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