In July 2014, three million people thronged the roadsides of Yorkshire to welcome Le Tour de France to God’s Own County. The sun shone, bands played and church bells rang. Yorkshire was globally endorsed as the new home of world cycling and its churches took centre stage as landmarks in the TV commentary. The story continues with the annual Tour de Yorkshire and the upcoming 2019 UCI Cycling World Championships. Here, Rod Ismay, author of Bells & Bikes, picks 16 churches from the 2017 Tour de Yorkshire for you to visit and enjoy; all looking great from the saddle. Plenty of other churches on the route are listed on ExploreChurches, why not explore the map.

Old and bold

Bridlington is home to the world’s loudest recorded town crier. I was privileged to ring his bell shortly before Le Tour de France in 2014. The Priory bells may even be louder! The Priory was surveyed for King Henry VIII thus ‘The Steple beying Towre ffashyon ys highe & dangerously in decaye. There be in the same Steple seven Bells mete to be rongen all at one tyme yff yt so happen.’ It is all ship shape now and will offer a magnificent start point for ‘The Coast and Wolds Stage’ the opening day of the 2017 Tour de Yorkshire.

St Mary (Bridlington Priory), Bridlington

Moors and markets

I do like a good market town… and bells… and bikes. Pickering has it all, and having welcomed the Tour de Yorkshire on its debut in 2015, the local bunting makers and bike painters are well prepared for the 2017 race. Pickering church has a unique set of mediaeval wall paintings and its project ‘Let There Be Light’ is ensuring their conservation and interpretation for future generations to enjoy.

St Peter & St Paul, Pickering

Coastal majesty

Cobbled climbs are much revered in world cycling. In Scarborough the cobbles were for the horse’s hooves and fishermen’s hauls rather than for cycle fans to enjoy. Nonetheless, I found the cobbles of Castlegate a sturdy challenge on the ascent to the commanding view point of St Mary’s church. The bay, far below, hosts its third annual stage finish for the Tour this year. St Mary’s is as popular with the helicopter TV crew as the ice creams are with the riders.

St Mary, Scarborough

Handy for a pint

The waters of Tadcaster have brought much good and ill. The town is renowned for its breweries but also for the loss of its ancient bridge to floods in 2015. Its church too was largely rebuilt and raised six feet following floods in 1877. The tower, however, is much older and its bells will peal in celebration as the town hosts the world’s media for the rollout of ‘The Historic Market Towns Stage’, day two of the 2017 race and the start of the women’s race.

St Mary, Tadcaster

Oh beautiful valley

St John's dates from 1114 when King Henry I gave the church to the Augustinian Priory at Nostell. It stands high above the steep-sided valley of the River Nidd and its bells have rung out for both Le Tour de France and the Tour de Yorkshire. The central tower of this medieval church is noted for its needle spire. In May 2014, as part of a 100 Day festival for Le Tour, local bellringers rang Call Changes on Six and Plain Bob Doubles for the feast day of St Joan of Arc, Protector of France.

St John the Baptist, Knaresborough

Bells and brews

Masham was described in the 1820’s as a parish in the wapentake of Hang East, a wapentake being a division of certain northern and midland English counties. Today Masham is much better known for its large marketplace and its twin breweries, Theakston and Black Sheep, both of which were much sampled during the summer of 2014. Pronounced Mass’em, Masham and its church have Saxon origins, but the present building is mainly Norman with 15th century additions. Masham bells joined Chapel Allerton on the big screen at the Tour Opening Ceremony, being prefilmed by ITV.

St Mary, Masham

From England’s smallest city

What a magnificent place to catch your breath after riding through the drama of The Dales. Ripon Cathedral was central to the 2014 Tour de France, hosting the ‘100 Day Dinner’ for riders and dignitaries of the race. There has been a Cathedral on this site since 672 when Wilfrid first established his church here. It will provide a welcome place of reflection during the fanfare of the 2017 race.

St Peter & St Wilfrid (Cathedral), Ripon

Harrogate St Peter

Mark Cavendish, favourite to win the sprint, crashed out yards from St Peters in Stage One of the 2014 Tour. The church meanwhile served excellent toasted tea cakes and a variety of fine buns to crowds packing the streets. In 2017, St Peters will again host the finish line crowds. Choose your spot wisely as if you are on the south side of the race, road closures mean a mile long diversion to get to the church. I know from experience and it meant I failed to get to ring the bells!

St Peter, Harrogate

A rare gem in ringing

Saltaire is only of only two URC churches in England to have a ring of bells. New learners are always welcome. Complementing the rarity of this ring, Saltaire is more widely renowned for its Italianate religious architecture and the dedication of Sir Titus Salt in his commitment to housing and a place of worship for his workers at Saltaire Mill. This ‘cathedral of congregationalism’ and the surrounding village built by Salt are worthy of a long stop on your ride around the churches of the Tour de Yorkshire.

United Reformed Church, Saltaire

Rural and rugged

Bellringers often prefer churches with 6, 8, 10 or 12 bells. The options for change ringing are so many. I like a good 3 bell tower though and some good striking by Rylstone added a richness to Le Tour de France in 2014. Images of the neighbouring farmer’s family sat in the scoop of a JCB dominated TV screens that same day. The earliest church at “Rilleston” was around 1160 and was probably a wooden structure. The present church, the fourth on the site, was consecrated in 1853. This rugged village is a great stop as you follow the Tour.

St Peter, Rylstone

L’eglise de holy trinity

Thus proclaimed the subtitles on the official Tour de France TV feed. Perhaps not as finely scripted as Le Cote de Blubberhouses, Skipton nevertheless won the image of the day with its five metre square yellow jersey hanging from the tower during Le Tour. Holy Trinity church stands at the top of the High Street next to the Norman Castle originally built by Robert de Romille from Brittany. 21st century visitors will enjoy its more recent café.

Holy Trinity, Skipton

Squat serenity

I marvel at how different our churches and towers can be and I love the stark, squat serenity of Oxenhope. Such big walls and such small windows; all surrounded by such steep hills for the cyclists. You might need to bring a flask but this place is a must.

St Mary the Virgin, Oxenhope

By a courtyard with a café

I rang the bells here many times in my school days. John would drive us, his Dad would partake of the ales in the Elephant and we would make a joyful clatter reverberating through the steep, tight alleys surrounding the church. Perhaps more chapel like than church like from the road, its tower rises over Sid’s Café where Compo, Foggy and Clegg warmed our screens with Last of The Summer Wine.

Holy Trinity, Holmfirth

The finest sound in England

Everyone has their favourite, but for me there is no better sound than the bells of St Johns. The rookery too, in the trees of the churchyard, has a magical music for this fine market town. Penistone’s church tower played host to the global TV announcement of bellringing for the 2014 Tour de France and in early April an abseil team from Woodhead Mountain Rescue Team installed this massive banner and shirt to welcome the 2017 race.

St John the Baptist, Penistone

Yorkshire in slow motion

On Sunday 30 April, the peloton of the Tour will slam the brakes on as they navigate the two ninety degree bends in between the church and the Wortley Arms. With stark fresh tarmac, there will be few better locations to catch the colour of the race in momentary slow motion. St Leonards will provide a dramatic backdrop with a huge piece of artwork designed by local children hanging from its tower. I have rung here many times and am delighted that the rest of the world will soon know of the wonders of Wortley too.

St Leonard, Wortley

One last chime

St Mary’s is the final church with bells hung for English change ringing on the 2017 route. Surrounded by breathtakingly steep roads, the centre of the village offers a rare and short plateau in the dramatic final miles of the Yorkshire Terrier Stage, the third and final day of the race. Although a small village, its Male Voice Choir is known around the world and a concert on the eve of the Terrier will be a curtain raiser to the race. This is a magnificent and fitting church to conclude your ride around the 2017 route.

St Mary, Bolsterstone

Bells and bikes

Rod Ismay led ‘Bellringers Herald Cyclists’, a headline event in the Yorkshire Festival ahead of Le Tour de France. His story is told in ‘Bells and Bikes’, a book described by RoadCC as ‘British eccentricity at its best’. Organising church bells for Le Tour was a natural culmination of years spent up church towers around Barnsley, encouraging Post Office colleagues to cycle to work and persisting in regular rides up Holme Moss on a 531 steel framed touring bike loaded with unnecessary panniers.

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