THE Grand Dèpart of the Tour de France was grand occasion for Yorkshire – a genuine tour de force and a world-wide showcase for glorious scenery we too often take for granted
'If you don't fancy spending your time chained to the Aga then you can call in your own personal cook'
The first two stages of the world's greatest cycle race in the White Rose county made a stunning and lasting impression, both in this country and abroad
Millions of TV viewers were amazed at just how much enthusiasm was generated along the route and beyond, whether in historic towns and villages or jaw-dropping countryside, from manicured meadow to great swathes of moorland, taking in touristy Brontë country and high limestone plateaux – where spectators still turned out in droves
Roads were closed for a day as the race and its speeding, noisy entourage hurtled past any number of popular vantage points – preferably near a village and/or pub – and it was great fun. Now, the locals hope, aprés Le Tour will be le deluge… of visitors
Stretches of the route were familiar from many trips over the year, and you tend to get blasé about your surroundings – until you see them on screen and begin to appreciate the beautiful scenery and lack of dark satanic mills many people expect to see if they daringly travel anywhere north of Watford
So we set out to rediscover parts of God's Own County we've travelled before and explore others that this Lancastrian had barely heard of.
The Yorkshire Dales, celebrating 60 years of National Park status this year, sit between two easy means of access from the South, via the M6 or M1/A1, but we used the pre-M-way route via Ingleton, following Le Tour past the iconic Ribblehead Viaduct and through the Wensleydale cheese capital of Hawes to reach our base in Swaledale
It was a first-time visit – and I'm the poorer for it, because it is sublime, archetypical village England, shaped by long-gone industries and centuries of farming, stretching from the the banks of the River Swale to the high pasture and treeless moorland
Le Tour zoomed along the Dale between hedges and drystone walls towards the historic town of Richmond and many must have wanted to stop… and may well return to one of the villages like Muker and Low Row, where we stayed in a turreted, stone-built hideaway called Hazel Brow House.
Catherine Calvert has lovingly refurbished her former family home
and transformed it into a benchmark country retreat – the house sleeps 13 and you take over the entire place, complete with state-of-the-art kitchen, loads of bath and shower rooms, and a large utility/wet room where you can dump sodden gear and swill down dogs, kids and wellies
Bathe in a more genteel manner in a huge double bath with south-facing view across the Dale – and with no need to pull the blind – before turning in next door in a four-poster, while everyone takes refuge in their own rooms across the landing or in the servants' rooms under the roof. The seven welcoming bedrooms are all reached via retained, narrow stone servants' stairs as well as a rather grand main staircase, rather more fitting for the status of John Clarkson Birkbeck, a solicitor who had the imposing house built.
The country gent would still recognise his home, with its imposing hall and huge reception rooms, although the flat-screen TVs and free wi-fi might be a bit too much to take in
The revamped kitchen may well have all mod cons, but if you don't fancy spending your time chained to the Aga (or induction hob and microwave), then you can call in your own personal cook Sandie Bond (email: email@example.com), who can wear the apron for you and drop by with family dishes ready to finish off and serve, so all you're faced with is the washing up – and there is a dishwasher.
We were told that Sandie's steak pie was 'awesome' and, Cath, we weren't disappointed. A sample menu from Sandie is online at the Hazel Brow website and she can also discuss special menus for a celebration or if you want to entertain. Don't forget to ask Sandie about her lemon and elderflower roulade.
You can walk off the excess by crossing the pasture to the Dale bottom and touring the organic Hazel Brow Farm Visitor Centre, run by Steve and Angela Blazey, where Cath's three alpacas are still decked out in Le Tour colours – yellow, green and red spots.
Another gentle stroll takes you to the 17th century Punch Bowl Inn, a 'foodie' village pub, which boasts a solid oak bar designed and crafted by 'Mouseman' Robert Thompson, with his familiar carved mouse signature
The daily menu is written on a large wall mirror and a very reasonable wine list goes alongside a line-up of excellent local and guest beers. The food was good, too, featuring as much locally-sourced produce as possible, including a selection of cheeses, one of them a very moreish artisan Swaledale I duly went out and bought to take back home
The cheese with PDA status, made to a recipe handed down from a family near the village of Reeth is now produced in nearby Richmond, also home to a great accompaniment from the Richmond Brewing Company, a six-barrel micro-brewery producing ales by the side of the Swale in the town's old Victorian railway station
Golden-coloured Station Ale is a refreshing tipple brewed using hedgerow hops; Stump Cross Ale is amber coloured, brewed with added limestone-filtered water; and Swale Ale is a darker brown brew, the same colour as the river it's named after
The town's also worth a visit to see English Heritage's Richmond Castle, one of the oldest Norman stone fortresses in Britain, with breathtaking views across the countryside. There's a great view of the castle keep from the beer garden of the Bishop Blaize, notable as a Camra-friendly Yorkshire pub serving an excellent Lancashire beer – a nicely-kept drop of Wainwright from Thwaites in Blackburn
Le Tour headed off via Leyburn, so that was my route back home, via Aysgarth, Buckden, Kilnsey, Kettlewell, Grassington and Skipton, through more superb scenery, taking in a slice of the race-inspired Tour de Dales, a home-grown, 78-mile circular cycle ride, including some classic climbs.
Tackling them in a car was testing enough, but just keep following the large yellow arrows on the road signposting 'PARIS.'
David Graham stayed at Hazel Brow House, Low Row Village, Swaledale, Richmond, North Yorkshire DL11 6NE. Tel: 01748 886224. Two and three day breaks are still available this year, prices starting at £728; weekly stays from £1,040. For 2015 prices visit their website.
Richmond is 100 miles from Manchester. For tourism details visit Richmond online: www.richmond.org and Visit Yorkshire www.yorkshire.com.
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