The fourth of my Yorkshire Compass Rides was a two-day trip out to the southwestern extreme in what is now Oldham. Day 1 involved Yorkshire’s old brewing capital, the site of England’s bloodiest battle, the tallest freestanding structure in the UK, and a psycho cat.
I headed out south on a sunny afternoon on the cycle path that runs alongside the A64 to Tadcaster, home to three big chemical factories: John Smith’s, Sam Smith’s, and Coors. The first house in the town (pic) was decked out in celebration of the Tour de Yorkshire, which passed through last week. Thanks to the big tailwind, I was probably going as fast as the TdY riders had been.
Being a Scrabble player, I’ve never been able to look at it without noting that TADCASTER is an anagram of CASTRATED. One day I’ll create a Wikipedia Category page of ‘Places that form amusing anagrams’, with entries such as NEWARK and BRUGGE.
I cycled past the village of Towton, south of Tadcaster, renowned as the venue of one of the key battles in the Wars of the Roses, in 1461 (pic). (Confusingly, York itself was a Lancastrian stronghold.)
The Lancastrians were routed, and the Yorkist Edward VI took over from the Lancastrian Henry VI. Yorkshire, as you know, always claims the biggest and best of everything. The 28,000 casualties makes it (probably) the deadliest ever fought on English soil, no doubt a great source of pride to many Yorkshire people.
In Wakefield I dropped in on the excellent Hepworth Museum. I was particularly impressed with this piece (pic), by an artist called Renova Tions. Wittily entitled ‘No entry – Exhibition in preparation’, it features a lifting platform in an otherwise empty gallery.
At once static and yet hinting at the dynamic, it blurs the boundaries between art and engineering, and asks fundamental questions of the viewer about continuity and renewal. The empty cradle of the apparatus invites us to mentally supply our own ‘cargo’, ‘elevating’ the mundane and/or quotidian to the ‘exalted’ podium of sporting or/and election ‘victory’ – are we ‘lifting’, or ‘being lifted’?
In the next gallery were some old bits of wood that I expect were waiting to be recycled before the next exhibition came in (pic). I thought that was a bit disrespectful to Barbara Hepworth, who apparently was a famous sculptor. They could have put some of her statues there instead.
I passed Emley Moor in the evening sun, admiring Arqiva Tower (pic) – or, as everyone calls it, the Emley Moor mast. At 330m it’s Britain’s tallest free-standing structure, 20m taller than the Shard. Thanks to being on top of a moor – whose altitude I was keenly aware of, having cycled up the long climb of the A642 from Wakefield – the mast’s top is 594m above sea level. (That’s higher than the top of Toronto’s CN Tower. Take that, Canada!)
In March 1969 though, the Emley Moor mast was only a few metres high, because it fell over in a storm. TV was severely disrupted for a few days and millions of people had no signal at all.
Nine months later, according to ONS data, there was no baby boom. This was Britain in the 1960s after all.
My bed for the evening, in the village of Grange Moor, was kindly provided by Tess and Jamie through the fabulous cycle-tourist-accomm-swopping site Warmshowers.org. It was great to enjoy their hospitality and chat about bike touring over a glass of wine. One of their cats went a bit psycho: it caught a mouse, which escaped, and wasn’t allowed to chase it. If they ever make a cat version of Trainspotting, this one would be Begbie.
Miles today: 40