By Rob Reynolds, Director of External Relations, Bedales
In a light-headed moment at the Harrow pub in Steep last month, Al McConville (Director of Learning & Innovation) and I decided to cycle the King Alfred’s Way as a half-term cycling trip in support of FitzRoy’s ‘Around the World’ challenge.
A national charity based in Petersfield, FitzRoy is transforming lives every day by supporting people with learning disabilities and autism to do the simple things that make a real difference to their everyday life. Its vision is a society where people are treated as equals, regardless of their disability. Bedales has been supporting FitzRoy through fundraising and student volunteers at their Rural Skills project at the Sustainability Centre near East Meon. Members of FitzRoy’s ‘Love4Life’ programme (a dating and friendship project) have also enjoyed attending the Bedales Rock Show for the last two years.
So our decision was made and we signed up on the FitzRoy fundraising website. Thinking ‘rule of six’ we also reached out to some of our fellow enthusiasts to recruit some additional riders. Step forward Bedales parent Paul Cooper who brought a wealth of mountain biking knowledge and experience, plus my brother Tim, a teacher at Dauntsey’s, who agreed to join us for the first couple of days.
Detailed planning was then necessary to work out the route on this newly created off-road 350 km cycle. We decided to break up the journey into four full days of cycling and three nights. It being the end of October, we quickly decided to seek a roof over our heads rather than camp overnight, so maps were pored over to locate suitable hostelries with rooms.
With some final tweaks to bikes and bags (we were unsupported, carrying all our kit), the first day arrived. Fuelled by porridge, the four of us met outside Petersfield Station and set off in a broadly westerly direction. Paul kindly agreed to act as navigator, and was equipped with the appropriate technology. Cycling up Butser Hill was a rude awakening and a taste of things to come. Saving grace was the relative warmth and sunshine. We cycled along the South Downs Way to Winchester, passing Exton and its vineyard. Our initial target was a lunch stop in the precinct of Winchester Cathedral before heading onward to Salisbury.
We arrived at our first overnight stop after a hard full day of cycling – the very welcome Premier Inn in North Salisbury, with bath, all-inclusive meals and comfortable bed!
The subsequent days followed a similar pattern. Tim peeled off on day two after we crossed Salisbury Plain (chased by a very speedy tank), when we passed near to Dauntsey’s (near Devizes). Our northerly stint finished in the countryside close to Swindon at the Rose & Crown, Ashbury. By this stage, bodies were aching and the sun setting. Much of day three was spent on the Ridgeway trail, described as ‘Britain’s oldest road’, heading east, and included an abrupt end to the quiet and relative bleakness when we passed through the centre of Reading and then the Madejski (football) Stadium.
The New Inn in Heckfield provided a much needed overnight stop for more baths, bike washing and maintenance, and rest. With the clocks changing overnight, we had to leave before breakfast in the knowledge that bacon butties awaited us at a friend’s house en route in Farnham (thank you Kate).
As we headed south from the Devil’s Punchbowl back towards Steep, Paul called his friend Tim who quickly created a welcome committee of friendly Bedales parents (with Maike, James, and beer) as we pedalled into Steep.
During our trip, we coped with numerous falls (the ground was very muddy and slippery in places), punctures (approx eight between us), a broken chain (which we managed to fix with the assistance of two friendly members of the Oxford University Cycling Club), flooded paths, and typical October weather (the Saturday was particularly wet and windy with reports of fallen trees in the South). Al and I quickly realised that we would have been struggling without Paul keeping us literally on the right track.
We passed many beautiful and historic sights. As Cycling UK’s website puts it: “Immerse yourself in 10,000 years of history by riding this 350 km loop around historic Wessex, the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Alfred the Great. The route starts and ends in Winchester where Alfred is buried, and connects iconic monuments including Stonehenge, Avebury stone circle, Iron Age hill forts, Farnham Castle, and Winchester and Salisbury Cathedrals.”
So far we have raised £1,737 (including Gift Aid) – thank you to all our supporters. There is still an opportunity to sponsor our efforts and help FitzRoy (please click here). As FitzRoy explains: “It has never been more important for us to support people with learning disabilities and autism – whether it’s the iPad that helps someone connect with their loved ones, the sensory garden that provides a calming outdoor space, or our Love4Life dating and friendship programme that proves that everyone can find love – every penny you raise will make a difference and help us to transform lives.”
If you would like to join in and help by adding some miles of your own to the total – there are still 13 days to go and there is a massive 6,190 miles to cover. You can add your mileage by joining our Bedales team – there’s more information here.
Having now almost recovered from our endeavours, Al, Paul, Tim and I have tentatively started exploring (virtually) other off-road cycling routes ready for the next one….more about that anon.