Bicycle pilgrimage from Lowestoft to St David’s
Revd Gill Hulme, superintendent minister, Bishop’s Stortford circuit
When our fundraising team were thinking of ways to get cash for our church redevelopment project, I opened my big mouth and volunteered myself for a sponsored bike ride. I chose the Via Beata, a new pilgrim route running across the widest part of the country from Lowestoft to St David’s.
Conceived as a millennium project, wood carver Steve Edrington and his wife Gill have been placing prayer waystations every ten miles along this route. I had visited Steve’s workshop on my sabbatical a couple of years ago and met a couple of young people who had come out of drugs rehab and were learning woodcarving as part of the project. See http://www.viabeata.co.uk
The journey begins!
5.55am on Thursday 3rd October saw me on the early Cambridge train wondering why I had scheduled a circuit meeting the night before! Getting out of Lowestoft was awkward, but I made reasonable time via Bungay, on route to lunch in Wymondham and my first bed for the night, staying with Revd Betty Trinder in Dereham.
On Friday I’d hoped to visit Ely cathedral on the way to Huntingdon. However, the tail end of hurricane Lorenzo was charging across the Fens as I was battling into head winds and rain. Road closures meant that I had a late lunch in Ely with no time to visit the Cathedral, before pressing on and reaching my Airbnb at 7pm as darkness was falling. A tough 76 miles, but a lovely welcome from the couple who were renting out their room.
I knew Saturday was going to be hard, but the first part was lovely, and I had a second breakfast near Grafham Water. Things started to go wrong around Higham Ferrers with my satnav trying to take me on the A45 (but the slip road was closed) and I then had a diversion via Wellingborough, so I had to back track and had an extra 6 miles put on my already long route. I finally made Stratford-on-Avon YHA as it was going dark, really grateful for a shower and their café. A total of 86 miles and a bit saddle sore!
I had planned an easier day for Sunday, to get to Hereford to stay with Deacon Angie Allport, a friend who has just taken up post there. This was the first really hilly bit (over the Malvern Hills) and it was at this point that I realised my ‘granny gears’ weren’t working. There are some steep climbs – and I ended up pushing quite a bit. I did reach Hereford in reasonable time, so could enjoy a soak in a bath before a lovely meal with Angie.
On into Wales
On Monday, I had a shorter day planned but went first of all to Halfords where they sorted out my gearing – I reckoned I would need it for Wales, and I did. Getting to Hay-on-Wye was OK, and I had a leisurely lunch there, thinking that I was over halfway. However, the head wind on the A470 was really strong, so I followed a National Cycle route away from the main A40 which took me on a pretty detour up into the Brecons! The result was that I was too late to visit little Brecon Cathedral, but I met a lovely couple who ran a beautiful Airbnb and clocked up 52 miles.
I decided on the Tuesday to stick to the main A40 to reduce my mileage, but the gusty showers and heavy rain didn’t make it the most pleasant of journeys. I did however reach Carmarthen in reasonable time and decided to lighten my load by posting some of my dirty washing home to husband Graham!
On the advice of a lovely guy in an independent bike shop in Carmarthen I didn’t take the dual carriageway A40 out of the town but went on the National Cycle route 4 – guess what – it was very
pretty, and very, very hilly, so I re-joined the A40 and made reasonable time to Haverfordwest despite the weather.
The coast road to St David’s
I plodded on to St David’s along the coast road, 16% hills with the wind gusting in between 20 -30 miles an hour. I pushed a lot. I nearly gave up and if I had seen a taxi that could have taken my bike, I think I would have. It definitely was the toughest part of my journey and the most frightening. I relied on the prayers of my friends and somehow plodded on.
Guess what – I was too late to go inside St David’s Cathedral, and I hope to visit again someday (by car!). The Youth Hostel was 3 miles north, and very remote, but joy of joys I had been upgraded to a single room and there was a bath as well as a shower! 58 very tough miles – but I had made it!
Thursday saw me homeward bound, (a different route to Haverfordwest, longer at 21 miles, but oh so much easier) and I saw this wonderful sunrise over St David’s.
Then the train to Paddington, with an interesting cycle across London dodging tourists on Boris bikes and cycle couriers (the traffic is no problem in comparison) to finally make it home at 7.30pm tired but happy, having cycled a total of 458 miles. My wonderful husband who was worried sick about this enterprise but had tried to not to let it show on the phone had made a comforting bowl of soup and bought roses, fizz and chocolates. He’s a star!
Thank you to all who have texted encouragement, prayed, sponsored me and held me in God’s light. It was for me, a prayer journey, a time of acknowledging blessing on the Via Beata giving thanks for those who have blessed me, as well as raising money. I think the total pledged is around £4,000 which is amazing. 20% of this will go to the charity Kickstart which runs from the church, helping people get back into work, and the rest to our redevelopment project to make all the church premises accessible for all and to install a Changing Places toilet for adults with special needs.