Are we ready for the Tour de France? Ripley is...

NADV 1405205AM1 Ripley Castle Bike and Food. Charlie Coe and Sophie Jackson of Ripley Castle. Picture : Adrian Murray. (1405205AM1)
NADV 1405205AM1 Ripley Castle Bike and Food. Charlie Coe and Sophie Jackson of Ripley Castle. Picture : Adrian Murray. (1405205AM1)

With just weeks to go until the arrival of the Tour de France, excitement is building. And as the eyes of the world turn to Harrogate, reporter RUBY KITCHEN takes a look at how one village on the route, Ripley, is getting ready to shine.

There will be roller jousters. Boules tournaments. And more than a mile of bunting. Ripley, a picturesque and quiet village in the north of Harrogate, is getting ready to celebrate in style.

“It’s one of the world’s biggest events - this doesn’t happen every day,” said Lady Emma Ingilby, whose family have lived at Ripley Castle in the village for more than 700 years.

“It’s not enough to make a day of it. We are going French for a full two weeks.”

There are now just 43 days to go until the riders of the world’s biggest cycle race pass through Ripley on their way to a sprint finish on Harrogate Stray on July 5.

It is one of a multitude of villages in the district to benefit from its proximity to the race route.

But in a way, it is unique. It’s within walking distance of Harrogate along the Nidderdale Greenway, yet away from the vast crowds that will congregate on the Stray.

And while its location will certainly be a strength in drawing the crowds, Ripley has another reason to be popular with visitors. It has a hidden history.

“Ripley is, to all extents and purposes, a French village,” said Mike Ward, chief executive of Ripley Castle estate.

“In the middle of the 19th century the Ingilby family travelled widely. When they came back, they decided the village should be redeveloped and rebuilt in the French style.

“They literally flattened and rebuilt Ripley. Now, there is the Hotel du Ville instead of the town hall, and the Parlez au Suisse at the castle gatehouse.

“What we have today, is a French style village. And we are going as French as we possible can.”

To mark its ‘Frenchness’, the castle estate and Ripley villagers have grand plans.

A board outside the butcher’s shop, Hutchinson’s, already lists its specials in French, including Saucisson le Grand Depart, and Crepinettes de la Tour.

“We are just proud to be a part of it all,” said manager Nick Allen. “Ripley is a French village - we thought we would try and get in the spirit.”

At the World Famous Ripley Ice Cream, they are preparing to give away free tasters to children under the age of 11 - provided they ask for it in French, or a Yorkshire accent.

“They have to try the French,” said managing director Robert Alderson. “If they can’t manage that they can try the Yorkshire - ‘Gis an ice cream pal’.

“This isn’t just about the Tour de France. It’s the fact that Harrogate is right at the heart of what is a huge international event.

“It’s going to give us a global audience. We want to have a bit of fun with it.”

At the Post Office, there are window displays in a red, white and blue theme, and postmaster Paul Bell has some bunting on order.

“We should go all out for it,” he said. “This is our one chance to shine.”

At the nearby Star Club, Andy Herrington is organising a free gig for the night of Saturday, July 5, while in the week before, on Monday, June 30, All Saints Church is to host Chansons du Tour, a floral and musical celebration as part of the 100 arts and culture festival.

Also in the church, volunteers are collecting old running shoes. These will soon be planted with yellow flowers to help create unique floral displays.

In the village primary school, lessons will take on a new theme. In history, children will learn the story of bicycles, and in maths they will calculate the distances racers will ride.

In geography they will look at the route and map the hills and windy roads, and in citizenship they will look at role models in cycling.

There are to be sunflower growing competitions, bike decorating events, and the gardening club is growing something special to decorate the railings outside.

Finally, the Friday before the race arrives, French themed celebrations are to be held at the school with governors and villagers invited for a day of festivities.

“It will be exciting for the students,” said headteacher Cath Wilson. “It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to have it here, in our hometown.”

At the castle itself, more than a mile of bunting is on order.

There will be two caravan parks, along with parking for 3,000 cars.

The Boar’s Head restaurant is to have French themed menus for a full fortnight, and the French flag will fly in the castle grounds.

This is where the roller-jousting will be, along with inflatable assault courses, a climbing wall, face painting and more.

The entertainment is aimed and families and children, and is free to those who have pre-booked parking.

“The village will be ready,” said Lady Ingilby. “As an event, these two days are absolutely unique.

“We decided to embrace it. We would be silly not to. It’s our only chance. We are never going to get it again.”

A lot of guests were booking for several days, she said, so they could enjoy the Great Yorkshire Show on July 8 to 10.

“Their might be a lot of vin rouge,” she said. “Hopefully. And hundreds of French batons.

“The French are coming to Yorkshire to see a bit of France, and we can come to France in Yorkshire.”

One of the biggest challenges has been handed to head gardener Erwin Kraan.

He is now growing 6,000 perennial petunias is red, white and blue, some of which will be planted in June in the shape of the French flag.

This triclor, measuring 10m by 12m, will be visible from helicopters crews following the riders on the route.

There will be a food court in the castle grounds, tea rooms and, most importantly, portable loos.

“Apparently now you can’t find a portable loo in Yorkshire for that weekend for love nor money,” said Mr Ward, who has been busy for months co-ordinating the festivities. “It’s going to be huge.”

The castle, which has been told to expect up to 12,000 guests on the day, has actually had an enquiry from one lady hoping to get married there on the day of the Tour.

They’ve had another from someone wanting to use the grounds to house their horseboxes while they carry out a sponsored ride.

“I don’t think people realised until now how big this was going to be,” said Steve Chesnutt, general manager of The Boar’s Head hotel which has been fully booked since last year.

“It’s all now becoming very real. People are starting to realise that it’s just around the corner. This will be a massive weekend. It’s going to kick off with a carnival atmosphere.”