A Blog about: Jenny's 60th Birthday Charity Cycle

I made it!

We made it! I arrived at Bosham Quay yesterday afternoon on schedule, accompanied by a great gang of about 30 assorted family, friends and supporters. It was a wonderful moment. A crowd of people had gathered to welcome us, and Dicul and his Irish monks were there in their ‘curragh’ , having some difficulty controlling their sail in a Force 6 breeze.  It was very exciting to have got there at last. I made a short speech about the ride and the 7th century Irish connection with Bosham, and presented a Brigit’s Cross, made of rushes from Brigit’s Garden, to Rev. Martin Lane. He is the new vicar of Bosham and very keen to make the Irish heritage of the area better known. I also threw a second cross into the harbour in memory of the Irish monks who landed on these shores.  St Cuthman (otherwise known as Val) then appeared with his old mother in the wheelbarrow, to much applause. We then passed around Irish whiskey, which turned out to be very welcome in the chilly wind, and James from the Chichester Harbour Trust and volunteers shook buckets for the Trust.

Val, Richard, James and Pat did a great job organising the  welcoming party on the Quay – thanks everyone!

Family and some friends then went on to Cobnor for celebratory bubbly, and we then went to the site on the footpath where we intend to make the new seat for St Cuthman. Lay reader Colin Ottman did a lovely blessing, including a very nice St Brigit prayer. The seat will be a simple stone bench on a base with three arrows carved into it – one pointing to the site of Dicul’s monastery just across the creek at Bosham, the second to Steyning where Cuthman founded his church, and the third to the West of Ireland where the monks probably came from. The seat will be a great way of telling the story of the Irish connection to local people.

The home-coming was great, but the cycle ride to get there was somewhat epic. It started well, when the minibus of family and friends turned up in Steyning, towing a big cycle carrier with all the bikes. It was so heart-warming to see everyone. We set off on the steep climb up  the South Downs in drizzle, and after about half an hour it started to pour. It was driving, horizontal rain familiar from the West of Ireland and it made the rough chalk track very difficult and slippery, especially on the steep sections. Then people started getting punctures from the flints, the group got split up and kids started to get cold waiting for others, so we left the Downland track early and headed along the roads instead. Everyone was soaked to the skin. We met some other supporters in East Lavant village for the last few miles, and waited for Dee, Colin and Dinah who had been delayed by more punctures – and finally managed to head to the Quay together, except for Phil who had given up on a faulty bike and caught the train home.  Luckily the sun came out and by the time we reached Bosham we were beginning to dry off. All in all, quite an adventure!

Jamie having a word with St Cuthman before we set off

Final day team, being waved off by local historian Sarah Leigh in Steyning

Climbing steeply out of Steyning

As we approached Chanctonbury Ring it started to pour with rain

A bit of shelter for a quick sandwich, still pouring and everyone very wet

We finally made it to Bosham, the sun came out and the monks were there to greet us

Rev. Martin Lane, Vicar of Bosham, accepts a Brigit's cross in memory of the Irish monks who founded the church

More photos of our arrival coming here soon…

St Cuthman with mother in the wheelbarrow...

The last leg home across the creek by boat

Thanks for the lovely banner, Kate!

Finally, a feast to celebrate - Pat, me and Dinah

A wonderful day today. I’ve made it to Steyning! It’s very exciting. Last day tomorrow, and a big group of family and friends are coming over in the morning to cycle the last section of the South Downs Way with me.
Today was shorter, along pretty little downland roads with fewer Ups, and with yet another gourmet picnic in a quiet spot under a big ash tree (thanks Pat). And an unexpected bonus – Liz joined us for the day, so when Colin left after lunch to head off early to join the family I had company for the last section of the cycle. I have had between one and seven cycling companions at every stage on the journey, and have not had to cycle on my own at all – I feel very blessed with everyone’s support.
So it is just Pat and myself in Steyning tonight, which feels right as the carriers of the journey. We are shortly going down to say hello to to the St Cuthman statue outside Steyning Church, as it his 7th century journey from my family home that we are doing in reverse tomorrow.

Breakfast with Charles and Sarah in their conservatory, with fresh grapes from the vine over our heads. Colin left us after lunch to see the family.

It was lovely to have Liz Wilson join us for the day. Liz grew up on this side of the Downs and knows the landscape intimately

A lovely ride through the downland landscape. This is Didling church, tiny with no electricity

Crossing the river Arun - another milestone, not far now!

Made it to Steyning!

Steyning is full of lovely old Sussex buildings

We were fascinated to discover another Irish connection with Steyning

Pat and I had a peaceful evening saying hello to St Cuthman...

 

...and the church he founded

Much as I love the landscape of the South Downs, there is just one problem. The Downs are mis-named as they are really the Ups. Lots and lots of Ups: long smooth Ups; short sharp Ups, and not as many downs as there should be (well, that’s how it feels on a bike). Friday was a tough day – over 50 miles, lots of Ups and Downs, and a nasty half hour trying to find our way through a spaghetti junction between the M3 and main roads just outside Winchester.
The good news was that my cousin Tom jumped on a train with his bike and joined Colin and myself for the day, and took cousinly support to new heights by giving me an extra push up some hills.
This day reminded me of walking a labyrinth and thinking you are nearly at the centre, but the path suddenly takes you right out to the outside again. A tiring day, but we finally made it to Petersfield to stay with Dinah’s cousins Sarah and Charles, and never was a hot bath more welcome.

My cousin Tom joined us for the day on his fast road bike

Photos coming soon

We are drawing near. The countryside is familiar – rolling downland, grain fields, oak and beech woods, sleepy villages with old pubs, thatched and half-timbered houses with climbing roses.
It was lovely waking up in Avebury. I was worried the virus was coming back so I passed the cloth to Dee and the others for a few hours and took a rest – a good decision. I felt much better and full of beans when I joined them after lunch for the ride into Stonehenge.  Their route across Salisbury Plain was thwarted by Army training, so they had to take a longer way round.
Stonehenge is impressive and strong, but inaccessible. It’s a bit surreal being part of a big stream of visitors behind ropes, no one talking as everyone is listening to individual audio-guides. The contrast between Stonehenge and Avebury generated much discussion about how best to manage ancient sites – there are no easy answers, especially in England where the number of visitors is so large.
The cycle route into Salisbury was delightful – rural, pretty and sunny. We said a fond farewell to the Cobnor crew and Martin at the station, and then there were 3 – Pat, Colin and myself.

Passing the cloak to Dee for a short while

Pat and I visited the West Kennet long barrow at Avebury

Silbury Hill at Avebury - man-made, possibly the belly of the ancient earth goddess?

Stonehenge - from behind the ropes

The alternative group shot - adults as sarcen stones, Alice as capstone and Pat as altar stone

Martin gave me a cheque for the Chichester Harbour Trust on leaving, so we took a classic 'charity cheque' shot

Bye bye Anna, Alice, Dee and Rosa, wonderful having you with us and see you again for the last day on Sunday

 

Made it into England! I have a huge sense of achievement already. Only 5 days more cycling and I am enjoying every minute.
Crossing the Severn Bridge was exhilarating. The bridge itself soars elegantly through space, and cycling over it is like flying high above the river.
The landscape changed to wealthier villages and English pubs, and we spent a lovely night with my old friends Jane and Alex in their Gloucester home – great hospitality, chat and laughs.
On Tuesday we set off round Bristol, met another old friend Martin who has joined us for two days, and picked up the cycle route along the old railway line to the beautiful city of Bath. The rest of that day and most of this morning was spent cycling along the  tow-path of the Avon-Kennet canal, seeing the very different world of canal life – narrow boats with full gardens on their roofs, holiday boats, little locks and lots of trees. In the afternoon we emerged from the narrow world of the canal out into rolling chalk downland – ah, not far from home now, this is familiar territory! We diverted up to Avebury as I particularly wanted to see the enormous stone circle and other megaliths. What a beautiful, gentle, special place it turned out to be. We spent a lovely afternoon watching sheep grazing around the stones, snoozing in the sunshine and soaking up the atmosphere.
Socially it’s been a delightful couple of days with a big gang of family and friends, lots of good food and laughter. I am still not at full energy with a residual chest cough, but the group seems to pull me along and we all boost each other.

Crossing the magnificent Severn Bridge

Made it to England! Celebrating with my niece Rosa

With my friend Jane in her lovely old 18th century Gloucestershire house

The Tuesday team with Jane - Rosa, Pat, Dee, me, Alice, Su and Colin - Anna took the photo

Easy cycling along the railway track - Anna and Rosa singing 'I'm a little teapot' as we go...

A glimpse of the past on the old railway between Bristol and Bath

The canal towpath - a different world

 

Life in the slow lane

The stone circle at Avebury - beautiful, gentle and accessible to sheep and people

I felt at home in Avebury

On Sunday the intrepid team of 7 cyclists headed out from Neath (Swansea) for the long, steep track that would take us up to a height of nearly 600 metres on a 20 mile cross-country section on the way to Caerphilly. The three fit young women, Anna, Rosa and Alice, zoomed ahead and the rest of us followed, but to all of our surprise and delight we managed quite well as we went up and up. It was worth it. The views opened out to the Brecon Beacons to the North, the sea in the distance and forest, mountain and lakes in between. We saw a wind farm close up, watched buzzards soaring and had a totally exhilarating long descent down a lovely river valley. We optimistically thought we would meet Pat for lunch at 1.30, but it was after 3 when we got to the spot and lunch never tasted so good.
We decided to leave the track and continue down the main road, and it was quite an experience. We dropped down through the Rhondda valley with terraces of small miners’ cottages stacked above each other up the sides of the valley, mile after mile as one village ran into the next. We passed old pit heads and working men’s clubs, and the whole area seemed sad and run down. It was a glimpse of a piece of British social history.
We arrived in Caerphilly tired (well, I was) but pleased with ourselves, to see the magnificent sight of Caerphilly Castle – huge, impressive, with a large moat.
Yesterday was a much easier cycle taking the coast round Newport- also noticeably poor and run down – and heading for the Severn Bridge and the crossing into England.

Our Holiday Inn hotel stored our bikes in the conference room, so here they are conferring before the day's ride...

We started cycling up...

and up...

and up...

Oh no - we've gone the wrong way and didn't need to do that last steep bit at all....

And then the views open out in all directions....

and it's airy and bright and we can see for miles

And then we get the long whizzzzzzzzzz down

Lunch at last!

Dropping down through the run down mining villages ...

...to the magnificence of Caerphilly Castle

South Wales to Swansea

I’m delighted to say I felt much improved this morning and set off from Carmarthen with Fionnuala, unsure of how long my energy would last. Fifty miles later we arrived at our hotel on the outskirts of Swansea with me still in the saddle! Luckily, it was a much easier ride today, following the delightful cycle route through a forest park and then miles and miles along the sea front, helped by a stiff breeze at our backs. I was tired but happy, and I much enjoyed the variety along the coast – sand dunes, estuary, beaches, and views over the Gower peninsula.
Fionnuala left us to take the train to London – bye Fionnuala, it was just great to have you along and thanks for the support and the companionship.
Pat meanwhile had gone to Neath station to meet Colin, travelling from Ireland, and then the big family group coming up from Sussex. So now we are 8! Myself, Pat, Colin, my sister Dee, daughter Anna, Dee’s daughter Rosa and her friend Alice, and Su, Alice’s Mum. We are all packed into 3 rooms in a Holiday Inn tonight, and a little nervous about tomorrow as we tackle a hard day – a big climb of 500 metres on what looks like a great off-road track through the hills, heading to Caerphilly tomorrow evening.

Pat and her daughter Barbara who we stayed with in Carmarthen

Lovely views of Carmarthen bay

Easy flat cycling through a forest park

Sun, sea, sand - and lunch. Food tastes so good after cycling...

Late afternoon light over Swansea bay, with Fionnuala on the bike

 

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