Where’s the Best Spot to Watch the Tour de France UK Leg?

peloton near Valbonne in the Tour de France 2013

This really is one of those “how long is a piece of string?” type questions. As Stage one of the Tour starts in the centre of Leeds, heads North to Harewood then West through Burley in Wharfedale, Otley, Ilkley, Addingham and Skipton, North again through two National parks, then dips South through Leyburn, Masham and Ripon, and finishes up in the beautiful spa town of Harrogate, it’s one heck of a difficult question. One hundred and twenty miles difficult to be precise.

Any one of those places is worth looking at and there’s some great entertainment all along the route at more than thirty spectator hubs. There are also hundreds of smaller, unofficial events too.

Personally though, I’ll be watching the Grand Depart in Leeds, where it all begins, at Victoria Gardens right outside the Town Hall and the art gallery.

It’s going to be crowded, noisy and hot for hours so I’ll find a spot on the south side of the street, which won’t get direct sunlight till long after the peloton has pushed off. Most of the shops, cafes, bars and pubs are on this side of the barricades too.

iStock_leedstownhall

Leeds Town Hall is one of the most impressive anywhere in the world with the famous dome and the four carved white lions. There’s a local legend that occasionally the clock strikes thirteen and the whole city stops dead while the lions wake up and prowl the streets. The Grand Depart sets off around twelve, which could make it awkward if the clock has one of its funny turns … although it could make crowd control that little bit more interesting.

A lot of the official maps still mention the “reclining woman statue” outside the art gallery and Henry Moore Institute. But if you take a look at this statue now you’ll notice the chap looks pretty upright, and he certainly ain’t no lady! This is actually a new, temporary monumental piece of sculpture by Leeds-born artist Thomas Houseago who got so famous he moved to Los Angeles. It’s part of the Yorkshire Festival. Not everybody has taken to him but I reckon we’ll miss him when he goes. He’s certainly got people talking.

Anywhere along the Headrow would be a good place to watch the race, though down the bottom only one side of Eastgate is in use as they are building a big new shopping development – in fact the demolition of one half of the street is a spectacle in itself. Remember, the further you go down Eastgate the further away you are from any easily reachable amenities for the duration of the event.

Joseph Priestley statue, Leeds City Centre, West Yorkshire

If you’re feeling adventurous and want to get as close to the riders as you can – and have more chance of collecting more goodies from the caravan – then go to the Scott Hall Road section of the route where it will be less of a crush than in town. If you fancy something a bit more civilised, or have small children to entertain, then a mile or so up the road is the Scott Hall Road playing field spectator hub which has on-site parking, disabled and cyclist provision, and loads of family friendly activities, as well as the big screen.

Once the peloton has been and gone there is plenty to do in Leeds. If you’re on Scott Hall Road head West into Chapel Allerton where there are some great bars, coffee shops and indie restaurants. If you’ve stayed on the Headrow then turn around and go South, through the Dark Arches and onto Water Lane where there are two of the best bars anywhere, The Midnight Bell and The Cross Keys. Then get yourself a ticket for “Beryl” at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, which is really the only way you should be finishing the day of the Grand Depart …

Alternatively you could just book a room at the Leeds Central Vicar Lane Travelodge pull up a chair at the window and get a better view than 95% of the audience on the ground…

Phil Kirby

About Phil Kirby

Phil Kirby is editor of The Culture Vulture, Yorkshire’s brightest, sharpest, best informed online Magazine. Proud Northerner, loves all our great Victorian cities - especially Leeds - where you’ll generally find him walking the streets until it’s time to claim his usual seat in his favourite pub. If you are buying him a drink it’s generally wise to make it a large one. Ask him anything you like about the cities and he’ll always have an answer, but if you want to make him shut up just start a conversation about clothes or cake or the countryside ...