The Grand Depart: A creative tourist’s guide

Susie Stubbs
Long exposure shot of the Ghost Peloton, with bikes in neon colours.

The world, her husband and quite possibly their sheep and dogs will head to Yorkshire this summer to see sport’s greatest spectator event – the Tour de France. Here’s our guide to what else is on.

There is only one word for the Tour de France: hard. Epic in scale, the three-week tour covers over 3,000 kilometres and features high altitude races up mountains that stretch for miles. Perhaps there’s another word for the Tour, too: popular. This is a road race watched by a global audience of around three billion, so even if you don’t know your polka dot from your yellow jersey, there are few Brits who are able to claim they’ve never heard of it; fewer still since Bradley Wiggins won the race in 2012.

What’s a bit odd about the Tour de France, given its name, is that it’s not always held solely in, you know, France. Previous years have seen stages held in Germany, while it has made it over the English Channel on more than one occasion – which is all by way of introduction to this year’s starting point: Yorkshire. Yup, Europe’s greatest spectator race begins in Leeds on Friday 4 July and follows a route that takes in Harrogate, York and Sheffield over the following two days.

It is a momentous moment for British cycling and one that Yorkshire is as excited about as Wiggo would surely be if he was handed the maillot jaune again this year. Exhibit A is the Yorkshire Festival, a 100-day series of events, performances and exhibitions that celebrate the extraordinary joy and excruciating pain of this two-wheeled race. Among the events planned are the sweet – such as the organisation of church bell-ringers along the race route to herald approaching cyclists – and the monumental. The Ghost Peloton (16 & 17 May, 9.30pm, Leeds, free) falls into the latter camp, an outdoor performance that features cyclists in LED suits (courtesy of NVA’s Speed of Light), film projection, dancers from the acclaimed Phoenix Dance Theatre and the industrial backdrop of the former Tetley Brewery.

A 100-day series of events celebrate the extraordinary joy & excruciating pain of the race

Fields of Vision is similarly ambitious, a series of “installations” across the moors that day two of the peloton will cross and which comprise field-sized, living designs woven into hills and grassland (1 Jun-6 Jul, Blubberhouses, Hainworth, Worth Valley, Stanbury Reservoir, Peckett Well, Baitings Reservoir, Elland, Holmfirth, free).

As you might expect with a county that boasts its own “sculpture triangle” (which we fancy is like the Bermuda one but with slightly less mystery and a touch more art), visual art features heavily. Yorkshire Sculpture Park opens a show from Ursula von Rydingsvard (5 Apr-Jan 2015, Wakefield, free); the American sculptor is one of that country’s most clever; her exhibition includes 40 works that span two decades. A parallel show, Uncommon Ground: Land Art in Britain (5 Apr-15 Jun, Wakefield, free), is also worth keeping an eye out for.

YSP is also partly behind the commission of two new sculptures by Thomas Houseago (late Apr-Oct, Wakefield & Leeds, free); one will stand outside Leeds Art Gallery, while another appears at the sculpture park itself. The accompanying blurb about Houseago notes that he references “Greek mythology, Darth Vader and the Incredible Hulk” in his work. Seriously, what’s not to like?

The organisers behind Sheffield’s excellent Doc/Fest (7-12 Jun, Sheffield, prices vary) have used the opportunity of the tour to create their own version – a Tour de Cinema (until 5 Jul, multiple venues, free). Expect public screenings of cycling related film at unusual locations across Yorkshire, from Sheffield’s Peace Gardens to Hardcastle Crags and Gibson Mill.

Talking of Sheffield, our friends at MADE NORTH – and a whole bunch of designers and artists – are paying homage to the yellow jersey by making their own canary-hued tops. Yorkshire in Yellow (31 May-7 Sep, Sheffield, free) is the result; it’s also part of the first Sheffield Design Week (23-28 Jun, Sheffield, prices vary). And, talking of friends, Hope & Social, the Leeds band who were part of the Manchester Weekender’s secret gig sessions, are staging The Tour of Infinite Possibility (7 & 8 Jun, 21 & 22 Jun, venues vary, free): 12 live gigs in 12 “magnificent” locations. At the opposite end of the musical scale is Götterdämmerung (14 & 18 Jun, 12 Jul, Leeds, £15-£51), the finale to Opera North’s four-year programme of Wagner performances; at over six hours long it must surely be as exhausting as, you know, climbing the French Alps on a bike. Sorta.

What’s interesting about this festival is that so much of it is about the personal. A case in point is Bicyclism (24 Jun-7 Jul, Leeds, free), a series of portraits of ordinary Leeds cyclists, from stunt bikers to commuters, by the photographer Casey Orr; on 26 Jun the exhibition will be accompanied by a specially created, live soundtrack. Personal passion is also behind Beryl (30 Jun-19 Jul, Leeds, £12-£23), a play written by Maxine Peake and inspired by the life of one of Britain’s best road and track cyclists, a woman in a man’s sport who in the 1960s set a staggering number of world records – Beryl Burton won 72 national time trial titles alone over the course of her career. Sweetest of all her triumphs was surely the 12-hour time trial record for women she set in 1967 – which also happened to outpace the men’s record for two years. Kapow!

Mention should be made of the Sheffield Steel Peloton (until Jun, Sheffied, free), a project that sees a team of artists, filmmakers, steelmakers and scientists build a bike from scratch (its head badge will be made from steel mined and forged in Sheffield), but our final note is reserved for the Kettlewell May’d In’t Dale Festival of Wool & Ale (5 May, Kettlewell, £5). Details remain sketchy but we are led to believe that sheep, wool and ale will feature heavily, alongside a hog roast and gun dog demonstration. It’s rural life folks, and it’s a mere £4 to get in. Dogs of the non-gun-toting variety are also welcome.

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