Yorkshire’s Grand Depart – Rapha Tempest Festival

It’s the night before the Grand Départ and things are not looking too rosy in ‘God’s Own Country’. To use the local phrase, it is ‘siling down’ and the floodlights outside the Rapha HQ tent at Broughton Hall in Yorkshire are in danger of being extinguished by a deluge of fierce intensity.  The rain is beating heavily on the plasticised canvas marquee, providing additional percussion to the Friday night beats being played by Rapha DJ’s Joey Hall and Festus. The throng of people inside are having a good time enjoying the tunes, the beer and the company but eyes keep flicking outside and you can feel minds wondering whether the name of the Tempest Festival will prove prophetic. I’m inside too, chatting to a couple of guys sitting at one of the long tables in the bar end of the tent. One notices my concern and leans in conspiratorially. “Don’t worry.” he says over the noise of the music. “I work as a trader in Amsterdam. I have to study the weather to make my bets. The sun will come out at eight o’clock tomorrow morning. I promise you.”

A few hours earlier, 70 kilometres to the north, I would have loved to have had a similarly sunny outlook. As it happened, at that time the leading edge of the rainstorm – now preventing me from getting back to my tent a couple of fields away – was just starting to lick the sides of Buttertubs Pass. My brother and I had crested the climb having had a dry tail-winded ride up from the Tempest site in the morning. We were following the Stage 1 route that the peloton would ride the next day after their departure from Leeds. All morning we had passed village after village decked out with Tour orientated flags and bunting and yellow bikes – generally a old mountain bike that looked like it had been through a custard-coloured sheep dip – were parked outside practically every other doorway. We had strayed off course once and realised almost instantly when the next village down the lane was found to be bunting free.. The campervans were already well established on the Côte du Cray back down in Wensleydale and we’d enjoyed a friendly exchange with their owners who were already proudly sitting in their deck-chairs beside their vehicles. By the time we reached the far point of our ride on Buttertubs though, the campervan owners had retreated inside or under umbrellas and the only people left out on the road were cyclists and the red-jacketed members of the National Park Mountain Rescue teams, who were obviously used to far worse conditions. At the summit, we took one look at the rain-lashed valleys beyond, before fishing out our own jackets and turning into the rain for the long ride back to camp.

stage 1 triple

At the turn of the year I’d still been undecided about what to do for the Grand Depárt. Having grown up in East Yorkshire and lived in the very western reaches of the Dales close to Lancashire for one year after finishing university (kind of like a stint at The Wall in Games of Thrones as far as more determined Yorkshiremen might deem it..) I was also determined, but only to get out of London and back up there for the weekend. After a couple of false starts with hotels around my old stomping ground of Hebden Bridge (“Sorry sir, we are only auctioning rooms for that weekend”) my older brother, Adam, rescued the idea by saying he would drive over from Hull with a couple of tents, a couple of bikes and an offer to ‘sort the food’. Given that he is a chef, this sounded a pretty good deal. All I had to do then was find somewhere for us to camp and bring my cycling kit up on the train. Rapha’s four day soujourn at Broughton Hall, close to both the Stage 1 and Stage 2 routes seemed like the perfect choice.

We’d kicked off the trip with the team presentation in Leeds. I had managed to get some complimentary tickets and it was a good way to get into the excitement of the Grand Depárt from what had been a bit of a standing start. Unlike London, Leeds had clearly been in Tour fever mode for some time – although a few finishing touches were still being hastily completed even as the riders left the City Hall to ride the short way to the Leeds Arena where Jill Douglas and Sebastien Picard – the ‘voice of Radio Tour’; the moving information service which all the teams listen to throughout the race to get their information about crashes, punctures, escapee’s etc – hosted a ‘proper’ opening ceremony complete with interpretative dance, community involvement and local boys Embrace to end the show. The highlights were the riders though – Cav’s glare at a put-on-the-spot Tony Martin when the German refused to deny that the Manxman is a hard taskmaster, and Sagan’s ‘endo’ onto the stage followed by a casual toss of his sunglasses into the crowd were both crowd-pleasers. The biggest cheer in the pre-show warm-up had been for Cav but the mainly Yorkshire crowd seemed to lift themselves an extra notch in the live segment and gave Chris Froome the biggest rider roar of the night. Of course the very biggest cheer was for something far dearer to the audience’s heart than either the most successful Tour sprinter of all time or the odds-on favourite and defending champion; Yorkshire itself.

leeds triple

My brother and I got a few cheers of our own as we toiled through the rain back to the campsite the following day. It was my brother’s white rose cycling jersey that elicited the shouts of encouragement from the roadside rather than the less than blistering pace we were setting on our return leg. It remained, however, a joy to be out in the landscape – passing haybales decked out as massive truckles of Wensleydale cheese and freshly dyed yellow sheep. Later I found myself worrying (sheep-worrying, I suppose) that the colours might ‘run’ in the overnight deluge, leaving the TV cameras with the less than appealing sight of mildly jaundiced mutton but the images we saw on the big screen at the Festival when we returned from our Stage 1 day out confirmed that the dye was, at least in the short term, colourfast.

It was hard work on the bike. We stopped at the top of our second ascent of Côte du Cray and I (metaphorically at least) collapsed into the arms of the lady manning the snack van at the summit in search of sustenance. When she suggested a banoffee Belgian waffle with copious cream and looping trails of toffee sauce I very nearly burst into tears in happiness. The reverse side of the Cote (the one the peloton would descend the following day) had been a brute – far steeper than the ascending side we had tackled earlier in the day. My fringale was a fair enough showing of this but the fact was more soberly evidenced as we ate when a motorist arrived at the snack van in search of a mobile phone with signal to call an ambulance for a cyclist who had come off descending and who was in a bad way. The remoteness of the place – despite the easy access to waffles – was shown by the fact that none of the five people there had any sort of signal. The man assured us that the cyclist was with friends and then drove off in search of a signal, leaving us to cross our fingers and hope all went well.

The best thing about getting your brother and the couple of non-cycling mates who have tagged along for the weekend to meet you in Leeds for the team presentation is that you get the opportunity to visit a couple of galleries whilst they.. ahem.. put up the tents over at the campsite. The exhibition of Graham Watson’s Tour photography at the White Cloth Gallery was excellent whilst I also found a few gems in the Bicyclism show in the Leeds City Museum and in the (non-cycling) photography in the Leeds Art Gallery. The first two were temporary of course but the latter is well worth a look at anytime – if only for the beautiful Tiled Hall that houses the cafe. I’d managed to down a flapjack there but after the presentation, our late night arrival back to Broughton Hall required a swift journey down into the “Event Village’ to find some much needed food. The ‘village’ was all the non-camping stuff and this was arranged on the front lawn of the wonderfully secluded Hall. Lacking the imposing vistas of some stately homes, Broughton Hall is folded into the surrounded landscape, making it perfect for hosting this kind of event. Set amongst (sharply) rolling hills, the Hall is a effectively a hidden valley offering an event space that looks inwards whilst radiating links out in many directions. For a cycle event – with all the connotations of hubs and spokes at the front of the mind – it’s near perfect.

The Rapha Tempest festival is actually named after the owner of Broughton Hall, the 32nd Baron of Broughton: Roger Tempest, and not, as I had initially assumed, some obscure link to the Shakespearean play. Rapha have held one of the rounds of their annual SuperCross event at Broughton Hall for a few years and it was Roger who first suggested doing a festival to coincide with the Grand Depárt. The long-haired, youthful-looking 45 year old, who clearly relishes hosting this kind of event, is later to be found having a go at the Rollapalooza cycle sprint challenge. In another clever appropriation of the Broughton connection, Rapha’s designs for artwork and clothing for the event take from details from the family crest – the arrowheads which represent ‘birds in permanent flight’ – and imbue them with another similar sense of motion; that of the bicycle and the peloton. It’s a nice, warm touch that builds on the sense of partnership that the equality of the festival name also encapsulates.

rapha triple

The partnership is something that Rapha CEO, Simon Mottram, elaborates on when I join him for a pre-breakfast ride on Saturday. Our start time is early enough for my Amsterdam trader’s promise to still be unfulfilled and, having fuelled up on coffee and croissants, we start our 50km loop in misty, cloudy conditions. I’m also starting in still distinctly damp cycling kit – not the most pleasant way to start a morning – but the hills around Skipton soon warm me through. Simon grew up fairly locally and knows the roads well enough but today we are following a lumpy route taking in the rugged beauties of Malham Cove and Settle that is one of a few different distances that have been recce’d by Rapha’s advance team. Festival-goers could either sign up for guided rides or download the route from the Strava tent at the festival. It was a really good idea that many took advantage of. As we pushed up through the mist Simon explained that they would like to continue the Tempest Festival beyond this Grand Depárt year and are looking at expanding the Broughton Supercross single day event into something that lasts a weekend. The weather challenges of the day before have at least given them valuable experience about working around the elements. By the time we got back from the ride though, the cloud had indeed disappeared and the sun was out in the sort of deep blue sky that would have looked at home at last years’ Grand Depárt in Corscia. Race Time was here.

Adam and our mates had already set off for Skipton to catch the caravane publicitaire on it way through ahead of the riders. I figured I had a better chance of grabbing treats for my kids from our Stage 2 trip so I followed a while after intending to meet up with them in the centre of the town. Fat chance. By the time I had walked the 3 pleasant cross-country miles the town centre was so full of people that the police had closed it off and I had to walk quite a way up the hill out of town to find a viewing spot. This was still a full two hours before the riders came through. Even half way up the Grassington Road the crowds were already two deep and it was almost at the top of the drag by the time I found a good spot. It was a long wait for the riders but not a lonely one as I chatted with the fans around me and got shared out the Team Sky flags and sweets that had been given away in abundance at the Festival. There was an excellent atmosphere – though one or two fans were a little lacking in respect for the garden plants in front of the large houses which sat back from the narrow twisting road. I was joined by an old man – and his border terrier, “Boudica”, who nuzzled in for a scratch – who said that he had been waiting “fifty years to see the Tour de France” with the hint of a tear or two in his rheumy eyes. It might have been the belated fulfilment realisation of that half-cenury longing which brought him to tears but it could have equally been the fumes from the countless cigarettes that he chain-smoked for the next hour and half.

skipton triple

If you’ve never seen the Tour de France go past you on the road, it’s very hard to communicate the excitement that can be caused by a waving police outrider or a Skoda full of corporate guests whizzing past you ahead of the peloton. The few team cars that go ahead of the route caused a huge degree of commotion and then temporary disappointment as it was realised that the riders were still half an hour away. The biggest cheer was given to two guys who jumped onto the route with their bikes and rode up the lane just after the main convoy of riders and cars had passed. Their chutzpah was hugely appreciated and people ran alongside encouraging them as if it were the upper slopes of the Col du Galibier rather than the lower reaches of the B6265. The riders themselves were past in less than 20 seconds, with a small break doing the same a couple of minutes earlier. Some of the people I was standing with had got up as early as 3.30am to drive or bike over and I didn’t get the sense that anyone was in anyway let down by the short visceral experience of seeing Le Tour live.

Certainly my non-cycling mates were grinning from ear to ear when I caught up with them and Adam in a pub in the town centre. They had watched the riders’ approach on a screen before seeing them pass through Skipton so had had a bit more of a fuller experience than those of us standing up in the lane above the town and they had loved the experience. The weather had certainly helped and, as we walked back to the Tempest in hot,hot sunshine I was reminded of something that Andrew Denton – media chief for the organising team at Welcome To Yorkshire – had said when I saw him at the team presentation. He was saying that everything was ready for the big day but that he hoped “that the weather is good because if it rains, that is all anyone will talk about.” I guess by that time he was grinning too.

One of the issues that the Tempest had to contend with was that, for large parts of the day, nearly everyone at the event left the site and went off to watch the race. This had again led to some on-the-fly rescheduling by the organisers to push things back until after the racing had finished. So after we had watched Cav crash out on the big screen in the Event Village I was able to catch talks by Anna McNuff, Tim Moore and Max Leonard that I had thought I would miss. Whilst they weren’t all exactly mobbed with people (unlike the visit of Team Sky riders Ian Stannard & Josh Edmondson’s which we did miss) they were all excellent and added a valuable dimension to the Festival being a celebration of cycling and not just a Rapha marketing event. These extra elements will be key to adding depth to the festival if it is continue in the years beyond the Tour.

Evenings at festivals are always the best time and the Tempest was no exception. With the site perfectly orientated for late evening sun and the accompanying long shadows, the festival came alive as the crowd – mainly weary from a long day in the sun & saddle – found food and drink and stretched out on the perfectly cut grass of Roger Tempest’s front lawn. The best ale to be had was the York Brewery ‘Guzzler’, which had been cannily rebranded ‘Tempest’ for the weekend, and the van selling the chips drenched in truffle-oil was in demand at all times of day and night. As you would expect, clothing was limited to the Rapha items for sale in their HQ but the range of other distractions was reasonable given the size and the on-site/off-off site nature of the weekend. There were rounds of mini SuperCross, a forest trail for mountain bikes, the guided rides I’ve already mentioned, penny-farthing try-outs, Rollapaluza, a large kid’s play area (and a ‘Midnight Garden’ trail for them) as well as the usual array of associated stalls promoting magazines, nutrition, insurance and the like.

tempest triple

One of the less usual offerings was the chance to borrow a top-of-the-range Pinarello F8 for a test ride. I’d missed a big part of Anna McNuff’s engaging talk about solo riding all 50 US states (on a bike called also ‘Boudica’ coincidentally enough) trying to secure one for the following morning but it was most definitely worth it. I’ve written about my little early morning ride on it elsewhere so will jump to the point where I (rather reluctantly) gave it back and re-mounted the Boardman CX bike belonging to my brother that I had been riding all weekend. Our plan for today was simple – head out to meet the Tour at the Côte de Blubberhouses on the exposed moorland to the east of Skipton and then do a little bit of ancestral archaeology in the nearby village of Fewston.

I’d bumped into a number of familiar faces over the weekend but chief amongst them was Brixton Cycle Club’s Thomas Steven, who I know from Tweed Run marshalling. He was leaving the site just as we were rolling out so we hooked up for the day. Just as well it turned out later as Tom’s paper maps saved the day when my Garmin died. A few miles up the road it again looked as if the popularity of the Tour in Yorkshire was going to thwart us again when a steward at a roundabout said we could go no further. With at least 10km to the Côte (and a few more to Fewston beyond) this presented a significant obstacle to our plans. Even promises that we would walk our bikes – riding seemed to be the steward’s big issue – went unheard until a more sensible police officer overruled him and on we went. We conscientiously walked a mile or so until the crowds had disappeared and then rode again when another steward waved us on. It put us behind schedule and we were were still some way off the Côte when the publicity caravan blazed through. A bizarre site at the best of times, it was even more incongruous amid the emptiness of Blubberhouses Moor. Without the crowds (and able to divide to both sides of the road) we got a full haul of stash, though the Haribo folk were resolutely grim-faced and didn’t eject even the smallest pack of StarMix despite our encouragement. Poor show.

The roadsides thickened again at the top of the Category 4 rated climb and we ended up back-tracking a couple of hundred yards for a clear view on a favourable bend. We chose our viewing companions well enough to warrant a TV spot by placing ourselves between a group of day-glo punk lycra’d girls from Vicious Velo and eight orange-faced Oompa-Loompa’s from Krewkerne in Somerset but a crash in the bunch meant that we missed out. It did mean that we got an close-up look at Tejay Van Garderen though as he stopped opposite to grab a wheel from a teamate before speeding off after the peloton.

blubberhouses triple

The thing that struck me the most about watching Tour roadside was how quickly the (largely self-imposed) order collapses once the Voiture Balai has gone past. The hours of waiting and respecting the sanctity of the Tour route disappears in less than a couple of minutes as the road is flooded with cyclists heading one way or the other back to watch the rest of the race. We joined about 4,000 other cyclists heading slowly down the Côte de Blubberhouses watching the foot-bourne crowd helpfully remove every last piece of official Tour-related bunting, posters and and road closure signage as momentoes. I saw later that Yorkshire & Cambridge councils were selling off lots of this kind of stuff but I can tell you for a fact that none of it came from the Washburn Valley.

The River Washburn runs down from the tops of Blubberhouses Moor into what is now Fewston Reservoir. A couple of hundred years ago there were many small farms on the riverbanks – one of which my maternal ancestors farmed. Their farm, along with many others, is now lost under the expanse of water which fills the lower valley but their remains remain. In the graveyard of Fewston parish church, reassuringly close to the doorway, are four headstones bearing the Pullan name. The writing is no longer legible on Timothy Pullan’s headstone which lies horizontally like a sarcophagus, but the names of his descendants such as William, his wife Mary and four of their short-lived children are clear on the vertical ones. Timothy was my great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather and my brother and I have come to pay a visit to the family ‘seat’. It’s an odd feeling wandering around a churchyard in lycra; I’m sure my ancestors from the early 1700’s wouldn’t have particularly approved, but it’s gratifying to find another close, personal connection amidst the massiveness of the Tour’s visit to my home county.

fewston triple

Tom took his leave from us shortly after we crossed the road that bisects the reservoir, heading off towards Otley to ‘bag’ a Cycle Touring Club geo-cache from a list that he is slowly working his through across the country. Adam and I cruised back westwards on the still closed roads, back up the Côte de Blubberhouses (sadly the KOM banners have already been removed and the clean-up wagons have done their work so we are denied a battle for the points at the top) to our next rendezvous, which turns out to be hog roast at the Skipton fan park to watch the exciting stage finish on the final sharp climbs into Sheffield with a couple of other mates who had been soaking up the atmosphere on Holme Moss before making their way to the fanpark for the stage end too.

I’d been ignoring the nagging thought for most of the afternoon that I was planning to be on a train back to London by early evening. The realisation that Adam wasn’t working the next day – as nor was I – coupled with the still brilliant weather and the excellent company was too much to pass up on. I decided to go back in the morning and set about enjoying the last of the day instead. As the fanpark emptied we were guided us past The Shepherd and The Fleece to yet another of Skipton’s ovine monikered hostelries The Woolly Sheep for a pint of the local stuff and a good few belly laughs.

By the time we got back to the Tempest, many of the tents were gone and there was something of a “survivor’s” camaraderie amongst the few who remained. The pre-pitched tents and luxury yurts were still up of course, though many were now vacant, which at least kept the site visually full. These two more expensive options had both been oversubscribed and the ‘general camping’ areas were also well populated. There was a separate ‘family camping’ area which had separate toilets and showers (as did the luxury area) to either keep sleeping children away from rowdy cyclists or, more likely, to keep noisy kids away from sleeping cyclists. Adam and I had some more of that excellent Tempest ale and spent that remainder of the sunny even reminiscing about the last time we spent more than a couple of hours together in the saddle: In 1989 we rode the Coast to Coast (and back) alone staying in hostels close by where we were now. It’s something I can’t imagine letting my kids do when they reach the same ages of 14 and 15 and there is a sense of sadness associated with it for that reason. Simpler times? Safer times? Or just less worrisome times? As with all of those kind of long formed memories we recalled a few things differently and it was good to unearth and dust down a few of the discrepancies. For instance, I didn’t recall that he had been entrusted by my mother with a fifty pound note ‘in case of emergency’. Learning that took a little off the edge off some of the memories. I slept well that night.

the end triple

Yorkshire was on a bit of a come-down early Monday. With the Tour focus now firmly on the rain sodden lanes of Cambridgeshire and Essex, there was a definite feeling of the morning-after around Skipton as I finally took the train back South. The security guards at the Tempest had long since given up on checking wristbands on the last few comer’s and go’ers at the site. After four days of nods, chats and extended sympathies when the rain had been coming down, they knew most of us by sight, if not by name. The relatively small scale allowed such familiarity and it really worked in the Tempest’s favour. It never felt overly exclusive (as some might expect) and not did it feel anything less than pleasantly intimate: something that most festivals could never hope to achieve. Roger, Simon and the small army of contributors who put the event on should have been able to sit back and bask in the fact that the weekend was great but the truth was that nearly all of them were like me, scurrying to London to celebrate Rapha’s 10th birthday at a party in The Mall. Basking would have to wait a little longer.

Talking of waiting, I know that the Tour cannot return to our shores for a few years at least but I hope the Tempest returns sooner than that. Even without the biggest cycle race in the world it has all the ingredients for success: great location, sublime roads, varied food, local beer, engaging people. Job done.

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