It’s long been a dream of Nick’s to take some of the cycle club to Yorkshire and in June it was finally realised.
We started the planning last October; it was a big undertaking and we didn’t want to leave anything to chance. Eleven people signed up, unsure whether they were being brave or foolish; after all, in France the reputation of British food is as bad as that of the British weather and food is a French national obsession. Our friend Dom, from Skipton, sent us suggestions for holiday cottages big enough for twelve, including one whose decor looked a bit quirky, because he thought I might find it “interesting”. His joke was the one we booked, Flanders hall in West Burton.
We booked ferries, hotels for the journeys there and back and held meetings that were always chaotic and never seemed to achieve what we’d hoped. Nick and Dom spent many hours on the phone, discussing route plans, till finally they felt that they’d satisfy everyone, from those who wanted to do about 100km a day to those who preferred shorter rides. We researched bad weather options and tourist visits, exchanged euros for sterling and assured our fellow cyclists that they really didn’t need to take tea, butter or milk with them, that we could buy them there. We suggested that it might be a good idea to have lower gears fitted on bikes as, we explained, Yorkshire hills are a lot steeper than those in the Gers or even Pyrénéen cols!
I had an email from Maïthée and Pierre’s son, who lives in Devon, to ask if there would be a bed free if he drove up for the weekend to surprise his parents; fortunately there was and I even managed not to spill the beans beforehand – quite an achievement for me!
It was a relief when the day of our departure arrived; we could do no more. Bikes and bags were loaded into vans and we set off for the two day drive to Brugge, from where we were taking the ferry to Hull. The plan was to stop in Brugge for lunch and a wander round, but we hadn’t realised that it was Ascension Day; the satnavs took our little convoy right into the city centre, which was mobbed with locals and tourists waiting for the traditional Ascension Day procession. We wove our way through the crowds and down streets made almost as narrow as our vehicles by the rows of spectators’ chairs lining both sides; every car park was full, as were all the restaurants. Time to think up a plan B; head out of town towards the ferry. Being a bank holiday, most shops and restaurants were closed, but eventually we spotted a Chinese restaurant; most of the French looked very apprehensive about our choice, but I suspect, thought it could be no worse than English cuisine. They were pleasantly surprised, on both counts.
On arrival at the port we had a nasty surprise; Alain had noticed his ID card had expired, so had requested a replacement, but the powers that be have recently decided that ID cards will now be valid for 10 years, not 5 as previously, so Alain was told that his card was good for another 5 years and couldn’t be changed unless he moved house. It might be valid in France, but couldn’t be used to travel abroad! We watched in disbelief as poor Alain had to leave us and make his way home, thanks to the idiocy of French bureaucracy.
From Hull our route went close to Harrogate, where we shopped in Asda (yes, tea, milk and butter were available!) and went to Darren’s deli for superb sandwiches, which we ate on the Stray, followed by a visit to the Swan on the Stray for a first taste of English beer; definitely a success. Then on to West Burton. The holiday “cottage” was beautiful, a huge stone built house set in big gardens, surrounded by glorious views of the Dales; Nick and I could finally relax a bit as people happily chose their bedrooms and unloaded the bikes and luggage.
The kitchen was huge, with a gas fired Aga and a big dining table; there was a barbecue and plenty of lockable bike storage and we were only 5 minutes walk from the village and the pub, where we’d booked the first evening’s meal. We’d downloaded and translated the menu as the pub wanted to know our order in advance, but the French aren’t used to such choice and greeted the menu with dismay. “Do we have to choose?”, “Can’t we all have the same?” and “I’ll have what you’re having” were the commonest responses. However, after much coaxing, they finally made their choices. Nobody wanted a dessert, till they saw Nick’s sticky toffee pudding and ice cream arrive, at which point almost everyone ordered the same. All fears and misconceptions about English cuisine soon evaporated!
But where was Maïthée and Pierre’s son? He’d said he’d be there by early evening and by the time we left the pub I’d heard nothing and was getting a bit worried. On the way back to the house I was confiding in Regine and Martine when a text arrived; he wasn’t far away, and had sent loads of messages, but to the wrong number; he should be with us within the hour. Phew!!!
Maïthée and Pierre were tired, they wanted to go to bed, but by now everyone else knew Alain was expected; we women kept Maïthée talking while the men took Pierre for a walk. Eventually my phone rang, Alain was lost in the village, so I directed him to the house and phoned Nick to tell him to bring Pierre back. What a wonderful reunion it was!
The following day we set off for our first ride, visiting Bolton, Richmond and Middleham castles and joined by Andrew and Alan, friends from Knaresborough. The Yorkshire hills came as something of a shock to our French friends, who hadn’t believed our descriptions and a few of whom found themselves having to push their bikes on the steeper sections.
In the evening some of the men went out for a walk and arrived back carrying kilos of mousserons, a much sought after mushroom, wrapped in shirts and any other makeshift bag they could devise. Apparently they sell for around 50€ a kilo here! They couldn’t believe their luck until we explained that the English don’t go mushroom hunting like the French.
On Sunday Dom arrived to stay for the rest of the week; everyone else cycled in the morning while I prepared lunch as Alex, Graham and the girls were coming to see us. It was another hilly circuit, leaving Maïthée expressing the feelings of many, I suspect, on their return, announcing that if it was all like that she wasn’t going out again! Nick and Dom spent the evening rethinking their route plans.
For the rest of the week we cycled most days, the stronger riders riding out from home, the rest of us taking cars loaded with bikes partway and meeting up at prearranged spots. We visited at least one pub most days; the men were very impressed with English beer and everyone enjoyed the food. Wednesday was a day off, when we took the chance to do a tour of the Theakstons brewery and visit the Hawes dairy for Wensleydale cheese and Brymor for ice creams.
On the final day Nick took them up to the Tan Hill Inn, Britain’s highest pub and on the way back the stronger riders climbed Buttertubs; we’d warned them about Yorkshire’s 25% hills and wanted to let those who felt up to it have a go. I think they’ve all got photos of themselves below the 25% sign.
We were very lucky with the weather, only having one afternoon of rain, after which we resorted to drying our shoes in the bottom of the Aga! Various friends, cycling and non cycling, called in during the week; all of them were very welcome, but none more so than Dom, who threw himself wholeheartedly into speaking the best French he could and who seems to have become almost an honorary member of the Nogaro club.
By the time we came home, the cars and vans laden with beer, cheese and other souvenirs, everybody was tired but happy. It had been a successful trip.
Sorry a couple of the photos are the wrong way up; I’ve rotated them, but it hasn’t worked!