You have probably never heard of Peckett Well or of Midge Hole. Well, now you have. On Sunday we walked up from Midge Hole, just past the public loos at the National Trust Car Park at Hardcastle Crags along a bridle path that doubled as a mountain biking track. Crimsworth Beck to our right, all of 30 feet in the gulley down below. We were on our way to watch the second stage of the Tour de France, the cyclists on their bikes from York to Sheffield.
When you look down at Crimsworth Beck, down in the valley it is a marvel that this thin strip of tarnished molten silver has the force to carve out a valley of this depth. Along the stretch of bridle path ash trees, elegant are the vault of the valley. But also, beside the river, down below, the dreaded Himalayan Balsam in blossom flourishes.
It is quite an uphill trek. It is always wonderful when you suddenly come through the tree canopy into the bright sunlight of Peckett Well. You emerge unto Keighley Road and there’s already a festive atmosphere, buntings decorating the front of houses, crowds gathering along the road, and cyclists of all ages cycling in anticipation of the Pelethon that is still two hours away.
The sight of people standing on either side of the road, lining Keighley Road brings to mind other times and places. In 1960, children lined up in Kano for Princess Alexandra at the celebration of Nigeria’s Independence from Britain. I wasn’t involved but had wished I was. But, the sight of young children in uniform, sweating in the sun, waving their green white green flags, and waiting as if for eternity for the royal visitor is embossed in my memory. I felt somehow as If I had missed out on something special, something unique. In retrospect, thankfully I hadn’t had to bake in the sun.
The other occasion was 5 years later, and this time I was involved. It was 1965 and Chief Akintola, Premier of Western Region was visiting to commission the newly completed electrification of Ado-Ekiti. We lined in our school uniform of white shirt and navy blue shorts, up for hours before he was due and he was late, very late. In the end, he never did arrive. You could say that was predictable, but the word was that he meant to demonstrate his power and influence, to show that he could punish this province that had not voted for his ruling Nigeria National Democratic Party. And we waited and waited for him to turn up! As I say, he never did and we all went home at 6:30 pm. We learnt that he arrived much later. He had made his point. Within a year he was dead, assassinated.
But today, we lined Keighley Road voluntarily. And the people came down from all the tracks and paths, in their droves, walking in couples, family groups, clutches of young men, and folk dressed in the yellow of the Tour. Think biblical mass, crowding towards Mount Olive or Ethiopia on Maundy Thursday, the crowd on their mules and donkeys, on their hind limbs as they trekked towards town to the market in preparation for Easter. Except this was a procession to worship cycling, to admire the fitness and athleticism of these men in lycra. These men who cycle 3 miles in 6 minutes when I can barely manage 3 miles in 20 minutes, on my daily ride to work. That’s like snail mail to email, a step change!
We walked 3 miles up the Keighley Road, towards Haworth, Bronte country. The idea was to find a spot where we would sight the cyclists coming slowly uphill. But we settled for a stretch of flat ground with a bend. We sat and had our picnic.
The so-called caravan arrived on cue heralded by police outriders. It was a damp squib. Few if any gifts thrown out. I got an inflatable, horrible smelling plastic pillow, advertising Ibis hotels. Well there you have it, if you expect much from the caravan, you will be disappointed.
When the riders arrived it was in style. A breakaway group of seven. Then the Pelethon. Like a mass, a newly described animal mass (yet to be named) not unlike a swarm of bees or even of locusts. Moving quickly in unison, charging down the hill towards the centre of Peckett Well and then Hebden Bridge, 2 or so miles below. It was magnificent!
That was it. An afternoon of anticipation, flashes of colour, and they were gone, and we were done. How very like an orgasm! All that foreplay and before you can blink, it’s over, yet intensely pleasurable. Of course a pale imitation too. We gathered our bags and walked back home, once again down the bridle path, back to Midge Hole.
Photos by Jan & Femi Oyebode