Tour de France: Thousands gather in Ripon

Crowds in Ripon. Picture: James Perris
Crowds in Ripon. Picture: James Perris

The St Wilfrid Procession – the annual feast day celebrating the bishop who founded Ripon more than 1,300 years ago – is in most years dubbed the city’s “big day out”.

Yet with just under a month to go before the event, there is no doubt that in 2014 the sobriquet has already been claimed by the cathedral city’s Tour de France celebrations.

Thousands of residents and visitors alike have gathered for a day of festivities and to watch the world’s biggest cycle race make its way around the city during Stage One of the Grand Départ on Saturday.

The ambition of the current Mayor of Ripon is to market his city as “The Meeting Place of Choice” and Coun Mick Stanley said the success and size of the festivities Ripon has pulled-off prove it is deserving of the branding.

“What an absolutely fabulous day today for this marvellous sporting occasion that we have got in Ripon,” said the Mayor speaking at lunchtime.

“We have visitors from all across the world. They have come to Ripon as a meeting place of choice because of all the wonderful attractions we have got and the fact that you can stand or sit in the square, look at the big screen and see all the events, and within a 10-minute walk you can have a walk down and see where the Tour is going to come in the next four or five hours from now.”

Ripon has the privileged status of being just one of 20 official le Tour Spectator Hubs in God’s own county with festivities split across two sites.

The locations are the central market square, described by writer Daniel Defoe in the 18th century as “the finest and most beautiful square that is to be seen of its kind in England”, and – on the eastern edge of the city – Ripon Racecourse, known as “Yorkshire’s Garden Racecourse” for its outstanding, well-kept grounds.

Early morning rain had stopped by the time the Mayor officially declared the Spectator Hub open just after 9am and by late morning glorious sunshine poured down as people on a packed square enjoyed following all the action of Stage One on the big screen and browsing around the continental market, which also features children’s entertainment.