Doing my bit for Grand Depart in Yorkshire

Standing in a steady down-pour of rain that only Leeds could supply in late May, I and more than 5,000 other Grand Depart Tour Makers marshalled outside the Firstdirect Arena, waiting patiently for a full-sodden hour to be allowed to find out what we had volunteered for.
Pulling my hood over my head my first thought was – “all this just to wear a high visibility tabard”. However, the crowd, which spiralled in neat queues around the arena seemed to be cheerful enough in that dour, resentfully cheerful manner only Yorkshire people can muster. One young woman from Halifax joining the queue with her pal summed it up perfectly: “Cheer up you miserable buggers”.
But still the rain came down.
Later, after the presentations, inspirational videos and talks from Nicola Adams, Leeds' Olympic boxing champion – reflecting on the contribution of the Game Makers to the 2012 London Olympics -  Gary Verity, the chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, who is widely credited with bringing the Grand Depart to Yorkshire; and the wonderful Brian Robinson, the Huddersfield-born cyclist who was the first British rider to finish a Tour de France and the first to win a stage of the famous race, we all emerged into the blinding sunshine that only Leeds could supply in late May.
So why did I volunteer to be a Tour Maker?
Well, I had been lucky enough to go to the 2012 Olympics at Dorney Lake, near Windsor to witness Team GB take nine medals. As a competitive rower, albeit veteran, with Bradford Amateur Rowing Club, that was thrilling enough.
But what impressed me most was the Game Makers – an army of volunteers who had sacrificed their own time and resources to help make the London Games the success it was and which remains an indelible mark of our Britishness. In particular, I remember a cheerful black man, sat in a tall chair calling on everyone to smile as they entered the sports arena.
So, when the chance came to be part of what will probably be the biggest sporting event to ever run through the Broad Acres of Yorkshire, I jumped.
I was lucky. I was chosen. Many weren’t. The process of selecting a Tour Maker is long and, for the organisers, must be a logistical nightmare. For the would-be Tour Maker it begins with an online application, followed by video ‘interview’ – where you respond to camera to a set of questions. If successful you go to the next stage – again in the age of social media and the internet you complete your training online.
And then more than 5,000 us turn up at the Leeds Arena for ‘orientation’ – I know, I’m not sure what this means either – where we find out what is expected of us. It’s all organised by Asda, one of the Grand Depart’s main sponsors and I, for one, think they did a brilliant job. But this, being Yorkshire, there are some snipers.
Particularly online – the true home of moaners and whingers everywhere. A Facebook group has been established and the official Rendezvous website where Tour Makers can post their views on the organisation of the event thus far.
One, atypical whiner on Facebook complained: “Very disheartened with the whole organisation or lack of it. Still waiting to be told where my stage is, clearly it isn't in Leeds. To top it all I'm now lumbered with an off-route role. I'm just thinking sod it, if I don't have the information to do my role then what's the point?”
Others, frustrated with the complainers, simply posted: “Leaving this group had enough of some of the rubbish posted”. Another said: “Is anyone else finding the negativity on Rendevous disappointing tonight?”
Disappointing indeed! I live in Menston, two miles from Otley and Ilkley and have been assigned an off-route position between Skipton and Kettlewell, North Yorkshire, 30 miles away. Which means I won’t see the race.  Sad face. But that’s fine.
It might mean getting up at five in the morning to get to my roster meeting point on July 5 but I know there is going to be 10,000 of us Tour Makers supporting this event to ensure that everyone on the route, from all over the world, has a grand day out.
My role is Waymaker - there’s thousands of us – we’re here to look after you and make sure you enjoy your day. If you see me, say hello to Iggy, my nickname from school.
And while I am disappointed I don’t have a high-visibility tabard – I hope you won’t miss me in my lime green livery.

Another grand day out at Bradford Sprint Regatta

Hundreds of competitors and spectators from rowing clubs across the north of England descended on this year’s Bradford Sprint Regatta organised by Bradford Amateur Rowing Club (BARC), at Hirst Weir, Shipley.
The 600 metre course, down a gently curving River Aire, is a popular splash-and-dash sprint regatta which attracted crews from across the North including Mersey, Tees, York City, Ancholme, Sheffield and Doncaster.
The diminutive nature of this picturesque stretch of slack water above Hirst Weir means that West Yorkshire’s only regatta attracts a lot of pot hunters and novice crews seeking to notch up their first points. And this year was no exception with 142 crews competing in more than 40 events throughout the day – all in small boats.
The most heavily contested race of the day was the Junior 15A double sculls with several crews from across the north turning up to show their worth. In the event the final was decided between Curt Iles and Rhys Mould from Bradford and the York City duo of Charles Proctor and Alex Howe who snatched victory at a tight finish.
Charles said: “That was a hard close race and we were chased right to the end with Bradford coming back at us. I think they might have caught something in the end which allowed us to get away.”
Another tight finish saw Doncaster take the tankards off Ancholme in the women’s IM3 coxed fours while an inter-club grudge match between Bradford’s masters double sculls Smith and Hoskins and Dunhill and Hobbs saw the Smith boat go through to victory in the final in revenge for being beaten by the Dunhill crew at Tees Regatta.
Mersey, who travelled the furthest to compete at Bradford in a scratch crew in the men’s IM2 coxed four, beat Bradford’s crew by two lengths to pick up a pot. Originally, Mersey had no competition but Bradford likes to give everyone a race so put together a scratch crew to accommodate the Scousers with a race.
In the event the Merseysiders, coxed by Haley Rooney, beat Bradford with Matt Ward at stroke, Andy Coyne, Steve Forshaw and Chris Cheng at bow triumphed over a Bradford crew coxed by Sally Gowitts with Mick Brickley at stroke supported by Mike Gaunt, Simon Scull and bowman Carlo Smith.
Regatta Secretary Celia Hickson said: “Bradford Sprint Regatta is always a popular, cheerful event in the Northern rowing calendar, attracting crews from both the East and West coasts – today we had a contingent from the River Tees and the River Mersey – and always delivers some tight competitive rowing.
“The most far-flung club to attend was Mersey and they have had a great day along with everyone else – we pride ourselves on running a cheerful, friendly regatta and so it has proved today.
“This is my first year as Regatta Secretary and, I have to say, I am delighted how well it has gone – the weather has held good, the feedback from crews has been very positive. There has been a lot of junior competition but it’s been good to see so many mature mixed crews during the day.”
Also attending the event was a team from Hirst Weir Ltd (HWL), a charitable company set up by BARC to preserve the 750-year-old weir at Hirst Mill on the River Aire at Shipley, West Yorkshire set out its stall this.
Hirst Weir is an important historical structure in Shipley and is first mentioned in 1249. Its loss would be a major blow to BARC which has rowed from the weir for almost 150 years.
BARC President Richard Phillips said: “In the floods on July 2012 the weir suffered significant damage and was in danger of collapsing before emergency repairs were carried out by HWL funded by the club’s members and our annual regatta is the ideal occasion to raise funds to secure the future of the weir.”
Working in partnership with the Environmental Agency, HWL is now seeking to raise £600,000 to repair the weir and introduce a fish pass which would facilitate the free migration of fish to the upper reaches of River Aire including salmon, trout and eels.
Full results can be found at and details of the Hirst Weir project at

Record entries at 150th York Regatta

As the GB Rowing Team men’s four, stroked by Yorkshireman Andrew Triggs Hodge, battered the competition at the second World Rowing Cup in France, another crew was celebrating in the 150th York Regatta at the weekend.
A women’s novice eight from Van Mildert College from Durham University had their own special victory when they won their first race and put points on their tally for the first time.
Audrey Bellis at stroke – like the rest of the crew - was ecstatic. She said: “That was a great race. We had a really strong start and went away from St Aidan’s College (also from Durham) from the beginning. We were rating an average of 36 but at one point we went up to 40. We’re delighted.”
With its long bend at the start, York Regatta is a testing race for all crews but makes for interesting competition with all the advantage on the Minster side of the River Ouse until crews come under the railway bridge where the race is normally decided, or, at least, balanced.
And so it was for the men’s IM3 coxed four which was taken by York City, beating Durham University’s Trevelyan College by two lengths at the boat house, stroked by Luke Cooper and backed up by Micah Cooper, Sebastian Reid and Paul Wainwright at bow.
One stand-out event was the Masters I quad race between York and Nottingham. The York quad featured local legend Dick Gradley, 82, an Olympic gymnast at the 1960 Games in Rome. Though beaten by the visitors from the Midlands, both crews earned the respect of the crowds who applauded enthusiastically.
Rounding off the regatta was the Challenge Cup, a blue riband event at York for coxed fours, which was captured mercilessly by the host team at the end of a long day.
Stroke, Dan Lewis, Ben Bollans, Gav Campbell, Chris Wright and cox Andy Wilkinson took the trophy from Durham University’s St Aidan’s College by a length and half.
A special mention must be made for Nottingham’s newest club, Devil’s Elbow, whose novice women’s double made an excellent debut and collected their first points.
Afterwards Regatta Secretary Anne Homa said: “It’s been a good day of racing. We’ve had 198 entries which is a massive record for us and very encouraging when you consider we had to cancel this event two years ago for lack of entries.
“We’ve had a lot of entries particularly at the junior level with schools across the region putting in crews. And, it being end of term, we have had a lot of crews from Durham University for their last hurrah.
“Also York is such a lovely setting, with the cathedral in the background, and the fact that the Tour de France is coming here in two weeks has brought a lot of people in as competitors and spectators.