Cow bells and Alpine churches are iconic features of Le Tour de France. In 2014, Yorkshire’s church bells rang out for the riders as they raced through Bronte Country, The Dales and The Peak District. Rod Ismay, bellringer and cyclist, tells the story in his book “Bells & Bikes” produced by Vertebrate Publishing. Ride the route yourself, through the dramatic scenery, heritage and industry of the Castle Stage and Steel Stage and relive what is widely agreed the grandest launch weekend in Tour history. Here, Rod selects 10 churches which would make perfect stops on your ride, and where local ringers would love you to learn with them to ensure our much loved church bells continue to ring out for future generations.

“Bells & Bikes” is available from Waterstones, Amazon and many visitor attractions including several cathedrals. You can find more details here.

All Saints, Otley

Otley was one of the great Saxon parishes surveyed in the Doomsday Book, and the Anglican crosses in the baptistery have been dated at AD750. The Norman chancel is dated 1240, the East window was inserted in 1490, and the pulpit, from which John Wesley preached, is Georgian. Otley is famous as the birthplace of Thomas Chippendale the master furniture designer, who was baptised in the church on 5 June 1781. The church has a ring of eight bells, in the key of F. Its ropes have Yorkshire tail-ends. Otley bell ringers hosted BBC Songs of Praise for their Tour de France edition, filmed in March and broadcast on the Sunday before the Grand Départ.

The church is open to visitors from 9am to 4pm on weekdays and 9:30am to 12:30pm on Saturdays. A variety of groups meet and activity sessions take place within the church. The bell ringers practice on Thursday evenings. For more information, visit the website below.

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Holy Trinity, Skipton

Holy Trinity church stands at the top of the High Street next to the Norman castle originally built by Robert de Romille from Brittany. The fourteenth century church has a large west tower which dominates the surrounding buildings. It contains a splendid peal of eight bells with the heaviest bell weighing over one tonne. They rank amongst the very best in Yorkshire and indeed the world. Skipton captured the imagination of TV viewers during the race as it hosted a five-metre square yellow jersey on the church tower. Helicopters hovered over the church, broadcasting this jersey to the world. Photo courtesy of Chris Wright.

Visitors are welcome to look around the church every day, and the shop and café are open Wednesday through Saturday. Services are also open to anyone.

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St Andrew, Aysgarth

A Grade-II* listed building, overlooking the magnificent Aysgarth Falls and with reputedly the largest churchyard in England. The church was largely rebuilt in 1866 but on site with religious origins in Saxon times. The tower base is twelfth century. The church is now detached from Aysgarth village, which has moved up the hill over the centuries. It is home to the Jervaulx Screen, brought from Jervaulx Abbey after the dissolution of the Monasteries (1538). It houses a ring of six bells in the key of F.

St Andrew’s is open every day from 9am to 6pm, visitors are welcome to pop in and look around. More information is available on A Church Near You.

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St Andrew, Grinton

St Andrew’s church dates back over 900 years and stands next to a historic crossing point of the River Swale. The west tower dates from the late twelfth century and adds dignity to this large spreading church. There are six bells including one cast in the seventeenth century. This is the largest church in Swaledale and rightly deserves its description as ‘The Cathedral of the Dale’. St Andrew’s sits at the foot of Grinton Moor, a dramatic climb with stunning scenery giving us some of the iconic photos of the 2014 Tour. Photo with kind permission from John Wilkinson.

The church is often used as a venue for concerts during the Swaledale Festival and at other times. It is open for visitors every day. More information is available on the parish website below.

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St Nicholas, West Tanfield

A Grade-I listed building, founded in the thirteenth century. Home to a ring of six bells, the tenor bell weighing ten hundredweight and struck in the key of G. The church contains the ‘Marmion Tomb’, unique in the UK and comprising of life-size alabaster effigies. The Marmion family home is at Fontenay-au-Marmion near William the Conqueror’s birthplace of Falaise in Normandy, France. William and Marmion were both descended from Rollo the Ganger, an early Duke of Normandy. Beside the church is the beautiful Marmion Tower, a fifteenth century gatehouse of a now vanished riverside manor house and former home of the Marmion family. The famous view of the church from the River Ure (as the Tour goes over the bridge) has been captured by many artists and photographers.

More information is available on A Church Near You.

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St Peter and St Wilfrid, Ripon Cathedral

There has been a cathedral on the site since 672 when Wilfrid first established his church here. Archbishop Roger of Pont l’Eveque began its rebuilding in the late twelfth century. By around 1230 the west front and its two towers were complete. The south tower of this pair contains a peal of twelve bells, the newest twelve in Yorkshire. In March 2014, the cathedral hosted the 100-Day Dinner for the riders and dignitaries of the race. Photo courtesy of Sheila Webb.

Ripon Cathedral is open to visitors on Monday-Saturday from 8:30am to 6pm, entry is free. Visitors are also welcome on Sundays, with the exception of during Eucharist.

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St Michael and All Angels, Haworth

World famous for being the home of the Brönte family, Haworth parsonage stands behind St Michael and All Angels church, where their father was Reverend. The present church dates from the late nineteenth century, with just the lower part of the tower remaining from the earlier church. The peal of six bells, however, predates the rebuilding and would have been the very bells which called the Bröntes to worship. Photo courtesy of Dave Green.

The website below details the bells and bell ringing group, as well as the contact details of the ringing master, who welcomes anyone to come and have a go. The church is open to visitors from 9am to 4pm and guided tours are available.

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St Mary the Virgin, Oxenhope

With eight bells in F#, Oxenhope was well-tuned into Le Tour. Its ringers rang for the BBC Tandem Team in the spring and for the big weekend itself in July. Its churchyard was bedecked with bunting. Architects’ drawings of the church date from 1849. In 1845, Reverend Patrick Brönte, father of the novelist sisters, appointed the curate Reverend Joseph Brett Grant to take charge of the new parish. Services began in a wool combing shop, a day school was built and eventually the church. Its early Norman style gives the impression of a much older church.

This busy church is open to visitors throughout the week; more information can be found on A Church Near You.

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St Michael, Mytholmroyd

The church tower looked out over The Grand Départs’ piano pull, a Yorkshire Festival event for Le Tour de France, in which eighteen bikes were bolted together to pull a grand piano up Cragg Vale. St Michael’s has eight bells in the key of F. It was built in 1847 as a ‘Million Pound Church’, under an Act to build churches in industrial areas for middle and lower classes. The fund of money for these churches came from indemnities paid to Britain by Austria following the Napoleonic Wars. Mytholmroyd derives its name from Mithomrode, a clearing where two rivers meet. In 2014 it was the venue for the world’s top cyclists meeting the longest continuous incline in England, Cragg Vale.

The Mytholmroyd bell ringers meet every 2nd Sunday of the month during the morning service at 10:30am. They are always pleased to welcome new members, experienced or beginners. Check out their website below for more information.

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St Nicholas, Bradfield

A Grade-I listed building, founded in the early fifteenth century. An idyllic setting, with sheep grazing in the churchyard during the late spring and summer months. The west tower has a fine peal of eight bells in F, which sound out over the moors and dales of the Peak National District Park. The church includes an altar with an ancient French Reredos and a modern memorial to the Sheffield flood of 1864. The church has an unusual watch house at the gates, still lived in by the church verger, and built during the eighteenth century to watch over the churchyard and prevent grave robberies. Nearby is the ancient manmade mound of the ‘Bailey Hill’ and a ninth-century Anglo Saxon cross.

The church is open to visitors from 9am to 5pm. More information is available on their Facebook page, or on A Church Near You.

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