Around 300,000 people will line the route of the Tour de France as it passes through the Harrogate district for the opening stages in July. But where will they all stay? Ruby Kitchen reports.
With months still to go, there’s barely a bed to be found in the Harrogate district for the weekend of the Grand Départ.
Almost every hotel room in the town has already been booked for July 4 and 5 - with many of those left going for nearly triple their original price.
Now, as planning laws are relaxed to accommodate these huge volumes of visitors, many local groups are getting ready to make the most of the opportunities available.
“The crowds are coming,” said Clive Wright from Harrogate Rugby Club, which is turning over its grounds to become a temporary campsite. “It’s an opportunity for us to cater for them.”
A ‘planning amnesty’ was announced last summer by Harrogate Borough Council (HBC) planners, relaxing laws for 28 days in late June and July.
For a limited time surrounding the arrival of the Grand Départ on July 5 and 6, local groups can prepare ‘pop-up’ campgrounds on their land without having to go through the usual planning process.
“When news broke the Tour de France was coming, we knew we had to take advantage,” said Mr Wright, commercial chairman for the rugby club.
“It’s an opportunity for us to make the most of all these visitors we are expecting.”
Campsite planners at Harrogate Rugby Club, revealing they have secured around 500 bookings, say they have already made around £7,500.
The proceeds will go towards helping the club relocate to a new ground next year, and organisers see the planned festivities as an opportunity for a farewell party.
The rugby club’s festivities are to last a full fortnight around the Tour stage dates.
Stands will be turned into stages, with giant screens showing the tour, and there are grand plans to make the occasion a real spectacle.
There are concerts and events planned featuring brass band, youth bands, and local singers, a play-off between the town’s rugby and football first teams, and a full music festival featuring local bands and an 80s music theme.
“It’s been pointed out, on numerous occasions, that it’s up to local businesses to take the initiative and take advantage,” said Mr Wright.
“We plan to do just that. It will be quite something.”
In Nidderdale, a farmer’s sons have come up with a novel idea which is proving hugely popular - turning their old strawberry fields into a campsite.
And already, it’s filling up fast.
“We have close to 1,000 bookings,” said Ben Holmes who, along with his brother James, is setting up a huge campsite on the family’s fields. “It’s really taking off.”
The Holmes brothers have created ‘Nidderdale Bikefest’, a campsite on their Birstwith farm with room for 1,000 pitches.
The camp will have its own restaurant, beer tent, entertainment and live bands.
“We’re all very keen cyclists,” said Ben. “When we heard the Grand Départ was coming, we thought let’s have them here to stay.
“The circus surrounding the Tour caravans is huge, absolutely huge. We wanted to be a part of that. It’s going to be a great weekend.”
ACROSS THE DISTRICT
Clubs, sporting grounds and schools across the district are thinking creatively to find a way to benefit from the arrival of the Grand Départ.
Spofforth Cricket Club is setting up a temporary campsite from Monday, June 30 to Sunday, July 6. There will be breakfasts in the clubhouse, a bar from noon to 11.30pm serving local brews along with a pub-style menu in the evenings. The club’s communal barbecues will be lit each evening for guests to cook their own food, and there will entertainment on Friday, July 4, in a large marquee.
Ripon racecourse is to be converted into a campsite, offering three, five, or seven night packages for tents, campervans and caravans. There will be big screens, TVs, bars, restaurants and catering facilities.
Blubberhouses Cricket Club is opening up its facilities for 40 pitches, and around 60 cars. The Tour will pass the campsite on Sunday, July 6, and guests can camp 100m from the route. Their will be kitchen facilities, barbecues and campfires, a hot food truck, mini shop and dogs are welcomed.
Even schools are cashing in, with one independent school selling its last boarding room to a family from the Wirral last week. Ashville College, which finishes its academic year two days before the race rides into town, had advertised its dormitories, with shared bathrooms, kitchens, living rooms and a games room, to families and visitors travelling to Harrogate. “When we advertised our boarding houses we knew they would prove a popular choice with groups and families,” said Krista Wood from the school. “The Tour de France in North Yorkshire is a once-in-a-lifetime event and is attracting fans from all over the world.” In addition to the family from The Wirral, Ashville’s four boarding houses will become home to the members of seven different cycle clubs, located in The Midlands, The Wirral, Somerset, Tyneside, Swansea, Macclesfield and Birmingham.
NO ROOM AT THE INN
The majority of Harrogate district hotels are already fully booked for the weekend of the Grand Départ, July 5 and 6.
Many sold their last rooms three or four months ago, and those left are going for nearly triple the price.
David Ritson, chairman of Destination Harrogate and manager at the Old Swan Hotel, said it came as no surprise that rooms were being snapped straight up.
“Everybody realised pretty quickly what was going to happen,” he said. “Harrogate is not a huge town. There’s only a finite number of hotel beds - it’s not a huge number.
“There’s about 1,000 beds in the Destination Harrogate group of hotels. That’s nothing compared to places like Leeds or York.”
He said the first bookings began the day the Grand Départ route was revealed.
“We had an initial surge of interest when the announcement was made,” he said. “There was a flurry of activity with room bookings.
“We probably sold our last room about three or four months ago. We’ve had a waiting list since then - most hotels in Harrogate will.”
And, he believes, it’s not just hotels that are to feel the benefit.
“I’m sure all the shops, restaurants, and bars will do good business as well,” he said.
“I do think it will bring huge publicity to the Harrogate district. Harrogate is awash with stories to tell. It’s going to be a huge boost.
“Harrogate doesn’t shout about itself. But this will put the town on the map.
“It will unearth its hidden gems and secrets and all of the positive things about Harrogate - and put it all on the biggest screen in the world.”
A quick online search by the Advertiser found the following hotels had sold out - Cedar Court, Majestic, Hotel Du Vin, Balmoral, Premier Inn, Ascot House Hotel, Holiday Inn, The Camberley, Grants Hotel, Old Swan, Studley Hotel, Crown Hotel, Yorkshire Hotel, Rudding Park, Boars Head, Bridge Hotel Wetherby, Ripon Spa Hotel, Best Western Knaresborough, Swinton Park, Harrogate Holidays self catering.
Among the hotels the ‘Advertiser series could still book was the Nidd House Hotel, offering two-night package breaks from £432. The Cairn Hotel offered us a superior single room, with breakfast, for £115, while the Travelodge is selling rooms for £140 a night - nearly three times the price of a room this Saturday night which is selling for £50.