My Yorkshire: Triathlete Alistair Brownlee on his favourite people and places

Twice Olympic gold medal winner, triathlete Alistair Brownlee.
Twice Olympic gold medal winner, triathlete Alistair Brownlee.
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Alistair Brownlee won successive gold medals in the triathlon at the 2012 London Olympics and then at the Rio Games this summer. Educated at Bradford Grammar School, the 28-year-old lives in Leeds.

What is your first Yorkshire memory? I’ve got clear memories of the home we lived in at Dewsbury. I’d be about two and remember digging holes in the garden. We then moved to Horsforth where I spent much of my childhood. I played a lot outside, was very active and explored the surroundings at Calverley, Apperley Bridge and Rodley by the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. From the age of five, I was going to the Aireborough swimming pool in Guiseley and I remember my first cross country run in Leeds when I was seven. I was terrible at it, came 299th, but loved it.

Alistair Brownlee would like to take Bill Bryson out to dinner to find out about his time in Yorkshire.

Alistair Brownlee would like to take Bill Bryson out to dinner to find out about his time in Yorkshire.

What is your favourite part of Yorkshire and why? I am passionate about the Dales and I spend a lot of time there. I love Coverdale, Malham, Nidderdale and Airedale, but specifically the top of Wharfedale. It’s most beautiful.

Do you have a favourite walk or view? The view from the top of Great Whernside. On a clear day you can see pretty much the whole of the Dales and across to the Three Peaks and to the North York Moors.

What is your idea of a perfect day out or weekend out in Yorkshire? I love going out for a long ride into the Dales on a Saturday morning, stopping near Bolton Abbey. I like the walk at Simon’s Seat. It’s really beautiful. When I can, I like to spend time with family and friends in Leeds or Headingley on a Saturday night and go out for a meal and a few drinks.

Which Yorkshire sportsman or woman, past or present, would you like to take out for lunch? I’ve been lucky to meet lots of the current Yorkshire sports people who’ve done well at the Olympics. I’ve also met Adrian Moorhouse, the swimmer, but I’m going to go for Beryl Burton, the world cycling champion from Leeds. I respect what she achieved in the 1960s and more than anything we’d talk about being an athlete, particularly a female athlete, in her time.

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take out to dinner? Gosh! I don’t know many, but Dame Judi Dench or Patrick Stewart, from Star Trek. He’s interesting because he’s been all over the world, lives or lived in Los Angeles, yet likes to come back to Yorkshire. I think, though, I’m choosing Bill Bryson, the travel writer who was born in America and has been everywhere. He lived in Kirkby Malham in the 80s and 90s when he could have lived anywhere. Why? It would be interesting to find out.

What do you think it is that gives Yorkshire its unique identity? The people. I was inspired and motivated by teachers, coaches, people who organise races and those you train with. Yorkshire people are first and foremost friendly and we do things without much fanfare. We are understated and I love the countryside here.

Do you follow sport in the county and, if so, what? I am not a massive football fan, but Jonny and I watch Leeds Rhinos when we can on a Friday night at Headingley. We are away a lot in the summer but we like to watch a bit of cricket. We’ve been to Twenty20 games at Headingley where we like the atmosphere because we love live sport.

Do you have a favourite pub or restaurant? I really like the Blue Lion at East Witton, near Middleham. I live close to the Fox and Hounds in Bramhope. There’s always someone to chat to, the food’s good and the pub has a good feel about it.

Who is the Yorkshire person you most admire? I am interested in politics. I’d choose the guy who abolished slavery, William Wilberforce from Hull. Abolition was a turning point in history and he had Yorkshire tenacity.

If you had to name your hidden Yorkshire gem, what would it be? I think one of the fantastic things about Yorkshire is that there are so many hidden gems. I like Semerwater, near Hawes in Wensleydale. It’s 
the second largest natural lake in North Yorkshire. It has a wilderness of its own.

How do you think Yorkshire has changed for the better or the worse since you have known it? One of the special things about Yorkshire is that a lot has not changed. You can go to the Dales 
and, apart from the fact there are now more cars, they’ve not changed for 20 years and you go 
back after another 20 and there’s still no change. Leeds has changed a massive amount in the last 10 years. All the new shops and because I like eating out, the restaurants are fantastic.

If a stranger came to Yorkshire and had time to visit one place only, where would it be? I always take them up to Wharfedale and on to Burnsall and Kettlewell. On the way back, we could perhaps have tea at Bettys in Ilkley, which is a Yorkshire thing to do.

Alistair and Jonny Brownlee will be hosting their fourth annual Brownlee Tri at Harewood House, Leeds, on September 24. www.brownleetri.com

Dean Johnstone, chief executive of Minds Ahead and joint leader of the centre of excellence in Leeds.

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