope Moor

at the summit of Côte d’Oxenhope Moor

Helicopters, together with motorbikes whizzing past at high speed, marked the arrival of some action. Suddenly everyone was standing up and waving flags. The caravan of advertisers’ vehicles sped past, some of them throwing out freebies (we did very poorly at catching anything!) and there was lots more enthusiastic waving and cheering. We no longer had our excellent view down the hillside – it was full of people standing in the middle of the road!

advertisers' floats

advertising float

unable to catch a freebie!

unable to catch a freebie!

There was then a lull whilst I caught another quick nap (I had to make the most of our tent!), with the odd sponsor’s car hurtling past, horn tooting.

waiting

waiting

the leader

the leader

And then … they were here! One rider was in the lead, flanked by two motorbikes, and soon after him two more cyclists pedalled furiously by in a race for the last of the two points available at the summit. I could even see one of them win. I actually saw a proper bit of racing!

the race for second place

the race for second place

Another small breakaway group followed. Then there was a small gap, followed by a screech of whistles, a flash of a motorbike in front of our faces and then the peloton was upon us, a single unit of furiously cycling legs, spread uncompromisingly across the road from kerb to kerb. I stepped back involuntarily, shocked and awed at the power of the mass of shiny crouching bodies that swept by, right in front of my nose. It took my breath away.

the peleton in pursuit

the peloton in pursuit

the peleton is upon us

the peleton is upon us

We managed to pull ourselves together sufficiently to watch the riders curl away as the road twisted its way round the edge of the moor. And then they were gone. They were followed by a long succession of team cars all adorned with a full complement of spare bikes. And that really was that! Phew!

We needed another cup of tea, so went to sit by the tent and contemplate the day whilst everyone collected their bikes and slowly made their way home. The countryside was peaceful once more.

and on they go

and on they go

The whole weekend was an amazing success! Everywhere there have been fetes and parties, the sun shone, the crowds were brilliant, Yorkshire looked beautiful and our tent made it on to the television! Everyone has been swapping tales of their own day and all the tales are happy. We all have fantastic memories of a wonderful, wonderful weekend!

Le Tour Bunting

Cragg Vale bunting

Cragg Vale bunting

Cragg Vale, in addition to being the longest continuous incline in England, has now just beaten the world record for displaying the longest string of bunting! It is 12,115 metres or 39,750 feet long and is made with 52,939 flags. Phew! Another Tour expedition was definitely required!

hanging bike

hanging bike

It was well worth the effort. The whole road, leading up from the village of Mytholmroyd, right up Cragg Vale’s steep ascent, and on up on to the open moors beyond, was bedecked, not only with home-made bunting, but also with yellow bikes, stuffed cyclists and a field with a cyclist imprinted into the grass.

field with cyclist

field with cyclist

We slowly made our way up the five-and-a-half miles of winding road, avoiding the cyclists toiling around us (cyclists are multiplying by the day!), marvelling that the bunting was still with us, all the way! As we climbed, I wondered how the bunting could reach the exposed summit. There were no handy telegraph poles up there!

more bunting

more bunting

We found out soon enough: they were simply attached to the fence posts at the edge of the moors. Somehow they looked just right, with the cotton grass waving behind them. A unique sight!

wild bunting

wild bunting

It was a beautiful evening and the sun was just beginning to lower over the empty moors, softening the beautifully desolate landscape.

lone cyclist

lone cyclist

We watched the steady trickle of cyclists coming up the road, knowing, but not quite able to believe, that this was nothing like what would be happening here and for miles around, all too soon!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A Tour of Le Tour

I couldn’t resist – I just had to see how other parts of Yorkshire were preparing for Le Tour de France! (Not a sentence I expected to write a year ago!) So we hopped in the car for a drive round as much of the area as we could reasonably manage in one day. It was a bit of a zig-zag, following our own route, and crossing freely over from Day One to Day Two sections. (How wonderful that there is so much beautiful scenery to detain the riders for two days!)

Tour de France bunting

Tour de France bunting

In Horton-in-Ribblesdale, which is a little off the route, the cafe owner was unsure how he would be affected – would no-one visit that weekend because they were worried about road closures, or would there be a mad scrum for bacon butties?

polka dots in Hawes

polka dots in Hawes

In Hawes, which nestles near the foot of Buttertubs Pass (or Côte de Buttertubs as the official route describes it!), has festooned itself in bunting to welcome Le Tour. In recognition of the fact that Côte de Buttertubs is one of the categorised climbs on the route, and therefore counts towards the King of the Mountains jersey, the village has gone polka dot mad! Shops have been painted white with red spots, all the bunting is spotty and flower pots are themed red and white. It is very cheery and welcoming.

polka dot bunting

polka dot bunting

not everyone went for polka dots!

not everyone went for polka dots!

We then headed up the Buttertubs Pass ourselves – by car! There were a few brave cyclists tackling the climb, but even at the lower part of the steep ascent they were struggling, and some had to give in to pushing. It made you realise just how crazy fit the Tour riders are.

Due to a late start on our own tour, it was fairly late in the day when we arrived at the summit, and we had the place to ourselves. It was beautiful and wild, just us and a few sheep. I felt very lucky to be able to savour the views and the solitude. It was very difficult to imagine just how different the scene would be in a week’s time!

Côte de Buttertubs

Côte de Buttertubs

We munched a picnic tea (until beaten back by ferocious midges!) by the Buttertubs themselves, which are scarily deep limestone holes just metres from the road, and contemplated just how easy it would be for a rider to crash over a barrier and into one of those deep, deep holes. In fact, I have seen a programme about how the local mountain rescue team has been practising a rescue from one of those potholes (more concerned about a spectator than a cyclist, I think … but, still!)

admiring the Buttertubs

at the Buttertubs

We then wended our way backwards along the Tour route, past fields and farms and villages, with beautiful empty fells rising gloriously on either side of the limestone walls. And all along the route, our journey was punctuated by dots of yellow. Yellow bikes were perched on roofs, and yellow bunting fluttered from gates and windows.

Driving along the route, knowing that elite cyclists would be hurtling down these roads in a week’s time, made you look at them with different eyes. You really noticed how narrow some of the route is, and how twisty, and how steep are some of the hills – both up and down – and just how close are the unforgiving-looking stone walls!

Our favourite village was Bainbridge, where pale yellow bunting hung along every roof, and little t-shirts grew from one bush and mini knitted jumpers decorated one house. I didn’t get a picture as you couldn’t really capture the loveliness of the whole scene in one shot (and we were tired – it had been a long day!).

We made a final stop at Skipton, which was worth it for the church. All the grounds were full of yellow bunting and a giant t-shirt decorated the tower!

Skipton church tower

Skipton church tower

I am now full of Tour de France spirit. Allez, allez!

Le Tour is Coming to Yorkshire!

Yes, the Tour de France … in Yorkshire! The Grand Depart takes place here on 5th and 6th July. It’s a crazy idea … but fab!

book shop, Hebden Bridge

book shop, Hebden Bridge

There have been subtle signs over recent months that something is happening, such as the increasing number of cyclists to be seen climbing the steep hills round here (and, slightly disconcertingly, more of them have been wearing lycra: this is not necessary!).

As Le Tour draws near, towns are being decorated in yellow or covered in polka dots, and yellow bikes are appearing in shop windows. In Hebden Bridge, the decorations are fun and varied.

organic vegetable shop

organic vegetable shop

People have been discussing where they will be watching the peloton and, more importantly, how they will get to the point where they can watch … and what time they need to get there. (Frustratingly, this will require more thought for me with having mobility issues, but we are hoping to arrange something vaguely complicated involving the tandem … I will report back after the event!)

hairdressers

hairdressers

I was very excited recently to see Chris Froome and other members of Team Sky whizz past through Hebden Bridge as they test rode the route. Well, I think it was them – I saw four skinny blokes flash by in light blue lycra! A glimpse of what it will be like on race day I fear, though without the amazing atmosphere I’m expecting.

library

library

Earlier in the year our two local television news presenters from Look North, Harry and Amy, rode the entire route over a week on a tandem to raise money for Sport Relief. I went along to cheer them – how could I not support fellow tandem riders?! I saw them battle their way to the top of Cragg Vale (at 5.5 miles, the longest continuous gradient in England, as anyone round here will tell you!). It was an early taste of the rising excitement that the event is generating.

florists

florists

At my work next week there are various bike-related activities, including a time trial up Cragg Vale … I think I’ll be cheering people along rather than participating in that! I might be able to take part in the Wear it Yellow day. That is, if I can find something yellow to wear!

jewellers

jewellers

I’m going to see what else I can find connected to the Tour between now and next weekend. I’ve got to make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime event on my doorstep. I know the riders will go past in a flash, but it’s the buzz around it that is just as exciting!

shoe shop

shoe shop

A Grand Day Out

IMG_0909My patience has been rewarded! All those weeks of being sensible and saying no to bike rides have paid off: we had a proper off-road, hill-climbing, high-level, sun-kissed adventure at the weekend.

IMG_0908We cycled from the edge of Hardcastle Crags, near Hebden Bridge, through the wooded valley of Crimsworth Dean and up on to the open moorland above. This was truly a trip back out into the countryside. We were travelling along rutted pathways surrounded by gentle sloping hills.IMG_0891

It was a trip only really made possible through the power of the electric motor. There were steep climbs as we pedalled up on to the higher ground. I would have felt like a dead weight on the back without the motor and I don’t think Pete would have appreciated the ascent at all.

It was wonderful to be able to travel along the high-level track with open IMG_0910views all around, maintaining the height we had gained. We had several stops to fully appreciate our surroundings, and, as we had brought our own stove (the “pocket rocket”), we could have plenty of mugs of tea as we relaxed in the last rays of summer sun. When we ran out of water, there was a handy stream where we were able to top up our supply.

The mountain bike tyres and springy seat were also put through their paces – the descent was (a bit too) exciting! The bike bounced and slithered over rough stones whilst I gripped tightly on to the handlebars. I watched the ground intently and saw no countryside at this point.IMG_0905

At the bottom I gingerly dismounted and slowly uncurled my fingers from the handlebars. We had reached a bridge crossing a gently flowing stream and I flopped beside it. It was another perfect spot for a rest and we felt no need to move for quite some time.

Our journey finished with a terrifying ride down from Pecket Well to Hebden Bridge along next year’s Tour de France route. (The Yorkshire leg – honest!) Now I know just what Mark Cavendish and co will be experiencing!IMG_0915

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