No, of course I haven’t been cycling in Yorkshire. I have been sitting down with a pint watching people cycling in Yorkshire. Exhausting, as you can imagine.
Keen observers of our Twitter or our Pubcast may know that some time ago we were commissioned by the cycling porn mag, Rouleur, to write up a Harrogate pub crawl as a preview for the World Cycling Championships. Being paid to go to a dozen pubs before sleeping it off at a nice hotel is what I always dreamt work could be. One gig like that a week would be enough for me to survive, I thought, though it would probably kill me.
With Lady South being a massive fan of cycling, it made sense for the whole family to use that valuable research by watching the Worlds from tried and trusted bars, surrounded by enthusiasts in Lycra.
Meeting friends in nearby Ripon, ostensibly to borrow their house, we were immediately struck by the change in atmosphere from London. The different pace of life, the quiet, the tranquility, the… is that my own thoughts I can hear? Our hosts are a lovely, but contrasting couple. He is from South America and is warm, tactile, animated and emotional, whereas she is from Yorkshire.
First, we needed to find the nearest boozer. From their place we walked 450 feet, over the River Skell, to The Water Rat, a riverside pub with a nice line in ale and grub. A further 250 feet and we would be at The Forge, purveyor of fine breakfast baps, overlooking the canal. Measurements seemed to be taken in feet here, I noticed. Suddenly the 15 minute walk to my local in South London seemed inhuman, grotesque even. Ripon led 1-0, early doors.
Yorkshire has become the undisputed capital of British cycling. Not only does it have the terrain of the Dales with its undulating hills and valleys, it has enthusiastic fans who are going to get out in any weather and make a racket. The Tour de France had never seen anything like the Grand Départ that took place in Yorkshire in 2014, with millions lining the route with a spectacular fervour.
The Worlds include various races: men’s, women’s, mixed relay, under 23’s, juniors and para-cycling – on time trials and road races. This year they all ended in Harrogate, meaning you could stay put and watch the action, close to licensed premises in the delightful spa town that ably represents posh Yorkshire.
The Rouleur research led us to set up camp at Corner Haus, a Belgian beer bar run by a Isla, a warm host doing good things on a corner with booze. The riders go past their door, several times in the case of the road races, in front of the cheering crowds. Thanks to the broadcast time lag, we were able to clap the cream of world cycling, then nip into the bar and watch ourselves on live TV. It was like having an out-of-body experience, on BBC Two.
We took advantage of our previous research by visiting Major Tom’s Social for fine pizza, ale and Scrabble, and North Bar for their own delicious brews and the Coach & Horses for more great beer, sitting in Cavendish Corner, the pub’s tribute to British cycling’s greatest and grumpiest sprinter.
But we returned to Corner Haus for the Ned Boulting-hosted Have I Got Cycling News For You? I thought it might be a bit dull for our boy, 8, but a little learning never did anyone any harm. Indeed, the answer to the first question was dildo and the second, vagina, so despite his skipping school his day wasn’t entirely devoid of education.
Back in Ripon, we took in one of England’s oldest traditions, that of the Hornblower, who, in his fetching uniform, has been blowing his implement in the four corners of Ripon Market every night at 9pm since the year 886. These days he also gives a charming history talk with some deft funnies thrown in, but essentially it used to be a noisy neighbourhood watch that let everyone know the ‘Wakemen’ were on the case and not to fret about Vikings and what have you.
Strolling back to the cottage, I was struck by the peacefulness again. By the next night it was starting to get on my nerves. I’d had a nice pint at a lovely old skool boozer called the One-Eyed Rat but walking through the deserted square afterwards I thought, there’s a thin line between ‘peaceful’ and ‘dead’.
Ripon does have a racecourse, but no longer has a train station, which is odd given that it is an actual city. Still, it keeps the people away, I suppose. The buses are pretty fancy, with leather seats, USB ports, Wifi and a library, but they are still, inescapably, buses.
Waiting for that bus the next day on the beginning of our journey home, affable locals chatted to us. The friendly Yorkshire folk thing is no myth. Indeed, even our host’s ‘no hugging’ policy is ironic.
‘You did the right thing staying in Ripon’, we were told. ‘There’s too much going on in Harrogate.’
I smiled inside and contemplated the return to London, where you have to accept that you are going to constantly miss most of what the capital has to offer. I can’t imagine being bothered by the existence of things I haven’t the time to do.
And I wondered about the instinct for seeking quiet; fewer people, less action. Are these amiable souls simply not big fans of their own species?
Like many of my UK trips outside The Smoke, I left thinking; ‘Absolutely delightful. For a maximum of three days.’