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Yorkshire gears up for Tour

27 June 2014


Uphill: Chris Froome (right) checks the Stage 2 route at Haworth in May

Uphill: Chris Froome (right) checks the Stage 2 route at Haworth in May

A STRANGER visiting Yorkshire and parts of eastern England next month may be forgiven for thinking that the English have gone mad.

Streets are festooned with bunting made from tiny knitted T-shirts in yellow, green, and polka-dot red, and every available railing or lamp post seems to have a yellow-painted bicycle clamped to it.

Churches have giant yellow or spotted jerseys hanging from their bell towers, and normally taciturn Yorkshire folk are talking excitedly about "Le Grande Départ".

The reason? The first two stages of the cycling classic, the Tour de France, begin in a week's time, on 5 July, and take place over two days over 250 tortuous miles in the hills and dales of Yorkshire. The third stage, on 7 July, takes place over almost 100 miles of slightly calmer terrain from Cambridge, through Essex, to London.

Church communities along the route, particularly in Yorkshire, are getting into the spirit of the occasion with a variety of events, from French-themed concerts to bell peals, as the cyclists pass.

The acting Area Bishop of Bradford, Dr Tom Butler, used his July message to urge churches to get involved: "Wherever we are located in our diverse diocese, it seems to me that this July there is fun to be had, and work to be done. Let's make the most of it."

Many are offering free refreshments to the thousands expected to line the route, and several are throwing Le Tour-themed parties, complete with big screens to follow the race. Others will provide shelter, and a place of quiet.

Planning in Yorkshire started last September, when 200 church leaders were briefed by tourism chiefs and set up a dedicated website, lechurchletour.org, giving details of the myriad events as well as advice and tips for parishes.

Canon John Carter, of the diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales, said: "We have some of the most beautiful . . . church buildings in the country, and many dominate the landscape the cyclists will be racing through. But they all represent the local communities they serve; they are vibrant and thriving, and are well worth a second look. We want to say 'Bienvenue aux les églises de Yorkshire.'"

The race will require lengthy road-closures. One Bradford church has solved the problem of getting the congregation to church by arranging a sleepover, followed by breakfast in church. Several, however, are replacing formal Sunday services with outdoor events.

St Everilda's, and All Saints', in the village of Poppleton, near York, are holding a party on the green instead. The Vicar of Nether with Upper Poppleton, the Revd Jeremy Sylvester, said: "We are cancelling all services in the church to be out there, as Jesus would have been. We're encouraging people to gear up for God."

In York, the Vicar of Clifton, Canon David Casswell, has composed a song, "It's the Tour de France", which has been recorded by pupils at Clifton Green Primary School.

In south Yorkshire, nine churches lie along the final stretch of the second day's race to the Sheffield finish line. Christ Church, Pitsmoor, will combine a Free Beach Café and children's play area with a yellow jersey prayer-centre at the Rainbow's End charity shop, on Spital Hill, Sheffield.

On the third day, the race starts in Cambridge, and ends in London, with a final sprint along the Mall.

At St Mary the Virgin, Guilden Morden, in Cambridgeshire, 70 schoolchildren used their cycle bells to record a new piece by the composer Rob Godman, which last weekend replaced the church bells.

Mr Godman, a keen cyclist, said: "I approached the school to do an audio project, and the church, because it plays a central part in our small community." It can be heard at www.mybikemybell.com/MyBikeMyBell/Welcome....html.

In Chelmsford, parishioners are holding an open day at St Andrew's, which is close to the route, to coincide with celebrations of the diocese's centenary. In east London, Christ Church, Spitalfields, is planning its own race - by car - from the start in Cambridge back to the parish before the riders arrive.

Song-cyclist starts race

A PIECE of vocal music has been commissioned to mark the start of the Tour de France in Yorkshire next week. Song Cycle: Vive la vélorution!, by the British composer Alexander L'Estrange, will have its première in York Minster tomorrow, performed by 400 singers.

The piece was commissioned by York's Chapter House Choir as part of the county-wide festival around the tour's Grand Départ.

Mr L'Estrange was charged with producing a work that combined cycling themes with some of Yorkshire's iconic locations; so his composition includes pastiche Gilbert and Sullivan, folk, minimalism, barbershop, jazz, and musical theatre. It includes his take on the classic bicycling tune "Daisy, Daisy", which involves audience participation; and a verion of "Scarborough Fair", with new lyrics by his wife, Joanna Forbes L'Estrange.

He said: "As a keen cyclist and lover of the outdoors, I was delighted to be commissioned for this piece. It gave me the perfect excuse to spend a few days in Yorkshire - one of my favourite places - and to cycle some of the route of the Tour de France to gain inspiration.

To get the audience in the mood, he has asked them to wear yellow, green, and red polka-dot jerseys, like those worn by the tour leaders.

The Chapter House Choir's musical director, Stephen Williams, said: "Song Cycle is a wonderful opportunity to bring together Yorkshire's choral community, and celebrateLe Grand Départ with our audience, in what promises to be a fun and entertaining evening." 

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